Dan and Hannah Hike to a Waterfalls Trio at Mount Rainier

Eastside of Mount Rainier Waterfalls – Deer Creek, Ohanapecous, and Stafford Falls

3F  Mt R map

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.

3F 1 h on big bike

On the main drag in Packwood, WA

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.

3F 2 start of trail sign

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.

3F 2A  trail down to creek

Trail to Chinook Creek

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.

3F 2C  more Deer Creek Falls

Deer Creek Falls

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.

3F 3A  creek itself

Chinook Creek

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.

3F 3C  D near last 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.

3F 3E leaf covered trail

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.

3F 4A Woodstock and Elephant in Hannah's pack

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.

3F 5B  W and E with H at Ohana

Woodstock and the Blue Elephant with Hannah at Ohanapecosh 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.

3F 6B  D and H at Stafford

Stafford Falls at last

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.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Mount Rainier National Park

Including Carter Falls, Madcap Falls, and Rampart Ridge Loop Trail

CMF 3 H on Wonderland Trail

Hannah hiking on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier

There’s just something about the physical challenge of hiking in the great outdoors for us.  Hannah and I regularly hit the Coastal Fitness gym in Kittery, Main, rocking the elliptical, rowing machine, and recumbent.  We play Pickleball up to three times per week for an excellent work out.  Though we knock ourselves out at home, there is just a different challenge hiking seven miles with nearly 2000’ of elevation gain with a must finish end game.   When hiking, we just can’t stop when we are tired or coast in.  We do have to get back to the trailhead.

MR 3C  D and H vertical at MR  VC

At the Jackson Visitor Center at Mount Rainier

While Hannah drives west on the park road to Henry Jackson Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park, I ice my foot by wrapping it in a plastic bag of motel ice.   You see, four days ago I dinged up my Achilles playing ping pong putting our entire hiking trip to the Northwest in doubt.   Daily icing and stretching have put me back in the game.

MF 4 waterfalls

Moulton Falls on the Lewis River

Yesterday we hiked the mostly level river trail at Moulton Falls in southwestern Washington for five miles.  My Achilles held up well, and even complemented me on not being an idiot.  But today we are stepping up our game with seven miles of hiking with 1800’ elevation gain.  After yesterday’s success, it really doesn’t seem foolhardy to climb another mountain.  I shall soon see.

CMF 1  sign to CF and M falls

On a crystal clear blue sky Memorial Day Monday, we find the park happy busy, not Yosemite or Yellowstone in the summer busy.   Spotting parking on the side of the road at the Carter Falls trailhead, we head into the interior for a warm-up 2.2-mile round-trip hike to the Carter and Madcap Falls.

CMF 1A  rock strewn river

Crossing the Nisqually River with Mount Rainier in the background

Descending into the dry 200-yard-wide rock and boulder strewn Nisqually River, we have a quasi-rock framed trail guiding us across the river bed.  A narrow stream of rushing milky blue glacial snowmelt passes under the handrail log bridge.


CMF 2  Carter falls

Carter Falls

Quickly we are climbing into the woods on a trail of hard packed dirt, pleasant to the foot.   Heavily shaded, the trail is a steady climb of 500’ elevation in the arboreal wonderland of Mount Rainier.  Perfect for families, the trail gets us to the crashing 50′ Carter Falls in 30 minutes.   Five minutes later we arrive further inland on the Paradise River at the Madcap Falls.  Check out the video below of all its frothiness.

CMF 1AAA D on log bridge over river

Crossing  back over the Nisqually River

All downhill back to the trailhead, we have had a delightful one hour plus warm-up hike that has got the endorphins sweetly caressing my Achilles and no whining about overuse.

Next we’ll tackle the 4.7 miles of the Rampart Ridge Loop Trail with its 1300’ of elevation gain to see if I am biting off just a little bit more than I can chew, Achilles-speaking.

Parking roadside, we start up the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile trail that circles the base of Mount Rainier itself.  Our 1.5-mile climb is steady and punishing for the Achilles-challenged among us, as we come in and out of the forested sunshine.

Relieved at arriving in less than an hour at the Rampart Ridge Trail’s levelness, we rock on toward the Vista Point 1.1 miles away.  Hannah sets the pace when we hike, but today she is a good 30’ ahead as I hike/plod on with my Achilles in tow; though not barking, it is letting me know with each step, I’m still here, Danny Boy.  That said, I’m not in any pain, just taking the slow boat to China.

