Waterfalls have always fascinated me. Especially from below, but also from a place distant enough where you can grasp their size. You somehow don’t get this when you are standing right on top of them. And that was one of the reasons why my husband and I decided to hike to some falls in the Mt. Rainier National Park that you don’t reach by car, the Carter Falls. Little did I anticipate that we’d even hike farther.
We always pack two rucksacks with food and snacks, water and water-cleansing gear, band aids and sunscreen, maps and a GPS, and foul weather gear including an extra pair of socks for each of us. Thus prepared, we set out and make sure that our park admission card is still valid and the gas tank is full. You don’t want to get stuck in the park with the closest last gas station either in Greenwater or, in this case, in Ashford. And we tend to leave really early because after eleven in the morning you are prone to end up in a long traffic jam approaching the park gate.
For Carter Falls, we drove a little past Longmire. Just below Cougar Rock, there’s the trail head for Carter Falls. More often than not all the parking along the road is already taken up – but hardly anybody uses the huge parking lot inside the pick nick area just a few yards above the trail head. So, off we went, climbing into the rocky bed of the Nisqually River and towards a log bridge. The water was rushing with immense speed underneath, and I told myself to concentrate on the log while crossing, not on the river. Then the path curved gently around a slope and led us higher, always along Paradise River. It was a gray day, and the tree canopy rendered additional shade. The path was well maintained and quite easy to hike. Alas, Carter Falls were only visible through the trees – not the stunning vista I had hoped for. The best vista is actually caught a little below the signed view point!
As it had been a fairly short hike, we decided to continue to Narada Falls. We had been atop of them in the past and even seen them from Paradise Valley Road. But we’d never been close up. So, we decided that another 0.9 miles would not be too challenging. Sometimes it’s just as well you don’t know what you are setting out for …
A little further up from Carter Falls, we were already rewarded with what I’d rather call a stunning series of rapids – these were the Madcap Falls. The path started becoming steeper, narrower, and less populated. The Madcap Falls Camping Site was closed off to the public because of dangerously leaning trees – it still would make for a nice pick nick place of ten minutes or so on our way back. I had never perceived what was barely a mile stretch for so long!
And then, the path opened to a big and slanted view point directly across from the Narada Falls. Their height and width awed me. The people on the other side, on the bridge above the falls, were ant-sized. The air was filled with waterfall spray – so utterly refreshing after the relatively short, but fairly challenging hike. The pool below was shimmering with wet rocks and sand all colors. Shall I be honest? I wish it had been less crowded, for with crowds comes chattering. And that steals from Nature’s own show. How much more crowded must it be on sunnier days!
The way back was a walk in the park, all downhill. Refreshed from the pick nick and newly discovering the route (why does a path always look so different when walking it in the other direction?), we soon reached the log bridge across the Nisqually again. This time, we had to wait for people to cross in front of us. The parking area had become crowded, too; not the pick nick area, though. We checked our GPS leisurely, while back on the road cars were still piling up in search for another empty slot. We found we had climbed 1,300 feet elevation from there to Narada Falls – a short 6-mile-hike. But you better be prepared for the challenge …