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Carbon River Road and Chenius Falls

posted June 15th, 2013 in Trip reports

I had been trying to find a good weekend to go ride around the Carbon River Road down in Mount Rainier National Park. The road status page showed that it was open to the ranger station (actually a little bit further than that), and then closed past there to vehicles but still open to bike and pedestrian traffic. Since this was a park road, I figured it was just like most of their other more backcountry roads where it just doesn’t get plowed and so they wait until it’s fully melted before declaring it safe.

It turns out the actual reason it is closed to vehicular traffic is due to repeated washouts, most recently in 2006, and the park service just decided to turn it into a full-time pedestrian and bike road. I encountered some park service employees moving equipment around to repair the road and work on it a bit, presumably to make it more passable for bikes. The quality of the road ranges from paved at the entrance, to gravel, to huge stones (where in places I just had to get off and push) to dirt and mud. With the exception of the bumps, it was mostly flat, which was good for me — I’m still not very good at muscling my way up hills, although of course I can always just get off and push the bike up the same as I would over the extra bumpy sections. Even so, my legs were pretty tired by the time I made the 5 miles to the end of the road.

The road ends at Ipsut Creek Campground, which also provides one of the handful of trailheads along the road. In this case, it connects to the Wonderland Trail, which is about a 90 mile trail around the mountain. It also provides a connection to the Carbon Glacier, which I think a sign said is the lowest-elevation glacier in the lower 48 and is about 3.5 miles from the campground. Maybe some other day, when my legs can deal with the combined bike and hike.

On the way back I hit another one of the trails out to Chenius Falls, a very short trek complicated only by crossing the Carbon River on fairly simple log bridges. It seems the river floods regularly, hence the washouts on the road, and takes the Chenius Falls trail bridges with it, so it’s hit or miss whether you’ll be able to access the falls on any given trip. The falls were pretty, but don’t really photograph well (well, maybe if you’re willing to splash around into the creek that they feed):

One nice thing about the trail is since they know people will be biking into the trailheads they have also installed bike racks at all of them. The trip from the falls back to the car was basically all downhill, with the exception of a few rolling bumps, so it was a quick and fun trip back.

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