CMF 3 H on Wonderland Trail

As we climb a final assent to the top we come out into the sunshine.  Hannah turns around and says, “Look!”    The video below shows you what we see.

Nearly at the top we assume we have just seen the promised Vista Point.  We are wrong, as a quarter mile later we see a sign that says “Vista Point 200 feet.”   Thinking this is going to be another spectacular view, we take the spur to the vista and are let down.  Oh, we do see across the valley but have no view of the grand 14,410’ Mount Rainier at all.

CMF 4A  H on Ramparts trail

Returning to the trailhead

Finally, at the trailhead, my Achilles is tender, but I am in no pain.  With ice from the cooler, I use two rubber bands to secure the plastic bag of ice to my left Achilles.   Today’s nearly 7 miles of mountain hiking is something I couldn’t have imagined doing three days ago when my Achilles said, “Don’t even think about it!

Well, I thought about it and my Achilles came through in the clutch.   So it’s on to the waterfalls hikes on the Eastside of Mount Rainier tomorrow.  Of course, I’ll ice and flatter my Achilles all evening long, and see what he thinks come morning.

Dan and Hannah Are Coming After Mount Rainier

We’re coming big fella.  We just want to see you in all your astoundingness.

Dear readers, have a seat and get out your crying towel and weep along with us.

MR  Denali

Twenty-one years ago in the summer of 1995, with our three kids, Molly, Robyn, and Will, Hannah and I drove 4500 miles from York, Maine to Fairbanks, Alaska, hiking and camping along the way.  During our entire time at Denali National Park, we never once saw Denali, the highest peak in North America.  Low clouds kept us from seeing her even half way up.

MR national parks in wash

Well it’s crying time again.  Three years ago we journeyed to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Park and it rained; we never saw what was left of the mountaintop.  Last year, there were more tears on our pillows as rain and low clouds kept us from seeing Mount Rainier in all its grandeur.  In addition, a trip to Olympic National Park that same summer left us without seeing the summit of Mt. Olympus due to low clouds.  Are your eyes as red and puffy as mine?

So we are back.  We’ve come to the Northwest to hike the waterfall trails of the Northwest, explore the coast of Oregon, and complete the trifecta by seeing Mount Rainier.

MR 1A  H with MR in background

Our first glimpse of 14,410′ of Beauty

After an overnight with our niece Corrie and nephew Karl, we spend our first night in the state of Washington at the Crest Trail Motel in Packwood, WA, the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park.   Besides providing two evening glasses of wine from the local Two Vines winery, the Crest Trail has biscuits for Dan and biscuits and gravy for Hannah.  Carbs with a cup of joe is my recipe for starting a hiking day in the mountains of Washington.

On this Memorial Day Monday, only three days since my Achilles event, I use the motel ice machine to ice my left Achilles 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off in preparation for the hikes today.

MR  MR sign

Taking route 12 east, then route 206 north, we have a morning sky without a cloud; an excellent sign that today is our day to see the still active Mount Rainier in all its 14,410’ of awesomeness.

At the Stevens Creek Entrance on the east side of the park, we get maps for the day’s hikes and take to the serpentine 21-mile drive to the Henry Jackson Visitor Center in the center of the park.  (HJ was a US Senator from Washington.)

MR 2  D at Reflection Lake

The road is heavily forested as we climb in elevation towards the base of Mount Rainier with its 25 glaciers, just 54 miles southeast of Seattle.  After five miles of driving we catch a glimpse of the Big Kahuna itself.   Pausing, we snap pictures hoping to get the one that will go on my Instagram and Facebook account to capture today’s triumph.

MR 2A  Reflection Lake

Reflection Lake at Mount Rainier

Pulling over with others at Reflection Pond, which is 90% covered in snow this late May day, we catch a small slick of open water that reflects Mount Rainier’s stunningness.

Once at the Visitor Center, we park with other hikers sporting ice picks, snow shoes, crampons, and backpacks full of camping gear preparing for an assault on the mountain.   We smile, nod our respect.  Ice climbing has never been on our bucket list.

