Spray Falls

Mt Rainier National Park / Mowich Lake, Washington, USA

About Spray Falls


Hiking Distance: 4 miles round trip; some scrambling
Suggested Time: 2.5 hours; 4-5 hours for Spray Park

Date first visited: 2011-08-24
Date last visited: 2011-08-24

Waterfall Latitude: 46.91561
Waterfall Longitude: -121.84183

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Spray Falls took me a bit of work to reach while also requiring a bit of risk to see it in the manner as you see on the photo above.

It was impressive waterfall with a reported height of around 354ft spreading to 100ft wide at its base in an unusually twisting manner.

Rainier_044_08242011 - Spray Falls
Spray Falls

I found that twisting characteristic particularly memorable since it had the shape of a bent funnel.

The combination of the sheer size of this falls along with its unusual shape was it got a pretty high scenic rating and a spot on our Top 10 Best Washington Waterfalls List.

Since Spray Falls was sourced by the melting snow at Spray Park (an alpine meadow further up the main trail), I’d imagine its flow would diminish as the Summer progressed under a typical snowpack year.

My visit wasn’t so typical (as told to me by locals I had met here despite my suspiscion that this was the case already) because the high precipitation of the year 2011 pretty much guaranteed the falls would have a healthy year-round flow.

Rainier_102_08242011 - Mt Rainier reflected in an alpine tarn at Spray Park, which was an alpine meadow draining its moisture to Spray Creek, which ultimately fed Spray Falls
Mt Rainier reflected in an alpine tarn at Spray Park, which was an alpine meadow draining its moisture to Spray Creek, which ultimately fed Spray Falls

Moreover, the volume of the falls that I had witnessed was more indicative of late June or early July flow as opposed to late August and early September.

As for experiencing Spray Falls, it could be one of three different outcomes.

First, it could be a fulfilling (and adrenaline-pumping) experience, a disappointing experience (if you ended up settling for the partial views), or a forgettable experience (if something bad happened trying to get to a good view of the falls).

Allow me to explain my experience.

Spray Falls Trail Description – hike to the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint

Rainier_004_08242011 - Starting the hike towards Spray Falls from near Mowich Lake
Starting the hike towards Spray Falls from near Mowich Lake

I actually visited this waterfall while doing a solo trip from Seattle to the Mowich Lake District of Mt Rainier National Park.

A fair bit of the latter part of the drive was on a slightly washboardy unpaved road, but it was easily handled by the passenger 2wd rental car.

Once I made it to the surprisingly busy parking lot at the end of the Mowich Lake Road (see directions below), I then took a roughly four-mile round trip hike that started off with a descent from the campground into a forest.

While in the forest, I made sure to veer left at a signposted junction to continue on the trail of interest where I then had to cross a handful of creeks.

Rainier_006_08242011 - One of many one-sided log bridges over the handful of creek crossings on the trail up to Spray Falls
One of many one-sided log bridges over the handful of creek crossings on the trail up to Spray Falls

Most of these creek crossings had either single-lane log bridges over them or they could be traversed easily enough by rock hopping.

Beyond these crossings, I then had to climb through several switchbacks.

Along the ascent, there was a signposted spur leading to the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint where I was able to get fine views (though somewhat against the sun in the morning) of the summit of Mt Rainier.

The viewpoint was close enough to the impressive volcano to see some of the glaciers imperceptibly sliding down its slopes.

Rainier_015_08242011 - Partial morning view of Mt Rainier near the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint
Partial morning view of Mt Rainier near the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint

I also witnessed what I thought was Giant Falls in the distance as well as some other unnamed cascades coming down the slopes of Mt Rainier.

Spray Falls Trail Description – from the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint to the falls

Continuing beyond the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint, the trail resumed its ascent before momentarily flattening out.

But that respite was short-lived as the trail then continued its relentless climb before reaching another signposted spur.

This time, the signpost said “Spray Falls Viewpoint” and was pointing to the right fork.

After following this spur trail across another narrow log bridge then through a volcanic scree slope section, the trail finally descended towards the rushing Spray Creek.

