The Carbon River “trail” is the remnant of a gravel road that, at one time, led from Mt. Rainier National Park’s northwestern corner to the Carbon Glacier and provided access to several short trails with such destinations as the Old Mine, Green Lake, and Chenuis Falls. However, the river’s extensive flooding over the years repeatedly washed out portions of the road, rendering it too costly to maintain. The road is now closed to vehicle traffic beyond the park boundary, but is maintained in good enough repair to permit access to the side trails by foot and mountain bike as far as the Ipsut Creek Campground. Just beyond the campground and before the trail’s junction with the Wonderland Trail, a short side trail leads to Ipsut Falls. (Given the number of side trails that may be hiked singly or in combination from the main trailhead, the round-trip distances above are given for each individually.) Although bikes are not permitted on the side trails or beyond the campground, the Park Service has installed bike racks at a few spots along the way to facilitate quicker access to those features. Other than the occasionally passing hiker or biker, little else breaks the shadowy silence of the old-growth rainforest but the twittering of birds and the river’s meandering murmur.
The trail generally follows the Carbon River, which, rather than flowing in a single stream, consists of several braided strands across its flat, flood-prone valley. The river is named for the many coal deposits in the area. Carbon River Trail, May 11, 2014.
At times, the Carbon River runs milky with silt, which, as it deposits, alters the river’s ever-shifting strands. Carbon River Trail, June 07, 2015.
The flat Carbon River Trail permits an easy stroll through misty, old-growth rainforest garbed in moss and ever within earshot of its namesake’s rushing waters. The Carbon River Valley contains the only rainforest within Mt. Rainier National Park and one of few remaining patches of North American rainforest inland and apart from their more common coastal ranges. Carbon River Trail, June 11, 2017.
To the south (right) of the park entrance, boardwalks carry the Rainforest Loop Trail on a 0.30-mile/0.50-km interpretive tour of classic rainforest habitat. The loop trail also provides access to the park’s longer Boundary Trail. Carbon River Rainforest Loop Trail, June 11, 2017.
At approximately 1.20 miles/1.90 km from the main trailhead, the Old Mine Trail, marked only by a very small, white sign, leads to the right from what used to be a small parking area. The 0.30-mile/0.50-km trail is relatively flat until it reaches the edge of the river valley and then climbs steeply to its terminus at an abandoned mine shaft.
The Old Mine trail rounds a corner and ends abruptly at the entrance to an abandoned mine shaft, likely bored by the Washington Mining and Milling Company around 1910. Although local lore refers to it as a copper mine, sources suggest that the company dug thirty-odd shafts in the area to explore for gold, silver, and copper – and as cover for illegal logging operations within the park. No significant minerals being struck, the company gave up its mining claims in the park within a few years. Carbon River Old Mine Trail, May 11, 2014.
Leading a short distance directly into the mine shaft, the trail provides an eerie view down its gorge. Carbon River Old Mine Trail, May 11, 2014.
Beyond the Old Mine trailhead, the Carbon River Trail continues through quiet, old-growth forest. Carbon River Trail, June 11, 2017.
River stones reveal their subtle color palette in a pool of sunlight on their trailside tributary. Carbon River Trail, May 11, 2014.
Wildflowers dot the woodland shadows throughout the spring and summer. Western bunchberries (Cornus unalaschkensis) bloom in swatches along the forest floor (top left), followed later by clusters of their namesake fruits (top right). Pacific trilliums (Trillium ovatum) peer from mossy nooks everywhere (lower left); western coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza mertensiana) glow in shifting shafts of sunlight (lower center); and delicate, yet nearly alien-looking Scouler’s corydalises, or, Scouler’s fumeworts (Corydalis scouleri) loft spiky blooms in trailside drifts (lower right). Carbon River Trail, May 11, 2014, June 07, 2015, and August 16, 2015.
The Carbon River zigzags past Chenius Mountain’s cloud-topped Tirzah Peak. Carbon River Trail, May 11, 2014.
At approximately 3.30 miles/5.30 kilometers from the main trailhead, the 1.50-mile/2.40-km side trail to Green Lake begins on the right where Ranger Creek intersects with the Carbon River Trail.