MR 3A  D and H with MR at VC

Behind the Mount Rainier Visitor Center

With others, we gawk at the snowy dominance of Mount Rainier on this festive Memorial Day Monday with so many of us thankful for the service of our veterans.

For me it is our daughter Robyn, stationed in Afghanistan ten years ago with the US Army, my Dad in WW II, both in the European and Pacific Theatres as part of the navy that was planning to invade Japan in 1945, my Mom as a Red Cross staff work in the Pacific in Guam in 1945, and my Uncle Harry who died on April 4, 1945 (the war ended May 7!) during the final Allied push to Germay.  On a side note, Dad always contended that there was not a single sailor or soldier who was against dropping the Atom Bomb on Japan.

MR 3D  flag at half staff

Hannah captures the half-mast flag at the Visitor Center with her iPhone.  The park rangers have excellent maps and suggestions for hiking based on our love of waterfalls.

We have zeroed in on two good hikes for today.  Carter Falls and Madcap Falls are part of a two-mile round trip hike with 500’ of elevation.   Then two miles further down the park road towards Longmire, we will take to the trails of the 4.6 mile Rampart Ridge Loop Trail with its 1300’ of elevation gain to test my Achilles fully.

First Mission Accomplished:  We have seen Mount Rainier in all its mind-blowingness.

Second?  To see if my Achilles is up for this serious mountain hiking challenge.

Stay tuned.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Silver Falls at Mount Rainier National Park

SF map of packwood

We are here in small town America just south of Mount Rainier National Park in Packwood, Washington.  With a population of 1330, Packwood has lost its elementary school due to the closing of the local lumber mill eight years ago.   As you might expect, Packwood gets by as a tourist destination for seasonal national park visitors, seasonal snowbirds (retirees), and the affluent with their seasonal second homes.

Packwood from above

Packwood from above

Kids go to high school in Randle some 16 miles away.  Why do people stay in a little town like Packwood?  Like rural Maine, I doubt few twenty-somethings do since jobs are hard to come by.  If you got a good-paying government job (e.g., rangers in the national parks, teaching, postal work), you can afford to live her quite nicely.

Hannah at the beginning of the Silver Falls Loop Trail

Hannah at the beginning of the Silver Falls Loop Trail

Three bedrooms, 2 baths, nearly 2000 square feet goes for $185K on Zillow.com here in Packwood.   What do you do in central Washington all winter?  If you like hunting, fishing, and winter sports, you have hit pay dirt.  None of those interest me at all.  Ultimately, if they stay or if they return they do so because it’s home.  Mom and dad are here.  Childhood memories are here.  It’s safe.  It’s the known.

SF 1B trail in firs

Though a heavy gray/black overcast greets us this Tuesday morning, we know rain and the Northwest go together like biscuits and gravy, red wine and good heart health, diapers and toddlers, and Mary Lynne and Wayne.  If you come to the Northwest, get comfortable with the idea of regular precipitation.  We can’t be the first ones to think the “Rainier” in Mount Rainier is pronounced “rain-ee-er” rather than “ray-near.”

SF 1C D on trail

Fueled by biscuits and gravy (Hannah) and biscuits and decaf (Dan) at the Crest Trail Inn, we head east on Route 12 through a forest of pines and firs that seem crammed together in beautiful symmetry.  With so little time to work on the roads, it’s not surprising that with just one lane open we are stopped by a flagman while traffic comes from the opposite direction.

SF 2C Silver creek

The Ohanapecosh campground is located just outside the Mount Rainier National Park.  On this first pre-season week of June, we see no one camping and one RV dumping its waste appropriately.  We do see crews digging up the road to lay sewer pipes before the season begins.

SF 3 h on trail on bridge

The Silver Falls Loop Trail is a family hike with four miles of well-marked trails and easy ups and downs.  As we hike along the Ohanapecosh River, the elevation gain is modest, never more than 40 feet at a time.  Just one hundred yards down the trail, we lean down to touch the warm water from the hot springs to our right.  The warm water is a reminder of the powder keg of destructive possibilities that lie beneath our feet near this active volcano.



One of the big deals about eruptions is the volcanic mudflows called lahars that form once a volcano blows.  With the consistency and density of wet concrete, lahars are caused by massive amounts of water after a volcanic eruption; be they rain or melting snows or turbulent rivers. Geologic history of Mount Rainier shows lahars occur once every 600 years.  The last lahar occurred 500 years ago.  The next one will affect 300K people on its way to Tacoma.

