Silver Falls, Mt Rainier Nat’l Park: not to be missed
We’re going to do a stereotypical and highly ridiculous thing. A lot of writers will tell you about the “only sight you need to see in…” or the “absolute most perfect…” and we try not to do that. Ever. Tell you what though, we are going to tell you about the best most worthwhile hike in Mt Rainier National Park: Silver Falls. If you want to do one waterfall hike with kids when you’re in Washington State, you need to do Silver Falls in Mt Rainier National Park.
Silver Falls is amazing for a few reasons (and for once one of the reason isn’t stroller accessibility). There are loads of wonderful hikes at Mt Rainier and so many waterfalls you can see, but Silver Falls packs the most bang for your time and effort. It’s such a great use of your time at Mt Rainier National Park that we’ll go so far as to say that it’s the single most beautiful experience you can have on the mountain.
Note: for our most recent hike at Silver Falls, we were joined by our friends David and Angela from the Dang Travelers blog as well as our friend Kelly, a local LMP who we’ve interviewed about traveling for health. Great fun! And thanks to both for capturing some fun pics of us!
What you'll find...
Locale of Silver Falls
Silver Falls is located in the Ohanapecosh area of Mt Rainier National Park, which is on the southeast side. Strangely, for being so far on a map, it’s actually closer to visit from Seattle than other sites in Mt Rainier National Park, such as Paradise, for example. If you’re visiting from Portland or Eastern Washington, it’s for sure the easiest and closest spot in the park to get to.
Basically, although the area isn’t the most well known, it’s super easy to get to and isn’t half as crowded as other places. Really, its location is the first reason that Silver Falls is a gem of a trip. The drive there is beautiful as you wind through the mountain roads that so few visitors travel. And on your drive you’ll get some pretty awesome views of Mt Rainier… which is good because there’s no view to be had of the mountain while you’re doing your Silver Falls hike.
Tip: plan the timing of your trip appropriately, meaning that you need to consider traffic. When you leave Mt Rainier National Park, you’ll have to go through Puyallup or Tacoma, or Auburn even, all of which have BAD rush hour traffic. Plan to hit those areas when traffic is dissipating.
Silver Falls itself is a short hike at only 1.1 miles to the start of the falls. Its length makes it perfect for any level of hiker. I’m not saying that you should take an elderly person who’s out of shape, but that you shouldn’t let the word hike deter you or your travel companions from enjoying the amazing sight at the end.
Prepping for the hike
Although the hike to Silver Falls is one of the easiest hikes in Mt Rainier National Park, you still need to be smart about it. The path is a good one, but by no means is it stroller friendly. Don’t try. Be sure you have a good kid-pack for the hike if you have a little person with you.
Tip: check out our shopping page for some good options for equipment
You’ll want to be sure that you bring plenty of water on your hike. In general you want to stay hydrated, right? Silver Falls has the weather of Eastern Washington, not Seattle, so plan for it to be much warmer. This also means that you’ll want to wear shorts and, dare I say it, swim shorts are actually a great idea (you’ll see why).
There are some great places at the the Falls for a picnic. You know we love our picnics in National Parks, and Silver Falls doesn’t fail in the picnic department. Whether you want to sit in the shade in the forest or on the rocks with your feet in the water, there are lots of great level spots to set up lunch. Why not? Picnicking is the best thing about being outdoors!
Reminder: pack it in, pack it out. There are NO trash cans on the trail and if you litter in the forest, I’ll come find you and make you go trash collecting (or I would if I was omnipotent and had that authority).
Hiking to Silver Falls at Mt Rainier National Park
Like I said, easy-peasy, but also you’re going up and down on the trail. It’s not a flat trail. It’s winding through the hills, going up around a corner and then down towards a creek, and then back around to the next glen in the woods.
There are a few nifty sights along the way to Silver Falls, the first being Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. Think of this sight as the miniature Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. There is a small terrace and mild spring flow coming from it, but it’s for sure unusual and quite a cool sight. It was neat to see Oliver (our oldest) relate the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs to Yellowstone. He’s such a smart cookie.