Rainier_021_08242011 - Crossing a volcanic scree slope section on the final stretch to reach Spray Falls
Crossing a volcanic scree slope section on the final stretch to reach Spray Falls

The official trail ended at the banks of the Spray Creek.

However, from here, I was only able to get a partial view of the Spray Falls as trees from the left blocked the rest of its view.

In order to get more satisfying views, I had to cross the creek.

When I tried to rock hop my way to the furthest I could get without getting wet, I only managed to get right in the middle of the creek where I could only improve my view marginally.

Given the depth and speed of the creek, it occurred to me that the official end of this spur trail would be the end of the Spray Falls hike for most people.

Rainier_023_08242011 - Looking up from the middle of the creek towards Spray Falls though it was partially blocked by trees
Looking up from the middle of the creek towards Spray Falls though it was partially blocked by trees

However, I knew I had to find a way to get across Spray Creek for that better view.

This was despite the observation that I was faced with an unusually late Spring-like condition at the end of August 2011.

I was sure that the creek levels on the day of my visit were more of an anomaly this late in the Summer.

Theoretically, Spray Creek ought to have lower flow under more “normal” conditions, which in turn would have made the creek crossing less intense.

But alas, trying to cross the creek was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and I found it to be quite risky.

Rainier_029_08242011 - Looking across at a fortunate placement of a pair of fallen logs that I was able to use to cross Spray Creek to get that much improved view of Spray Falls in unusually high flow as if it was the start of Summer instead of the end of Summer
Looking across at a fortunate placement of a pair of fallen logs that I was able to use to cross Spray Creek to get that much improved view of Spray Falls in unusually high flow as if it was the start of Summer instead of the end of Summer

One mishap and I could find myself swept downstream where there were hard, sharp rocks jutting out beneath the rushing creek waiting to pierce me or knock me out.

Had Julie accompanied me on this hike, she definitely would’ve talked me out of doing it under these conditions.

Anyways, after much scouting around for feasible options to cross the creek, I managed to find a pair of large fallen tree trunks that I was able to use to scoot more than two-thirds of the way across the creek.

I wasn’t sure if the trunks were felled intentionally in this manner or if Nature miraculously put them there by dumb luck.

Regardless, once I traversed the fallen trunks, the remainder of the crossing required a short hop across a particularly fast moving part of the Spray Creek.

Rainier_063_08242011 - Focused look at the Spray Falls through an opening between the trees from the other side of Spray Creek
Focused look at the Spray Falls through an opening between the trees from the other side of Spray Creek

When I made it to the other side, the hazards didn’t end.

I then had to scramble steeply away from the banks of the creek on loose volcanic rocks.

Once I got high enough from the steepest parts of the slope, I then scrambled along these loose rocks to a satisfactory enough view of Spray Falls (as shown at in the photo at the top of this page).

When I had my fill of Spray Falls, I went back across the creek the exact same way I came.

As tempting as the direct crossing seemed (to save the scrambling back to the fallen trunks), I knew it was too dicey to take the risk so I took the time to do it the way I knew had worked earlier.

Spray Falls Trail Descrption – extending the hike to Spray Park

Rainier_128_08242011 - Hiking in Spray Park
Hiking in Spray Park

Finally, since I had some time and energy, I continued hiking the extra mile beyond the Spray Falls junction.

As tiring as it was with the continual series of switchbacks, when the climb finally flattened out, I was at the alpine flat known as Spray Park.

Since the weather was relatively good, I was delighted to see several blooming wildflowers (another indication of a late Summer season), the summit of Mt Rainier, and even a small tarn where I took some photos of Mt Rainier and its reflection!

In total, I spent a little over 5 hours on the trail, which included rest stops, a short lunch break, and plenty of photo stops.

I even took some time to check out Mowich Lake when I returned to the trailhead.

Rainier_090_08242011 - Wildflowers blooming along the trail in Spray Park
Wildflowers blooming along the trail in Spray Park

So indeed, this excursion would definitely take the better part of a day.