SF 1D  H happy on trail

Ever hopeful that today is not a day of explosion, we walk through a rain forest of green upon green; ferns and wide leaf plants.  The trail of pine needles covers the wet packed dirt that is easy on our feet.  It is a walk in the park that kids, seniors, and those in love would adore.

Within a mile, we hear the roar of the Ohanapecosh River.  Spring thaw and recent rains have made for a white water extravaganza by our side.  Since the Mount Rainier National Park is so near to major population centers like Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland and their airports, the park teems with visitors during the summer months.  It’s similar to summer in Yosemite.  Today we have the falls to ourselves.

SF 2B  falls through trees

What is it about waterfalls that draw me in?  The fury of the white water is kin to the crashing waves on the coast of Maine.  I associate falls with hiking and exploring.  There’s an “away-ness” that speaks to me.

One mighty Douglas fir

One mighty Douglas fir

We have another mile along the river through stands of towering Douglas firs, red cedars, and western hemlocks to the Grove of the Patriarchs.  This three-tenths of a mile trail to the Old Men leads us to a boardwalk tour of the boreal giants of the area – Douglas firs can grow 250 feet and live for 1000 years.  They are successful brothers to California’s redwoods.

Rebels from Maine

Rebels from Maine

Crossing a wiggly bridge suspended over the Ohanapecosh River, similar to what you would see in York, Maine crossing from route 103 to the Steedman Woods, we notice that it is posted with the rule that only one person is allowed on the bridge at a time.  Never did we see anyone abide by that restriction, including us.

The rebels within me is unleashed by this “rule.”   Perhaps you didn’t know that… sometimes I send personal notes in parcel post packages without paying extra for them; I don’t always wear a bicycle helmet; I take the unused soap when we stay in a motel; and I sometimes fall asleep when I meditate.  Quite the Sixties rebel!

SF 4F rooted trail

After two days of knee busting climbs of 2100 feet, today’s walk along the river with little elevation gain is just what the doctor ordered.   We return by way of the west side of the Silver Falls Loop Trail to the Ohanapecosh campground.  Tonight, we will end up in a motel bed four hours away in Port Angeles, WA on the Olympic peninsula rather than camping in a tent in the damp forest on one of these 40 degree nights.

Amazing how soft I have become.  I guess it just comes with age… and wisdom.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park

CF MR mapIn every effort to keep Washington green this first week of June, the rain gods are doing their thing for our visit to Mount Rainier National Park.  As a family we Rothermels drove 4500 miles to Denali National Park between Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska; and due to the cloud cover, we never saw Denali, the highest mountain in North America.  Two years ago, Hannah and I came to southwest Washington to hike Mt. St. Helens.  Hiking in our ponchos in a cloud, we barely saw 150 feet in front of us all day.

CF 1AA Mt. Rainier signToday there is no chance in hell that we will see Mount Rainier as the overcast and precipitation has descended on western Washington. Checking my Weather Channel app on my iPhone, I see that there is 34% chance of rain at 9A, 53% chance at 10A, and 94% chance at 1P.  Connecting the dots, we decide to hit the road early for today’s hike.

The road by the Comet Falls trailhead

The road by the Comet Falls trailhead

Our jumping off point is Packwood, WA, which is a rural outpost that gives off an Alaska vibe.  Two years ago we spent time in Cougar, WA, the gateway to Mt. St. Helens; and Packwood has the same out-of-the-way feel where it seems residents have happily left fast-paced America behind.  The front desk clerk at our motel wouldn’t live anywhere else.

CF 8 Crest Trail LodgeAt the Crest Trail Lodge, just outside of town, we have a breakfast worthy of hikers preparing to climb America’s premier volcano.  Hannah has her biscuits and gravy while I have scrambled eggs with buttered biscuits with my decaf.  Last evening, we each were served two complimentary glasses of Cabernet from Two Vines, a local vineyard.

Van Trump Creek

Van Trump Creek

In light sprinkles after breakfast, we head northwest on Skate Creek Road for the town of Ashford, WA and the Nisqually (western) Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park; this road has been recently reopened after being closed all winter.  Taking this winding road with bumps and depressions that rock our personal under carriage, we try to beat the predicted heavy rain that is on its way.  I use the windshield wipers as little as possible under the theory that the less I use them, the less it will rain.

