|Distance:||8 miles, RT|
|Hiking Time:||4 hrs|
|Elevation Gain:||2,800 ft|
|High Point:||5,100 ft|
|Snow Free:||June - October|
|Trailhead Pass:||National Park Pass Required|
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Carbon River Rd. is currently closed due to flooding and that increases the length of this hike by 10 miles. It is 5 miles, one way, to the trailhead and that distance can be walked or mountain biked.
Big trees, steep trails, rocky cliffs, and towering ridges blend to make the trip on Ipsut Creek Trail to Ipsut Pass a hike to remember. You'll feel you've accomplished something while seeing a variety of scenery as you climb from lush rain forest up into the rocky high country.
How to get there: From Puyallup, travel 13 miles east on Highway 410 to Buckley, turn right (south) onto Highway 165, and proceed through Carbonado. Continue to the Carbon River entrance to the national park. From the entrance, drive 5 miles to Ipsut Creek Campground. A part of the last 5 miles is gravel road.
The trailhead parking area, at elevation 2,300 ft, is past the campground at the end of the road. It's generally full during summer. Overflow parking is available about 1/4 of a mile back down the road on the right.
The trail starts at the end of the parking lot. Once you cross a low wetland you'll notice a prominent sign invoking you to go right and join the Wonderland Trail. Once you do, the trail quickly begins climbing at a steady pace.
The old growth trees crowd the trail and the ground is carpeted with moss and flowers. The trail winds continually upward. Ipsut Creek is a constant roar on your right as you cross numerous small streams. There's very few switchbacks, so, you gain elevation rapidly, through an ancient forest. Later in the hiking season, as autumn approaches, there are patches of blueberries that offer a welcome treat.
At 1.2 miles into the hike, you'll discover a rather huge Douglas fir. Those folks really into Tolkien could imagine the tree as a hobbit house. The trail gets (YES) even steeper beyond, passing a gigantic red cedar at about 1.5 miles. After a switchback, you cross a creek on a footlog and go up to a second creek where a footbridge provides an excellent opportunity for pictures of a cascading waterfall on your left.
This hike is a great early season tune-up for a summer of hiking to come. Many of Rainier's trails start with switch backs that lead into the high meadows. This trail starts below snow line in spring and lets you hike snow free early in the spring.
Moving up along the crest of a ridge the stream divides into two branches of Ipsut Creek. As you rise to the ridge top, notice that the forest, which was snuggling close to you on the path, has thinned out. Trees are smaller. The valley drops below you, and you find yourself in an open meadow, about 2.8 miles from the trailhead.
Soon, the trail becomes rocky. You cross a stream and wet meadow, then climb abruptly to a stand of Alaska cedars on the right and three huge cedars uphill on the left. One of those three reportedly is the largest yellow cedar in the world. Try to figure out which one.
Maybe after seeing such large firs and hemlocks lower on the trail, the cedars don't seem so immense. Remember, though, cedars growing this at this altitude take hundreds of years to attain that size.
Going farther, the trail leads to Ipsut Pass, 3.6 miles from the trailhead. Just before the pass you'll encounter a steep series of switchbacks, working your way between towering cliffs to the 5,100-foot pass.
You made it. It was a bit of a tough go; so take time to enjoy the views. Have some lunch. Take care going back down. Despite the strain on your calf muscles, you'll have an easier time descending, and maybe just have moments to better appreciate the scenic beauty.
If you have time and energy left, Eunice Lake is just a mile away, a flat hike to find a spot in the meadows and cool your feet in the lake.