The side trail to Green Lake climbs moderately through old-growth, coniferous forest replete with ancient giants. Some Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) along the trail are known to be over eight hundred years old. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, June 07, 2015.
Toppled titans span the trail, topped by the next generation’s seedlings. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
Moss pads most surfaces of the rainforest. Hylocomium splendens, known by several accurately descriptive common names, e.g., glittering wood-moss, stairstep moss, and mountain fern moss, grows especially luxuriantly. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
Fungi abound in the woody upland along the Green Lake Trail. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014, June 07, 2015, and August 15, 2015.
Lichens also flourish in the rainforest’s abundant moisture. Long thought by morbid imaginations to resemble lung tissue, the lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) (left) is sensitive to air pollution and is thus an indicator of woodland health and maturity. Like a wintry forest in miniature, tiny ball lichens (Spaerophorus sp.) (right) spread delicate branches across their treeside barkscape. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
Ranger Creek roars over rocky escarpments at Ranger Falls. Approximately one mile/1.60 kilometers from the Green Lake trailhead, a short side trail leads left to a view of the falls. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
From Ranger Falls, the Green Lake Trail climbs through younger forest so dense that little but moss grows beneath it. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
Shortly before lakefall, the trail flattens and Ranger Creek’s docile meander seems a world apart from its thunderous plunge over Ranger Falls. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
The aptly named Green Lake lies in the deep basin formed by Gove Peak and Arthur Peak. Tolmie Peak peers above the southwestern horizon. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, June 07, 2015.
The forest fringe reaches to the very water’s edge, affording only glimpses of the surrounding lakeside. Carbon River Green Lake Trail, May 11, 2014.
Beyond the Green Lake side trail, the Carbon River Trail edges nearer the river, where groves of red alder (Alnus rubra) spring up in the absence of larger coniferous trees. Carbon River Trail, June 07, 2015.
At approximately 3.70 miles/6.00 km from the Carbon River trailhead, the side trail to Chenuis Falls leads left toward the river. When not washed out by high water, log bridges span the various river streams along the quarter-mile/0.40-km side trail. Carbon River Chenuis Falls Trail, June 07, 2015.
The trail generally disappears in the vast gravel bar that is the Carbon River’s bed. Chenuis Falls lies diagonally downstream in the cleft between the nearer Tirzah Peak and the lower Cayada Mountain beyond. Carbon River Chenuis Falls Trail, June 07, 2015.
Mt. Rainier peers over the horizon upon one of the many rivers spawned by the glaciers that cloak its flanks, including the Carbon Glacier that is the Carbon River’s source. Carbon River Chenuis Falls Trail, June 07, 2015.
At its entrance to the Carbon River, Chenuis Creek descends Chenuis Falls’ grand staircase. Carbon River Chenuis Falls Trail, June 07, 2015.
Beyond the Chenuis Falls Trail, the forest along the Carbon River Trail opens where high winds and fickle river waters have felled swaths in wide-ranging forays. Carbon River Trail, June 11, 2017.
Lupines of various hues, likely bigleaf lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus), loft heavy heads of pea-like blooms along the trail at the Ipsut Creek Campground. Carbon River Trail, June 07, 2015.
Lupines’ pagoda-like spires (likely those of the bigleaf lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus) rise amid their larger forest counterparts. Carbon River Trail, June 07, 2015.
Beyond the Ipsut Creek Campground, log bridges cross stony streams into deep forest toward the Carbon River Trail’s junction with the Wonderland Trail that girdles Mt. Rainier. Carbon River Trail, June 07, 2015.
Approximately 0.30 miles/0.50 km beyond the Ipsut Creek Campground, a moss-lined side trail leads a short distance to Ipsut Falls beneath remnants of fallen forest. Carbon River Ipsut Creek Trail, June 07, 2015.
A tumble of boulders lines Ipsut Creek’s slotted ravine. Carbon River Ipsut Creek Trail, June 07, 2015.
Logjams fence Ipsut Falls’ contorted chute. Carbon River Ipsut Creek Trail, June 07, 2015.