CF 2B D by streamArriving at the Nisqually entrance I ask the ranger for a hiking recommendation.  Her choice is the Comet Falls Trail, just 11 miles into the park.  Though it is strenuous-rated, it is a lower level hike, which means we will not be dealing with snow today.

Climbing into the forest at the trailhead

Climbing into the forest at the trailhead

Preferring to be eaten by a bear than be wet and cold, Hannah is leery of hiking in this morning rain with temperatures approaching 50F.  Not me; being a bear’s morning snack sounds as bad as it probably is. I’ll take a little cold rain.  As we leave our rented VW Beetle, it seems the rain gods have gone fishing.

On the Comet Falls Trail

On the Comet Falls Trail

Though we have had from drizzle to light rain for the past hour’s drive to the Comet Falls trailhead, it’s not much more than misting as we prepare to hike. Hannah pulls on her poncho while I adhere to a similar theory of the windshield wiper.  The less I wear my poncho, the less it will rain. (You have your theories of life, I have mine!)

CF 3E H on rocky trailOver the next nearly three miles of trail we will gain 2100 feet in elevation on a morning that is overcast to say the least. (At the main Paradise Visitor Center further into the park, the predicted high for this first week of June day is 44F. Atop Mount Rainier itself the high will be 11F.)   Starting at a trailhead at 3600’, we have a steady climb into the Douglas fir forest on a trail that is wet but not muddy.

Over the first two miles, we are constantly stepping over well-worn roots and up and over rock after rock. My theory of not wearing a poncho to avoid the likelihood of rain is paying off as any misting has stopped.  Overheated in her poncho, Hannah soon returns it to her backpack.

Crib ladder on the Comet Falls Trail

Crib ladder on the Comet Falls Trail

Following the lower reaches of the Van Trump Creek as it rushes by in all its white water glory, we find a rocky and steep trail, though not perilous as we hike above the ravine-ous terrain.  With the rushing water as a backdrop, we have our own personal hiking symphony.  A crib ladder, built due to landslide that closed the trail in 2012, allows us to climb the cliffside.

What we first thought was the Comet Falls

What we first thought was the Comet Falls

With no markers indicating how close we are to Comet Falls, I use my watch to gauge that after 45 minutes we must be close.  Soon a sign appears that indicates we are 200 feet from Comet Falls.  Pleased we have climbed the 1400 feet to the falls in under hour, I get my iPhone ready to video the white water falls. The video below reveals my exuberance as I call the falls the Casco Falls (the Portland, ME bay?) rather than the Comet Falls. Enjoy.

The Comet Falls

The real Comet Falls

Most pleased, we decide to hike the additional mile to the Van Trump Park some 700’ more up into the foothills of Mount Rainier.  Taking a bridge over the creek, we see a tributary and then boom!  A dramatic 124 foot falls – something out of Yosemite or Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge.  The video below is the real Comet Falls filmed three minutes later.

CF 7 trail with blowdownsThe park service rangers have done yeomen and yeowomen’s work to clear the trails. We see 20 to 40’ snapped-off trees littering either side of the trail due to wind storms that have blasted through the area.

Maine boy at Van Trump Park

Maine boy at Van Trump Park

The trail rises with switchbacks through the forest to a meadow worthy of Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music.  The Van Trump Park is a meadow with views to the mountain snows above.  Ninety minutes into our hike, we still have had no rain, though here in the higher reaches we are clearly immersed in a cloud.



On our descent we step gingerly as our knees, most willing in our climb up, are not quite as thrilled, as we use them to brake on the way down.  With the clouds/fog descending, we pick up the pace to avoid the inevitable rain.  Thirty minutes down, we find the Comet Falls not as brilliant as the clouds begin to obscure its majesty.

The crib ladder heading for home

The crib ladder heading for home

Every so often a little mist falls, but not wearing a poncho has worked and kept the rain at bay.  With three hours of hiking in the books and none of it in rain, we are again the fortunate ones. Though we don’t see Mount Rainier itself, we focus on the journey, grasshopper, to a falls worthy of Mother Nature herself.