The other highlight along the hike to Silver Falls is Laughingwater Creek. It’s the perfect forest stream with ample moss, beautiful rocks and the most picturesque bridge ever. If you’re in the mood to stop and wait for the gnomes to come visit you there is a nice log bench begging for somebody to sit and relax.
Continuing on, you’ve got a bit more to hike. The light filtering through the trees is beautiful! The sound of the falls grows steadily louder as you approach and then when you see it, you kind of just want to jump in. It’s really spectacular.
True, Silver Falls is by no means the tallest of waterfalls, either in Washington State or Mt Rainier National Park, but it’s the most beautiful. Comet Falls was always our favorite until this most recent hike at Silver Falls. The weather, the mood and the water temperature shot Silver Falls to the top of our list!
Enjoying the falls to the fullest
When you first see Silver Falls, you’ll be across from it and it looks a bit untouchable, but fear not, there’s a bridge to take you over the Ohanapecosh River and to the rocks the run alongside Silver Falls. Spend some time on the bridge. Cross that bridge. Go find a great spot to sit and watch/listen to the water. Enjoy!
You’ll see that the trail either continues up into the woods to take you up-river or you can go onto the rocks. We opted for the rocks and after playing mountain goat across them, got to a great spot where we could actually play in the water. We saw other people jumping into the deep, calm pools, but we didn’t prepare for that.
Tip: when hiking on a nice day you should always have swimwear either under your clothes or at the ready. Skinny dipping is cool sometimes, but um, not always.
Since we had a tiny person with us at Silver Falls, another thing we enjoyed was the sand in some of the crevices. It was great to be able to take Elliott (our youngest) out of the hiking pack and let him play. Dude loves his sand so he was in hiking-beach heaven.
Family travel truth: poopy diapers know no bounds. Being on a hike doesn’t matter and the diaper will attack when it must. Thank goodness for a nice, flat rock to use as a changing table. PS: potty training just went into high gear.
Clearly, no matter your hiking or relaxation style, spending time at Silver Falls and communing with nature will be a wonderful experience. There’s no wrong way to appreciate nature, especially a place as beautiful as Mt Rainier National Park.
And now for a quick photo essay of the beautiful Silver Falls of Mt Rainier National Park…
While you’re at Ohanapecosh
In addition to the hike to Silver Falls, there is also a wonderful hike through the old growth forest of Ohanapecosh. The Grove of the Patriarchs is a wonderful two hour nature walk taking you across the Ohanapecosh River and through fallen giants and towers trees. You’ll love the drama of that part of the woods and the contrast to the hike to Silver Falls will show you the wonderful worlds that you’ll find all over Washington State.
Other waterfalls in Mt Rainier National Park
We’ve written about loads of waterfalls because we love visiting them with the kids, but Mt Rainier National Park is kind of a waterfall destination on its own. Two other really beautiful falls you can easily visit on a trip to Mt Rainier are Comet Falls and Nerada Falls. Both of these are on the west side of the park between Longmire and Paradise.
Comet Falls is for sure a hike that you need to plan on (minimum of 6 hours). It’s mostly in the woods, but you cross some beautiful creeks and have a really striking waterfall at the end. Very much a favorite for hikers.
Nerada Falls is one that you can park at the top of and walk a quarter mile down the hill to check out. You can also do a more lengthy hike (5 hours) from the Cougar Rock area. It’s a very different waterfall from either Comet or Silver Falls, so why not check it out too?
What an awesome place! We’re wowed by nature almost anywhere, but having Silver Falls so close to the Seattle area is just incredible. A beautiful hike with a prize at the end is just what we look for when we get the kids packed up for some family hiking, which is why this didn’t disappoint.
Have you hiked beyond Silver Falls or do you have another favorite waterfall hike in the Pacific Northwest? Share it and maybe it’ll be our next adventure!
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”