Standing at 14,409 feet above the rugged Washington Coast, Mount Rainier looms tall, over-seeing everything in Cascadia with her watchful, yet vengeful eye. Cascading down deep ravines carved over millennia of eruptions, 11 tentacles of waterways expand in every direction from the volcano’s summit, feeding life for the region. Tahoma Creek is one of those eleven creeks and rivers that flow down the glaciated slopes of Mount Rainier. Winding down from the mountain for just eight miles before reaching the Nisqually River, Tahoma Creek makes a memorable impact for those who strive to hike Mount Rainier.
Located on the Wonderland Trail, a 95 mile path that encircles Mount Rainier, Tahoma Creek is one of the forgotten streams in the National Park. While millions drive over it each year, quickly passing through Longmire and Paradise, few take the trek upstream toward one of the more awesome hiking destinations around the state. At 6.4 miles round trip, taking a hike along Tahoma Creek, one gets an appreciation for the sheer power and ruggedness of Mount Rainier.
The trail starts at the end of Westside Road, which is a left turn from the road to Longmire. The road passes leads through a forest until it reaches a gate. Depending on any number of issues, the road might continue past the gate, but be prepared to walk along the road for about a mile before you reach the trailhead, which isn’t well marked and can be tough to find initially. However, if you look around for a few seconds where the road takes an extremely sharp turn, you should find the trail, with a marker tucked in the woods by about 50 feet.
Once you start on the real trail, be aware that the trail is not maintained by the park. That means that there may be downed trees or other obstacles on the path to awesomeness. Don’t fret though, simple route finding skills will suffice in locating where to go. Note: If you do lose the trail, turn around, stand on the trail and then try to find where it should go. Do Not Wander Aimlessly!
For the majority of the hike, the path up Tahoma Creek is straight forward, following close to the creek at all times, only climbing up into the forest to avoid huge washouts and landslides. Along the trail, a unique view of Mount Rainier presents itself, peering over the horizon much more innocently than it usually does. For a mountain that watches over the entire Puget Sound region, see the mountain along Tahoma Creek, the mountain looks strangely small and vulnerable, nothing like the active volcano we all see from Seattle. With the running waters cascading down rocky slopes, Tahoma Creek feel miles away from the world.
Once the trail starts rising into the forest for good, the path passes over old wooden bridges and through pretty forests before finally arriving at a crossroads. To the left of the trail, the path rises to Emerald Ridge and the Puyallup River. To the right, the trail crosses the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge before climbing up in elevation to Indian Henry’s and the Devil’s Dream Camp. Always, always, always go to the right, even if you are heading toward Emerald Ridge. To the right, you get to cross the best suspension bridge in Washington State.
One hundred and sixty five feet above Tahoma Creek, the suspension bridge swings for two hundred feet, supported only by cables and a wooden walkway with quarter inch gaps between each board. To say that this is a tough bridge to cross depends on how you deal with heights. For many, they will look at the bridge, shake their head no while cursing a few words and head back to the car. For a few of us, it is yet another bridge in life that has to be crossed, but this one happens to be much more scenic that others. For others, the bridge becomes a personal challenge, something to overcome, representing a struggle in their life they are dealing with. For those, each step on the bridge is an adventure, feeling every wobble of the cables and hearing every creek of the bridge as it sways in the wind.
The Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge is like no other bridge you will hike across. Whether it is for your long adventure around the Wonderland Trail or just your destination for a unique day hike, the bridge is awesome. Looking through the cables, one can see the power of water as it has carved deep channels at the base of Mount Rainier. Tahoma Creek has already washed away the old bridge, flooded the old road and will do so once again. Some day, the glaciers will melt and the mountain will again erupt, erasing the watery tentacles of the mountain, but for now, we get to see the power, beauty and experience the wonder of nature in Mount Rainier National Park. For this, you need to hike here.
Distance: 6.4 Miles
Who: New Hikers who can find routes
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