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Green Lake and Ranger Falls

Our Hiking Time: 4h 15m
Total Ascent: 1400ft
Highest Point: 3200ft
Total Distance: 9.6 miles
Location: N 46° 58.6566, W 121° 51.4683
Required Permit: National Park Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's Photo
A few weeks ago we headed back to the Carbon River Entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park to do a little more exploring. This time we headed down the washed-out Carbon River Road to the Green Lake Trail, one of the more popular and family-friendly hikes in the area that includes an alpine lake, old growth forest, and an impressive set of waterfalls.

Green Lake is named, somewhat unsurprisingly, for the color of its emerald waters set against the evergreen forest that crowds its shores. The lake is drained by Ranger Creek, christened by The Mountaineers in 1911 to honor the hard-working rangers of Mt. Rainier National Park. However, access to Green Lake and Ranger Creek was difficult when the park was established in 1899. What we now know as the Carbon River Road began as a wagon road built by the Washington Mining and Milling Company in 1907. When most of the large scale mining operations had left the area by 1913, park administrators saw an opportunity to develop an area of park that was closer to Seattle and Tacoma. Pierce County agreed to modernize and pave the road from Wilkeson to the park boundary, while park administrators built the road from the boundary out to Carbon Glacier. The Carbon River Road became the park’s second road when completed in 1921, though it took until 1925 for the county to complete their portion of the project. That same year the road suffered the first of many floods that would washout the road and require extensive repairs. Reopened in 1926, a 1934 flood washed out and permanently closed the road beyond Ipsut Creek. Floods followed in 1955, 1959, 1977, 2006 and 2008. The road has remained closed at the Carbon River Entrance since the 2008 flood and there are no immediate plans to repair it.

The hike begins from the Carbon River Entrance, following the Carbon River Road through a temperate rain forest of fir and cedar. Many people opt to bike the three miles to the Green Lake Trailhead, though there is something to be said for the more leisurely walk through the woods. Once you reach the trailhead, head up the well-maintained trail and into stands of moss-covered old growth. Your climb is helped along by wooden steps and stone stairs built into the trail by countless volunteers over the years. After a mile of moderate switchbacks, find the signed spur to Ranger Falls leading out to an observation area. Watch as Ranger Creek tumbles more than 150 feet over the three-tiered falls. The water flows year-round, but the falls are at their best in late spring and early summer when melting snow swells the creek.

After you’re done with the falls, return to the main trail and continue the last .8 miles to the lake. As you near the lake, the trail flattens out and crosses a log bridge over Ranger Creek and quickly delivers you to the shores of Green Lake. While the official trail ends here, paths can be found leading around the lakeshore. Do some exploring to find a spot to settle in and enjoy the view. The lake is flanked by Gove Peak to the east and Arthur Peak to the west. To the south is Howard Peak and the taller Tolmie Peak, which boasts a lookout cabin that can be seen on good days. Looking for more? It is not uncommon for peakbaggers to bushwhack their way up to the top of Gove or Arthur Peak, following the faint trails of those that went before them. Use caution if you attempt these scrambles.

This hike has a little bit of everything - a picturesque alpine lake, rushing waterfalls, and lush evergreen forests - which may explain why it is so popular. And while there is some elevation gain, the climb is not so strenuous that it will pose much of an obstacle for most families. Easily accessible and approachable for most hikers, this is a great hike to add to your list this year.

To get there, take I-5 South to I-405. From I-405 take SR 167 south toward Auburn. In 20 miles take the SR 410 Exit toward Sumner/Yakima. Follow SR 410 for 12 miles to SR 165. Take a right and continue on SR 165 for about 10 miles through Wilkeson and Carbonado to the Carbon River Road/Mowich Lake Road junction. Veer left onto the Carbon River Road and follow for 7.7 miles to the Carbon River Entrance of Mt. Rainer and parking. -Nathan

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Green Lake


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