Eastside of Mount Rainier Waterfalls – Deer Creek, Ohanapecous, and Stafford Falls
It’s day three of my Achilles Watch in the Northwest. Five days ago, inflaming my left Achilles while playing ping pong, I put our entire hiking vacation to Washington and Oregon in doubt. Thanks to evening and morning icing, I am ready to hike for the third time in three days; again today in Mount Rainier National Park.
Leaving Packwood, WA (population 1330) on route 12 heading east, we turn north on route 123 for the roadside parking for a threesome of waterfalls on the east side of the park. On this Tuesday after Memorial Day, we have this quieter side of the park to ourselves, as 70F under blue skies greets us.
Some 20 miles out of town we wonder where the hey is the Owyhigh Trail sign. Somehow missing it, we end up further down the road at the Deer Creek parking area. Walking around, then checking the map once, twice, and a third time, we finally get back in our rented Kia Sportage, and retrace our steps.
Paying a lot more attention, we spot an Evergreen State evergreen hiding the sign. Parking off road, we have seven miles of hiking to what promises to be three sweet waterfalls. From the road, we hike a steeply descending hard packed dirt trail for 0.4 of a mile down to the Chinook Creek.
On our way to the Chinook Creek we pass the first of the waterfall triumvirate, the 60′ Deer Creek Falls, cascading into the gorge below us. With the evergreen foliage in full, the view, to the falls is partially hidden. Still we chalk it up as another white water wonder.
The trail continues to follow the east side of the Chinook Creek on its way to the junction with the Ohanapecosh River. On the trail the last of winter’s lingering patches of snow are here, there, but not really everywhere (apologies to the Beatles). Freshly cut blowdowns on either side of the trail suggest a strong recent storm. These lumberjacks and lumberjills are the true heroes to we the hiking public.
The trail is basically level, descending slightly as the river roars downstream. As such we can keep a three mph pace, which for us is rocking. Doing the math as I check my Casio runner’s watch, I can see that in 30 minutes we should be near the Stafford Falls.
The rush of the Chinook Creek to our left through this dense rainforest slips us into a wonderland trance. Vigilant as we think we are, we wonder after 40 minutes how we could have missed the falls; but miss it we did. Fortunately, we are hiking to the Ohanapecosh Falls and back so we will be returning this way.
The trail winds further and further up the mountainside to the point where we hardly hear the creek. Our trail map from the Mount Rainer rangers guides us well towards the Ohanopecosh Falls. The spring green leafing plants are covering the trail but not so much as to be annoying.
Soon the roar of the 70 foot falls gets louder and louder. We spot a wooden bridge across the upper falls for a vantage point upstream and then one of the head waters of the tumbling falls beneath us. What we don’t have is a full frontal view of the falls itself. We give our grandson’s Owen’s Woodstock and Max’s blue elephant a rest in Hannah’s hiking boot and fanny pack.
Young college males all in uniform (i.e., no shirts and lean bodies), let us know that just 200 yards further down the trail is a better look at the falls. You can see in the picture that Hannah, Woodstock, and the Blue Elephant just have to turn around to check out the falls.
Heading back for the trailhead we are determined to find the Stafford Falls. Rereading the waterfalls guide we see that the falls are off the trail by way of a spur. Ah, reading the directions is always a plus.
Again calculating that at a three mph pace we should be in the area of the falls in about 30 minutes, we climb the hillside trail high above the river. Determined to hit to the third waterfall, Hannah, as the stronger hiker and not dealing with any Achilles stuff herself, leads the way.
Hannah spots the side trail and within 100 yards we have the best view all morning of waterfalls, here at the 30′ Stafford Falls into the punchbowl pool below. The aforementioned Australian body boys are here.
The Eastside Mount Rainier waterfalls are as cool as the mist from a morning waterfall and not to be missed. Other than the 0.4 mile from the road to the creek and back, the trail is mellow yellow (apologies to Donovan).
At the roadside trailhead, my Achilles is bragging what a stud he is. Loudly and almost profanely, he proclaims, Bring on the Wallace Falls, my pretties.