Deer Creek, Stafford & Ohanapecosh Falls
|Scenery:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Difficulty:||(3.0 / 5)|
This wonderful 7-mile out and back hike affords great views of three different waterfalls on three different watercourses—Deer Creek Falls on Deer Creek, Stafford Falls on Chinook Creek, and Ohanapecosh Falls on the Ohanapecosh River—as the trail zigs and zags its way south on the far east side of Mt. Rainier National Park.
From the marked trailhead along WA 123, the Owyhigh Lakes Trail descends down a well-maintained, decently graded path, with the sound of rushing water from nearby Deer Creek your constant companion. The climax forest is an amazing place, with an understory dominated by bunchberry, sword fern, and devil’s club and a canopy of western hemlock, western red cedar, Douglas fir, and other iconic trees of the Pacific Northwest. After about a tenth of a mile of descending, the trail switches back to the right and soon offers up an overlook to the right of Deer Creek Falls (GPS: N46 50.056’ / W121 32.224′), a thundering 62-foot cascade that has cut a zig-zag shape through a steep rock gorge. Watch your step as there is no railing and it’s a long way down.
Moving on, continue for another 800 feet or so down the Owyhigh Lakes Trail until a marked junction with the Eastside Trail. Follow the Eastside Trail to the left (south) toward Ohanapecosh. Backpackers rejoice: Within 150 feet there is a marked side trail leading to Deer Creek Camp, where those properly permitted in advance by the National Park Service can spend the night.
Dayhikers keep moving, and in another half mile cross a couple of streams (be prepared for the possibility of wet feet and bring extra socks or water shoes just in case). In another two-thirds of a mile look for an unmarked but well-trodden side trail off to the left, and follow it down to view Stafford Falls, where 8-foot-wide Chinook Creek chutes 25 feet down into a woodland punchbowl roughly 50 feet across and then turns a corner and makes its way downstream less eventfully.
Continuing on, get back on the Eastside Trail and keep heading south for another mile and a third where Ohanapecosh Falls start to make itself heard and seen through the trees to the left of the trail. In another tenth of a mile, you are standing on the big wooden footbridge over 50-foot Ohanapecosh Falls. Take a few pictures and then head across the river to another vantage point 200 feet and off-trail to the left where you can view Ohanapecosh Falls in all of its two-tiered, raging glory through the omnipresent tree canopy. With three waterfalls checked off, it’s time to turn around and hike back to the car.
Follow WA 123 for 6.5 miles south of Cayuse Pass and look on the west side of the road for a sign for the Owyhigh Lakes Trailhead (GPS: N46 50.026’ / W121 32.111′); park in the pull-out across the road (there is room for about 10 cars). Pack your water bottle and lunch and cross the road to start the hike.
For more info, contact: Mt. Rainier National Park, Ashford, WA; (360) 569-2211.