|Distance:||0.4 mile loop trail|
|Hiking Time:||0.5-1 hr|
|Elevation Gain:||100 ft|
|High Point:||2,596 ft|
|Snow Free:||March - November|
|Trailhead Pass:||National Park Pass Required|
Trailhead: N 46° 44' 00", W 121° 50' 18"
While there are other sections of old-growth forest at Mount Rainier, Twin Firs Trail is easy to get to and easy enough for everyone in the family. This short nature walk, through a grove of large trees and nurse logs, is just the thing for introducing children to the wonders of the forest. It's just the right length, there is plenty for them to see, and it might just begin to cultivate a child-sized appreciation for the great outdoors.
Located 2 miles west of Longmire, the trail begins behind the twin firs, parallels the road and climbs uphill, crossing several streams and then ends within a few feet of the starting point. Exercise caution due to fallen timber.
The trail winds through a boulevard of giant evergreens or perhaps it is more akin to a palace that has crumbled over time as old trees give way to new, as huge nurse-logs make room for seedlings and root balls from behemoths provide footholds for tiny ferns. It's a great lesson for young kids about nature's circle of life.
Do you like the smell of cedar? You will smell cedar here and that indefinable scent that occurs as winter transitions into spring - the smell of earth, decay and rebirth. You can touch the trees, feel their might, get a kink in your neck from looking up to their tops, the lacy canopy that provides life and hideaways for many living creatures and birds. Measure their width with your hands (how many hikers does it take to link hands and hug such a giant?).
In mid-May, a few wildflowers were tiptoeing out of the winter dark to light the trail with pastel shades of violets and trilliums. Shrubs were slowly waking from a long winter sleep - soon their elaborate branches will bear fruit again though fruit will not last long in this banquet for wildlife.
The colors of this deep forest are rich and somber. Compare the myriad shades of green to the burnt sienna of crumbling water-saturated snags, the blue-green of hemlocks, and the shiny yellow-green of new leaves.
You will wonder - as we do - how old are these trees? How long will they live? The trees of the lowland forest are mostly Douglas firs, Western Red cedar and western hemlocks. Scattered among the lowland giants are vine maple, dogwood, yew, lodge pole pine, huckleberry shrubs. You'll also encounter a member of the "rogue's gallery" of plants - tall, handsome Devil's club with its white blossoms or red berries guarded by prickly spines on the underside of its grandiose leaves and branches, set amongst a gentle garden of lowland flowers - oxalis, vanilla leaf, twin flower, bleeding hearts, foam flower, bead lily and more.
There are over 100 species of moss throughout the park - many of them have set up shop here in this moist, secluded environment. You could call moss the pioneers of the plant kingdom, as moss resides from river bars to talus slopes.
You'll see that many of the trees seem enmeshed in moss. But wait - with a field guide you'll discover that it is a lichen (goats-beard lichen) formed by a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus.
You will also notice a rich carpet of ferns - sword ferns, bracken, deer ferns, lady ferns, even licorice ferns growing on the deciduous trees that have found a foothold in the forest.
Also look for the ghostly Indian pipe, a saprophyte that looks like something from an alien planet or other saprophytes such as coral root and pine drops. These colorful plants draw their nutrients from decaying organic matter. Look for them in the duff.
The trail is a loop that starts at two big fir trees; we hiked clockwise. A small stream is crossed twice. The trail is especially soothing on a hot summer day and always an attraction with kids in the group.
There are no obstacles on this lush path other than the tyranny of time - when all too soon, you will bid this luxurious hideaway adieu and head back to the world we know perhaps a little too well.
To get there: From the Nisqually entrance of the park drive just past the Kautz Creek trailhead and facilities to the (signed) Twin Firs Trailhead, on the left side of the road.
For additional information on fees, rules and regulations, weather, current conditions or to obtain an overnight permit call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit their website at www.nps.gov/mora/. A backcountry permit is required for over-night camping. The recommended maps for Mount Rainier National Park is Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S) or Green Trails No. 270S Paradise, Wa.
- Karen Sykes