Skookum Flats on White River

Skookum Flats

Skookum Flats Trail: Detours and Waterfalls

It's mid-January, the skies are its usual winter shade of gray and there's the threat of light showers that always tend to roam around this time of year. When hiking in this sort of weather in the northwest, it also brings out some added beauty of its own. So we grab the rain gear and caps and head out for the Skookum Flats Trail along the White River, just outside of Mount Rainier National Park. Instead of viewing miles of mountain ranges and the towering Mount Rainier nearby, the view is of the White River with the peaks that surround you, occasionally being encircled by low clouds and fog that is moving around them. The forest is green and smells like Christmas.

The trail begins along the White River and is occasionally covered with patches of snow. As it meanders along the river bank, you gain a small amount of elevation and sometimes lose view of the river. The trail is soft, the fir trees tall and green. In the wintertime, it frequently gets pretty dark and eerie as the trail goes along. The river itself isn't in full rage this time of year, although it's presence can always be heard.

Less than a mile in, we run into trouble. The trail has been ravaged by mother nature. Huge trees have recently been snapped like toothpicks and thrown to the ground, almost as if a tornado had touched down, picking and choosing many large trees to block the trail over a wide area. We look around for options. At first, it appears that it might be the end of the day for this trail, but we decide to find a way around the mess. The damaged area has allowed a few inches of snow to remain and we see a few footprints that we decide to follow, but at times lose.

The detour is not marked, nor is it always easy. To get around the damage, we head away from the river and are forced to climb up over, and duck under, many of the large fallen trees. A few times we needed to back-track a bit to find an easier way through it. The divergence goes on for just under a half-mile by my estimate. The key is to remember that the trail is by the river always try to get back to it. Eventually, we do and the trail continues smoothly again. But it is a bit of a challenge and takes some extra time to find our way through it.

About two miles into the hike, we begin to hear the crashing of a waterfall. We see it in the distance to our right. Evenutally, there's a sign pointing to the Skookum Falls to the right of the trail. You can continue straight on the trail for many more miles, including rockier areas along the riverbank trail, but after spending more time than we expected getting to this point, due to the detouring, we decide this will be our turn-around point, so we turn right and head up to the falls, for a first-hand misting from it.

The trail is not a is purely a climb upward and eventually brought us to the bottom of the falls. The Skookum Falls originates from Mount Rainier's largest glacier and comes crashing down beside us hitting the snow and ice that has formed at its base. We enjoy watching the waterfall crash down from the high cliff for awhile, before heading back down and back...knowing we're going to have to navigate through the ravaged forest again.

The skies that had threatened light rain decided to live up to its forecast. But it simply made the trail back more interesting. Several large white-tailed deer had crossed our path earlier and could be seen down by the river. With the light rain, the fog was also adding its own touch of awe and creating a new depth and dimension of our surroundings. Despite trailblazing some unmarked detours...the views, the river, the dark green forest, the smell of fir trees, and the waterfall...all made it a unique wintertime experience.

Skookum Flats Trail: Quick Points

There's no quick way to get to the trailhead because of the towns you have to stop and go through. There are a number of ways to get to Enumclaw, so pick your favorite to get there and onto State Route 410. It's the same way you'd take if you were going to Sunrise on Mount Rainier. Not too long after passing through Greenwater, you'll pass a few Crystal Village roads. After you see the viewing area for Mount Rainier on the right side of the road, you'll also see mile marker 49. You'll be turning right on Forest Road 73. It is clearly marked. Less than a half mile, you'll cross over the White River Bridge and on the right side is the parking area and outhouse. On the other side of the road is the trailhead.

You'll need your Northwest Forest Pass on your vehicle to park. You can get your annual pass in Greenwater beforehand if you don't have one. In any case, you'll want to stop there on the way back. The big lodge-looking building is Wapiti Woolies. They have Starbucks coffee in there and it's a very nice gift shop with other essentials you may need, or want.

Skookum Flats
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