Mount Rainier so dominates Northwest geography that worthy nearby locales are easily overlooked. But when summer throngs clog the Queen of the Cascades, solitude and serenity can be found just a few miles south of the great Mountain along the Cispus Area Loop and at Cowlitz State Park.
Covel Creek Falls & Angel Falls
Nestled in the dense forests of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in east Lewis County, Washington, the most popular trail head to the Angels Fall Loop is located across the street from the Cispus Learning Center at 2142 Cispus Road.
Mostly level at first, the first mile or so winds through a magnificent old-growth forest decked out in so many shades of green, you’ll lose count.
Shortly beyond the trailhead, follow the yellow ropes along the Braille trail on your left to the first trail junction. Veer right. (The yellow ropes continue to the left for a loop trail. Since that option is unsigned and unmarked, you might wind up in Bora Bora. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Cross a couple of creeks. Some brain surgeon decided to “remove” the bridges, so watch your step.
After about a mile or so, start climbing. A splendid series of small stair-stepping waterfalls emerges through the forest on your right as you head toward Curtain Falls. Stay on the trail. It’s roped and actually winds behind the falls, which are approximately 75 feet high and 30 feet wide. The midpoint of Curtain Falls is about 1,820 feet above sea level.
For a good cardio workout, continue up the Covel Creek Trail past the Covel Creek Falls. The trail begins to climb steeply. Take a left at the fork in the trail. Continue about a mile uuuup to Angel Falls.
Tumbling about 175 feet down a sheer rock face, Angel Falls is a silver sliver of water that cascades down impressive granite slabs. Watch your step here. The ground may be wet, the rocks slick. Downed logs offer a nice place to enjoy lunch. Swig some water while you stuff your lungs back into your chest.
Continue on the trail past Angel Falls to the next junction. We got a little lost here. There’s no signage. The “map” is worthless. Where to go from here is anybody’s guess.
Spotting a red ribbon on a fir tree at this junction on the left, we headed that direction. Where you might end up if you veer right at said unmarked intersection is anybody’s guess.
The trail essentially traverses a rocky ridge carved by several caves. It’s unmarked, but eventually joins the trail to Curtain Falls just ahead of the descent to the falls.
The Angel Falls Loop is roughly four miles round trip. Unless you’re part mountain goat, plan on a pace of about one mile an hour after you hit Curtain Falls and start switch-backing up the ridge. The incline is steep but relatively brief.
While this trail is sometimes advertised as “easy” or “family friendly,” inexperienced or novice hikers may find it beyond their abilities, especially on a warm summer day.
Angel Falls Loop Trail Tips:
- Make allowances for Cispus Road. It’s bumpy, windy, and not in the best shape.
- Being plenty of water. There isn’t any on the trail.
- Trekking poles will be helpful for the steep, short climb to Angel Falls if you take the “cardio” route as well as for the descent.
- Bring a compass. The “trail map” is basically worthless, with few details and identifiable sites. Trail signage is even worse. Several offshoots are unmarked and unnamed.
- The cut-off to the Cispus Learning Center is about 17 miles past Morton off Highway 12 East.
- Randle is about a half hour south of Mount Rainier.
From Randle, travel south on State Route (SR) 131. Veer left. Follow the signs to the Cispus Learning Center. The trail head is located across the street from the Center.
Cowlitz Falls Park
Secluded. Serene Cowlitz Falls State Park and Day Use Area is out in the middle of nowhere. But what a find!
Reposing beneath spiky blue ridges bristling with conifers, the day-use park located at the east end of Lake Scanewa where the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers meet. The falls is now buried beneath the Scanwea Reservoir after the Cowlitz Falls Dam was built in 1994. The lake is humongous, with quiet aquamarine waters that stretch for miles. There’s a campground nearby. Both take several minutes to reach from the highway.
The day use-only area includes a small beach, swimming area, fishing options, a floating dock, and a few trails. Cowlitz Falls State Park is located about 10 miles off Highway 12 near Morton. The two-lane paved road meanders past clear-cut meadows rippling with wildflowers. The countryside is dotted by farm houses, thick stands of conifers, rambling ranch houses, flag-draped porches hemmed by neat lawns and pastures. And pick-up trucks. Lots and lots of pick-up trucks.
If you’re looking for a quiet, scenic place to drop a line in the water, picnic, or simply soak up some primo Northwest majesty, it’s worth the drive.
- The park is located on Falls Road, just outside Glenoma off U.S. Highway 12. Follow the signs. It’s about 10 miles off the highway.
- From Morton take Highway 12 west to Savio Road. Turn right and go to Kiona Road. Turn right and follow Kiona Road to Falls Road. Turn right and continue to the park. The nearest town is Morton.
- A Discover Pass is required.
When Mount Rainier National Park is besieged by summer crowds, the Cispus Area Loop and the Cowlitz Falls Park offer secluded alternatives well-worth the winding roads into Nowheresville.