Mount Rainier National Park is certainly not short on scenery … but sometimes those epic views and panoramas can take quite a bit of huffing and puffing to get to. That is not the case with the Silver Falls Loop on the beautiful Ohanapecosh River, which is a relatively easy loop hike from one of the park’s established campgrounds. There’s a visitor center and creature comforts near the trailhead, and the hike itself takes you through dense, peaceful forests, the rushing and beautiful Ohanapecosh River, historic hot springs, and of course the waterfall itself. Consider this a lovely introduction to the park, even though you won’t really get any views of its namesake volcanic peak.
If you’re driving, there is a small parking lot off Loop B that is the closest you will get to the Silver Falls Loop Trail trailhead. However, the campground is very popular and you may not be able to snag one of these prime parking spots. If that’s the case, don’t fret–there is overflow parking off the other loops (I found some at Loop C) and it’s a short and easy walk to the start of the trail, which kicks off on the north side of the Loop B paved drive.
The trailhead is easily apparent and nice and broad, and in just about 0.1 mile from the end of the pavement, you’ll spot a small trail striking off to your right. This leads to the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs and is worth a quick detour.
However, before you head off in that direction with visions of soaking your sore body in some restorative thermal pools, just know that the hot springs here are more of a broad series of low-bubbling seeps that slowly slide their way into the river below. The Taidnapum nation that lives nearby made use of these medicinal waters before Europeans arrived, and in the past, more modern tourists also took advantage of the supposed healing properties of the water here. Today, though, no such infrastructure exists. I don’t know if it’s frowned upon to, say, dip your feet into the hot water here–but if you do, bring a towel you don’t really care about to dry off and clean up afterward. It’s a lot of mud!
You can continue along this trail through some lovely, dense forest, but know that it will eventually loop back and spit you out in the campground again, so don’t venture too far.
Instead, there is plenty of lovely forest ahead of you on the rest of the route, so make your way back to the main trail and keep right to continue toward Silver Falls, making sure to enjoy the delicate, shade-growing vine maple along the way.
There isn’t a whole lot to write about staying on the trail here–it’s one trail until you get to the waterfall, and the only junctions you may encounter are a handful of short and obvious spurs that head up to WA-123 as alternate trailheads. So all you need to do is stick to the broad main path and enjoy the scenery–and let me tell you, the scenery here is quite lovely indeed.
Just before the 1.7 mile mark, ignore the trail to your right that climbs up to WA-123 and stay on the main trail for another 0.1 mile, where you’ll drop down into a section of the route carved into stone with an exceptional view of Silver Falls. This is a great spot to stop and have a snack while enjoying the sights and sounds of the waterfall, but if this area is a little too crowded when you visit, don’t worry–you can also get a great view from other side of the river.
When you’re done soaking up this exceptional scene, cross the bridge over the river. There is another viewpoint from above the falls that’s worth a very short side trip.
At 2.1 miles, keep left at the junction with the Eastside Trail and stay left at the junction with the Cowlitz Divide Trail 0.1 mile further to stay on the Silver Falls Loop Trail.
It’s more smooth sailing through peaceful forest for the remainder of this route. You’ll exit the trail near Loop D of the campground. Just cross the bridge back to Loops A, B, and C to return to where you began.