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Ipsut Pass via Carbon River Road

Our Hiking Time: 9h
Total Ascent: 3300ft
Highest Point: 5100ft
Total Distance: 17.2 miles
Location: N 46° 57.0419, W 121° 52.0980
Required Permit: National Park Pass
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's Photo
This past summer we had the chance to explore a number of trails in the Carbon River area, including portions of the Wonderland Trail. Our Wonderland travels included the Isput Pass Trail, a long trek following Isput Creek up to a secluded mountain pass. Easily one of the more challenging hikes in the area, the upper portions of the route have ample views to distract you on the way up.

“Ipsut” is Chinook Jargon for “to hide” or “keep secret." While Ipsut Pass is somewhat hidden, some form of the Ipsut Pass Trail has been in use for generations. Early Europeans followed well-worn game trails up to this notch between the shoulders of Gove and Castle Peaks and the Wonderland Trail has included a trip over Ipsut Pass since its construction in 1915. In 1925, the Carbon River Road and the Ipsut Creek Campground opened to the public, allowing an easy car camping option along Ipsut Creek for the first time. Between 1933 and 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Ipsut Creek Patrol Cabin that still stands near the campground. Then, in 1935, the Lake Mowich Road was completed eliminating the need to climb over Ipsut Pass to access areas near Mowich Lake and Tolmie Peak. Today, the Ipsut Pass Trail still sees plenty of hikers, but many use the Mowich Lake Road to avoid the elevation gain on this steep approach.

The hike begins from the Carbon River Entrance, following the Carbon River Road through a temperate rain forest of fir and cedar. The road provides access to a number of hikes, and many people opt to bike the road to cut down on travel time, though there is something to be said for the more leisurely walk through the woods. Flat and wide, the miles pass quickly and easily, passing the Green Lake Trailhead after about three miles and the Chenuis Falls Trailhead another half-mile or so beyond. The river is your constant companion as you push past these popular day hikes toward Ipsut Campground. The campground is a good place to stop for a breather or to set up camp if you’re planning on a longer trip.

From the campground, the road quickly transitions to trail, and the lush forest closes in. The trail remains almost flat as you cross over a number of creeks and streams each with varying water levels. Stroll for a half-mile to a spur leading out to Ipsut Falls. As the name suggests, the falls are a little hard to see, but it’s worth a few extra minutes to catch a glimpse of the roaring cascade tucked into this rocky gorge. Once you’ve taken a look, head up the trail to the junction a few hundred feet to connect with the Wonderland Trail. Veer right and uphill toward Ipsut Pass and Mowich Lake.

Now the work begins. Everything between the junction and the top of the pass is up, up, up. Some portions are steeper than others, but expect the next 3.3 miles to be an uphill battle. Initially you are confined to the forest, but as you climb the trees give way to open expanses of greenery and underbrush, allowing increasingly better views of the valley below. As you near the top the trail begins to steepen and switchback steadily upwards. The rocky trail runs along exposed cliffs before depositing you at the forested pass. Venturing a few hundred feet over the pass will connect you to the Mowich Lake Trail. Find a welcoming spot to enjoy the view and a hard-earned snack before heading back down.

The elevation and distance on this hike make it a little better suited for an overnight trip than a day hike. Still, a healthy portion of the distance can be covered by bike, which can significantly reduce the hiking time. At the same time, the difficulty of the trail means that you’re likely to be hiking through a lovely landscape without many others. If it's solitude you seek, consider taking on this challenge. Note that if you have two cars, you can also make this a through hike by parking your other vehicle at Mowich Lake, which is only a mile from Ipsut Pass.

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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Ipsut Pass


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