My family was in town last weekend, and we ended up going down to Mount Rainier National Park for some much-needed time outdoors. We were initially going to hike up to Tolmie Peak, since that’s one of my absolute favorites in the park, but I didn’t plan ahead and we discovered that the last 5 or so miles up to the trailhead are closed off until June 28. The nice ranger at the turnaround point estimated that we could make it to Tolmie Peak and back to the parking lot in about 8 hours, but none of us were quite up to that challenge at 1:00pm in the afternoon. Instead, he gave us a map of the area and pointed us toward the Carbon River Ranger Station, where they suggested the 8-mile out-and-back hike to Chenuis Falls. We arrived at the trailhead around 1:30pm, and while there were a decent number of cars already parked, we saw plenty of open spots left as well. The bathroom there is standard, but clean enough. Don’t forget your parking pass (you can either use an America the Beautiful pass or the Rainier-specific one)!
The trail is very wide, and well-maintained enough to be the only trail in the whole park to allow mountain bikes. It was perfect summer hiking weather, and a great hike for casual hikers who just want to get out of the noise for a few hours. The trees felt massive, towering over us on either side of the gravel and dirt path, and the green foliage and variety of colorful flowers only added to our enjoyment.
If you like bridges like us, this hike is for you! Not only were there wide, stable bridges on the forest path, there were also several single-file foot logs meant to help hikers cross the Carbon River winding through the canyon on the way to the waterfall. This time of year, it seems only the first bridge crosses any moving water, while the other three or four are fun to walk over, but could easily be ignored by simply walking over the now-dry riverbed. If you find it difficult to locate the next bridge (they can blend in against the rocky background), follow the cairns and look for the rock paths marking the borders of the trail. Once we crossed the river, it took even more searching to find the main path to the falls.
It’s a short walk from the edge of the river to the bottom of Chenuis Falls, and we were pleasantly surprised by the rolling falls and the clear pool at the bottom. We spent a good chunk of time relaxing, alone for the most part, before heading back to the trailhead. On our way back, we encountered a doe standing not 20 feet away from the trail–she didn’t seem at all bothered by us stopping and chatting with her.
The trek back to the car can sometimes feel never-ending, but the flat trail and near-constant tree cover made the return trip seem relatively short. We returned to the car around 5:00pm, and I was surprised by how many cars were still left in the parking lot. All in all, I loved this hike–it would be great for a single hiker or a group, and I will definitely be back.