Due to the historic floods in 2006, the road to the Ipsut Creek Campground is permanently closed. This provides a beautiful snowshoeing trek along the old service road, through old-growth forests, and along the incredible Carbon River.
The snowshoeing begins at the northwest entrance of Mount Rainier National Park about 2 miles past the ranger station. The parking lot is small and consists of only about 10 vehicle spots, so make sure to arrive early. The route will take you just over 5 miles of slow elevation gain to get to the falls. The Carbon River Trail offers extremely lush, temperate rain forest scenery that is similar to that of the Hoh River in the Olympics. At around the 3-mile mark the trail branches off to Green Lake. Keep trekking for another mile and the trail will branch off again for the Chenius Falls. Make sure to read signage along the trail; the Chenius Falls route is frequently washed out due to high waters. Also, look back occasionally for views of Old Baldy, Cayada Mountain, and Bear Mountain. At approximately the 3-mile mark, the Chenius Mountains dominate the view in front of you. Pitch camp at the Ipsut Creek backcountry site or head another 0.2 miles to the beautiful Ipsut Falls.
From the campground it is possible to access Ipsut Pass and Tolmie Peak via the Wonderland Trail. Another 3.5 miles will take you to the Carbon Glacier, which is the lowest elevation glacier in the contiguous United States. The Carbon Glacier is also the longest and has the most volume of any U.S. glacier outside of Alaska.
With a minimal elevation gain, the effort-to-reward ratio is heavily in your favor. Just be careful of the occasional icy patches along the snowy trail and soak in the beautiful views.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.