The Silver Falls Loop is one of the most popular trails at Mount Rainier National Park. About three miles round trip, the trail meanders through a spectacular old growth forest on the east side of the Mountain to one of the park’s most impressive gushers. There’s some up and down, but the inclines are neither steep nor sustained, making this is a great choice for the whole family.
Extra bonus: The Silver Falls trailhead is at Ohanapecosh, which is much lower in elevation than sister hiking sites at Paradise, Sunrise, or Longmire. Thus, this pleasant loop trail is among the first to melt out in the spring.
But not this year. We hiked this trail on April 16. It’s still wearing snow pajamas. However, the loop is accessible as long as you’re properly outfitted and don’t mind a three mile hike to an alternate trail head off Highway 123.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to tackle the Silver Falls Trail in the next few weeks before the spring thaw takes hold:
– Highway 123 and the park gate are both closed at the gate.
– You can still access the park. You just have to walk in. Park at the gate at the small clearing on the left shoulder. Come around the gate on foot. Head north to the Ohanapecosh Campground. It’s about a mile and a half from the park boundary.
– You’ll have the road pretty much to yourself. It’s closed to vehicular traffic. Scheduled to open on May 19, depending on weather.
In season, you can begin the Silver Falls trail from three locations: Behind the Ohana Visitor Center, at the park amphitheater (across the bridge), or by hiking down trail from the Grove of the Patriarchs. Not so now unless you bring snowshoes. All of these accesses remain under snow.
– Continue on the road about three miles or so until you come to a small sign on the left shoulder saying “Silver Falls 0.3.” If you hit the sign for Stevens Canyon Entrance, you’ve gone too far.
– Take the trail at the sign. Head down, toward the river. Turn right (north) at the first junction. There’ll be a sign.
– The trail is snow free here. It remains so until just before you approach the descent to the bridge crossing the Ohanapecosh River.
– Beware the mudslide just above the falls, before crossing the bridge. It’s passable, but be careful.
– The overlook at the falls is snow-free. You’ll hit snow again if you head up trail to the Grove of the Patriarchs. We turned back after about half a mile.
If you opt to hike down to the Ohana campground, be advised that about two-thirds of the trail is under snow, past Laughingwater Creek. It’s easy to get lost if you’re not familiar with the territory. Also, the snow is soft. If you’re wearing boots, it’s easy to punch through. Snowshoes preferred.
If you’re not into snowshoeing, you may want to wait a few more weeks to tackle this trail. It’s worth the wait!