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Carbon River Rain Forest Nature Trail

Mount Rainier Area


Mount Rainier Area -- NW - Carbon River/Mowich
View map below


0.6 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 20 ft.
Highest Point: 1780 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

National Park Pass

The Carbon River Rain Forest Nature Trail is a pleasant and easy stroll that offers two short segments which can be combined to create a 0.6 mile roundtrip walk. Both paths penetrate primeval rain forest where giant ferns, maples, and spruce tower above charming cedar puncheon bridges and babbling brooks. This hike is great in any season, and takes on particular wildness in winter. Interpretive signs and photo opportunities abound.

From the trailhead, choose either path heading left or right. Both return to this same junction. The lefthand path starts on soft dirt and forest duff made up of countless hemlock cones and needles. The forest here is in different stages of maturity; hemlocks are coming into dominance as cedar and spruce are being crowded out. This is deep rain forest.

A delightful bridge spans a crystal clear creek overhung with skunk cabbage, huckleberry, and devils club. On a clear summer morning sunshine beams upon this scene like an Albert Bierstadt painting. In mid day the forest is dark and cool, with ferns coming alive and dancing on the breeze. By days’ end a melancholy alpenglow burns one final, golden flame before somber blue night falls.

In shoulder season the trail is often muddy and littered with forest debris such as lobaria that fall from the very top of the trees. Old cedar puncheon bridges slowly succumb to entropy, sinking and rotting one board at a time, and eventually disappear into the muck. Just shy of 0.2 miles in, a string of official tape marks a destroyed bridge, which severs the former loop. Return to the trailhead to complete the hike.

Back at the trailhead, head right this time, stepping immediately onto a sturdy and scenic bridge. The underbrush is dense on this side, overcrowded with vine maple and devils club. The following cedar puncheon decking is dilapidated and slick when wet, so step with care. Stop momentarily and you can hear the Carbon River raging far behind in its wasteland of gravel and boulders.

Soon the trail meets the same broken bridge seen earlier, and no more progress can be made. A side trail heads steeply uphill here but it is very strenuous and many times more difficult than the flat nature loop. Return to the trailhead by retracing your steps along the clumsy puncheon boards and note how small you feel as a visitor in this forest.


Carbon River Rain Forest Nature Trail

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.9949, -121.9169 Open map in new window


Mount Rainier Area -- NW - Carbon River/Mowich

Mount Rainier National Park

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)

Buy the Green Trails Mt Rainier West No. 269 map

Getting There

From Buckley, head south on Highway 165, passing through Burnett, Wilkeson, and Carbonado. Continue on 165 as it enters the Carbon River Canyon and crosses an historic, single lane bridge. At 10.3 miles is a marked junction to Carbon River Ranger Station.

Turn left here and continue to the end of the paved road and parking area at 18 miles. Pick up a National Park pass or day pass, if necessary, at the ranger station on the left, two miles before the road’s end. The former trailhead has been somewhat damaged by the Carbon River itself. As a consequence, parking is along the roadway. Vault toilets are available. Trail starts by sign post and kiosk.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

National Park Pass

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Carbon River Rain Forest Nature Trail

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