Hiking Ohanapecosh — Easier than saying it

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Photos by L. Lisa Lawrence

In the Southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park is a magical forest inhabited by ancient giants, graced by roaring waterfalls and full of steaming hot springs. Ohanapecosh (oh-ha-nah-pa-cosh), the most-difficult-to pronounce area of the park, is perhaps its most diverse and under appreciated destination.

The area is named for a Taidnapam (Upper Cowlitz) Indian habitation site along the river, and it is believed to mean “standing at the edge.” Due to its location, Ohanapecosh is drier and sunnier than the west side, making it a good destination when Paradise and Longmire are wet and foggy.

14585700260_aef4ea9fc3_oWith a visitor center and campground nestled right next to the Ohanapecosh River, this wonderful area of the park offers an easy loop of a hike that’s 1 mile round-trip. It also connects to many other trails, including access to the Pacific Crest and Wonderland Trails.

The Ohanapecosh Hot Springs Trail takes off from the visitor center and is a level, well-maintained trail suitable for families, even the non-hikers.

The hot springs was the site of a tent camp in 1912 and grew into a full-blown resort that operated from the 1920s through 1963, when national park officials opted to restore the springs to their natural condition. Now, they are a series of steaming seeps and puddles that surprise and mesmerize park visitors. You can see the seeps from the main trail, but a short side trail will take the curious visitor closer. You can almost imagine the old-style grandeur of the resort prior to its removal.

For a longer, more challenging hike with stunning scenery, take the right fork in the trial at mile .5 and head up to Silver Falls via the loop trail for a 3-mile hike round-trip. The trail stays above the river but offers lovely scenery. At mile 1.7, you will reach a fork with the Laughingwater Creek Trail. Stay left and soon you will cross a sturdy footbridge, which is also a great stop for photographs.

There are wonderful photo ops from the base of the falls, where you cross an amazing gorge cut out of rock by powerful water. The trail climbs alongside the falls and river, allowing many more opportunities for photographs, to enjoy the cool spray of the falls and to lounge on sun-warmed rocks smoothed by centuries of rushing water.

After visiting Silver Falls, you can return to the visitor center or continue on to the junction with the East Side Trail and head out to the Grove of the Patriarchs. There you will see some of the largest, oldest trees in the Cascades. The Grove of the Patriarchs trail is relatively level and offers ample opportunity and access to enjoy the river. One of the fun things about this trail is crossing the suspension bridge. Kids (of all ages) enjoy this trek.

14769136391_11930ab19c_oDuring crowded summer months, you’ll need to pack your patience as visitors going both directions take turns crossing the bridge.

Once on the side with the trees, enjoy well-maintained boardwalks and benches. Some of these amazing trees are 40 feet around and nearly 300 feet tall. Even if you’re not a tree hugger, you may just want to hug one of these. However, your arms won’t be long enough!

A world of adventure awaits the entire family at Ohanapecosh. There are a few places that offer this much diversity and experience close to a campground and visitor center.

The campground offers 188 sites, many of which are along the river, and it is open from June to early October. Sites are $12-$15 per night and can be reserved online.

The Ohanapecosh visitor center, also open from June to early October, offers exhibits, guided interpretive programs and book sales.

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