Our accidental trip to Mt. Rainier was almost ruined by our mistake of taking dogs along. I didn’t realize that the park was so controlled. Dogs are allowed into the park, but they are NOT allowed on any trails or in the back country. This isn’t where the trip started though, and we had a blast anyway!
Whenever possible we always run away to the great outdoors. June 2018 was no different and with the recent snow melting, road closures had mostly come to an end. Another adventure was afoot.
Melmont Ghost Town along Highway 165 is just North of Rainier and St. Helens. Therefore, along the way. 165 is a dead end, If you’re thinking about going. We stopped at the trailhead after driving a few extra miles of 165 and realizing the ghost town is NOT just off the highway. We drove back and parked on the South side of Fairfax Bridge. Walking back across the bridge, the trail head was on the left. It’s really not much of a trail at first, but once we negotiated our way down onto the trail it was easy going. Once we put in a mile or so, we came across a few stone structures on both sides of the road. One on the left side was mostly intact, while a low foundation was all that remained on the right side, which is further down the trail. Other than an old car, there really isn’t much more along this trail. It’s a bit of a stretch calling it a ghost town.
If you wanted to see a ghost town, read this blog post about our ghost town road trip. If you are bound for Rainier, Melmont Ghost Town is still a beautiful place. Just beware of the first 50 feet of the trail. There was a rope to help us out on the steep grade as I battled the brush. The dogs had an easier time, since they are 4 wheel drive.
Once we were done with this hike, and out of cell range, we elected not to proceed down 165 for fear that the road was still closed further up. If we had traveled to this location later in the year, parking at Tolmie Peak Trailhead and hiking up to the tower would have been ideal. The photos I found online of the view make it look worthy of the effort. Instead, we turned back and continued South towards Gifford Pinchot National Forest on NFD 25.
We originally wanted to get to Mt. St. Helens, by driving though NFD 25. All that changed when we came to a gate and a sign stating the road was closed due to snow. Turning around, we spotted a sign for Iron Creek Falls. After double checking there was NOT a sign facing the other way, to ensure that we weren’t crazy, we ventured down the trail.
It was a short 500 foot walk from the trail head down to the falls. Once we arrived at the bottom, the falls are to the right. Since it was early in the melting season, lots of water was cascading down over the rocks flowing through all three channels. It was a serene location. Probably ideal for a dip later in the summer. Katrin crossed the river on a log jam and of course Cooper charged right through the river giving us both a heart attack, thinking he would be swept down stream. He made it though! Getting him back across was easy since we made him walk on the log. Then we ventured down the river a bit to discover a small cave. Which I checked out from a distance with my flashlight. Then up close once I was certain a bear wasn’t in it. We walked around a bit more then jumped back into the truck to figure out what we should do.
Deciding that it was late enough in the day, we began to search for a camp site on some of the side roads. After driving up and down some of the roads and coming across some camps, we found wood that was left stacked up by a fire pit. It would have been a great spot, but there was broken glass all over. Stealing some wood for our fire, we departed and headed back towards Iron Creek Campground. After doing a lap around the camp and not wanting to pay when we could camp for free, down the road we went. This time on NF-76 following the river. Finding a spot that we liked in the dark, it didn’t take long to put the light-up collars on Cooper and Floyd and build a fire. With camp set, we ate dinner and discussed our next move.
The next day we woke up to the sounds of the river. Breaking camp after breakfast, Katrin wanted to take a walk down the road to get our blood moving. Cooper and Floyd enjoyed running up and down the road sniffing around.
Driving back to Randle and then up through the Nisqually Entrance, we entered Mt. Rainier National Park. After, stopping at the ranger station and getting all the appropriate passes and pamphlets we pulled over at Kautz Creek Trail. The mountain looked huge though only partially visible. Markers at the trail head indicated that dogs were not allowed on the trail so we only went to the first set of benches while Cooper and Floyd waited for us at the truck.
Eager to see the rest of the park, Katrin only snapped a few photos with her Nikon and tripod before we ran back to the truck. Continuing along Paradise road E to Longmire, I drove across the wooden suspension bridge while Katrin took some photos. Parking in Longmire was easy, and we strolled around with the pups. There is a small museum and a few other things to gawk at.
Up the road, after skipping more hiking trails, we were able to stop at Christine Falls Bridge. Trying to get the dogs to pose was difficult as usual. Katrin took some time lapse photos and I generally hung around.
Keeping on Paradise Road we stopped at each view point and anytime there was an area to park and view the mountain. Including Narada Falls, where there was a bathroom and a stern looking park ranger, who deterred us from taking the dogs down the trail for the lower viewpoint. Instead we took turns jogging down the path and back up. There are a few other falls nearby as well as the Paradise Inn. This time of year we could get to Paradise inn, but then snow prevented access to much else beyond that. The visitor center there is nice though it was under construction during our visit. The rest of Paradise road was blocked with snow so we turned around before joining up with Stevens Canyon Rd.
Reflection lake is just a short drive from the top and when we arrived it was frozen over and partially covered in snow. It was much too early in the year. Instead, I read the sign and stared at the only small visible part of the mountain. A cloud had persisted throughout most of the visit. If you find yourself on this road, make sure you have time planned for stopping often as there are numerous waterfalls in between Reflection Lake and Box Canyon.
Box Canyon has some signs explaining how the large rocks were smoothed over by the flows of bygone glaciers. Moss grows over some of the rocks in the area which adds to the evergreen allure. Walking back across the bridge and looking down we saw the water rushing through the small channels deep between the large rock formations. There is a trail that takes you on a short loop and over a foot bridge, which we took the dogs on just to get them out.
Surrendering to the parks no dogs policy, we retreated out of the park and back through Packwood searching for a campsite. We explored some fire roads outside of Packwood but did not find a suitable spot. Instead, we returned to our previous camp site on NF-76.
Building a big fire and making dinner, we discussed what we should do the next day. There was no cell signal to download more maps or search the area for anything we didn’t know about. Instead, in the morning we continued down NF-76 following our noses. Chasing down the dead ends of random dirt roads we luckily found Layser Cave by sheer luck. First, since we had a fair bit of time to kill, we drove to the ends of the road breaking through some dense brush and discovering that the road ends on an incline, I got us turned back around.
Back at the Layser Cave trail head, we took the dogs and proceeded to check out the cave, informative signs and the view point nearby. This was our last notable stop before spending more time checking out other dirt roads in the area. Which are abundant. Made me wish we had our dirt bikes with us.
It was time to stop messing around and turn home. With that our misadventure drew to a close.