Authorities

Spray Falls resides in Mt Rainier National Park near Puyallup in Pierce County, Washington. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Rainier_003_08242011 - On the unsealed Mowich Lake Rd leading to Mowich Lake and the trailhead for Spray Falls
Rainier_005_08242011 - The Spray Falls and Spray Park Trail
Rainier_007_08242011 - Looking upstream from the one-sided log bridge at some cascade tumbling towards it on the Spray Falls Trail
Rainier_009_08242011 - Continuing along the peaceful Spray Falls and Spray Park Trail
Rainier_010_08242011 - A signposted junction in the Spray Falls or Spray Park Trail (the junction was with the Wonderland Trail)
Rainier_011_08242011 - Walking within the forest as the sun tries to penetrate through the forest canopy en route to Spray Falls
Rainier_013_08242011 - The Spray Park Trail skirting alongside a sloping volcanic boulder field
Rainier_014_08242011 - The Spray Park Trail narrows as it flattens out somewhat where it crosses a long sloping area
Rainier_017_08242011 - Another signposted trail junction, but this time keeping right goes onto the spur for Spray Falls
Rainier_020_08242011 - Another one-sided log bridge across a rushing creek on the Spray Falls Viewpoint spur trail
Rainier_026_08242011 - View of the Spray Falls from the safe side of the creek
Rainier_032_08242011 - Spray Falls revealing more of itself the further into Spray Creek that I went
Rainier_043_08242011 - Finally making it to the other side of Spray Creek so I could get this much more satisfying view of Spray Falls
Rainier_051_08242011 - Getting closer to Spray Falls while enjoying the big bent-funnel-shaped waterfall and its rushing cascade beneath it
Rainier_065_08242011 - Focused long-exposure shot of the Spray Falls before the sun started to penetrate the morning shadows
Rainier_069_08242011 - Last contextual look at the Spray Falls as the trees on the left started to get bathed in the morning sunlight
Rainier_073_08242011 - Facing the stream crossing over Spray Creek on the return hike
Rainier_075_08242011 - Following the trail beyond the Spray Falls spur and now climbing up to Spray Park
Rainier_079_08242011 - Finally making it up to the beautiful alpine meadow known as Spray Park
Rainier_081_08242011 - View of Mt Rainier's summit from Spray Park
Rainier_085_08242011 - Looking towards an eccentric volcanic formation from Spray Park
Rainier_092_08242011 - Looking back at the trail running through the beautiful Spray Park
Rainier_096_08242011 - More gorgeous wildflowers blooming in Spray Park in late August 2011
Rainier_106_08242011 - Looking across an alpine tarn towards Mt Rainier at Spray Park
Rainier_120_08242011 - Closeup at more wildflowers blooming at Spray Park in late August 2011
Rainier_125_08242011 - Some glaciers on the slopes of Mt Rainier as seen from Spray Park
Rainier_141_08242011 - Distant view of what looked like Giant Falls as seen from the Eagle Cliff Viewpoint
Rainier_152_08242011 - Another cascade seen from Eagle Cliff Viewpoint
Rainier_173_08242011 - Back at Mowich Lake. I can see why people choose to camp here

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Spray Falls lies in the Mowich Lake District in the northwest corner of Mt Rainier National Park.

According to my GPS log, I got here from Seattle by taking the Hwy 167 south to North Puyallup, then heading east on Hwy 410 until I made a right turn onto Mundy Loss Rd.

Rainier_001_08242011 - Looking towards Mt Rainier from the unpaved Mowich Lake Road
Looking towards Mt Rainier from the unpaved Mowich Lake Road

Mundy Loss Rd (which seemed like a residential road) hooks up with Hwy 162.

It then headed east and hooked up with Hwy 165.

Heading south on Hwy 165, the road passes through the small towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado.

Not long after a long single-lane bridge (roughly 3 miles past Carbonado), Hwy 165 splits where the right fork ascends steeply then becomes Mowich Lake Road while the left fork leads to the Carbon River Entrance Station of Mt Rainier National Park.

Rainier_186_08242011 - A closer examination at the gravel road to Mowich Lake
A closer examination at the gravel road to Mowich Lake

I took the fork on the right, which became an unpaved gravel road for the last 15 miles.

While on Mowich Lake Road, there’s some imposing views of Mt Rainier while still outside the Mt Rainier National Park boundary.

Shortly after crossing the National Park boundary, there’s a self-help fee station and restroom area.

Mowich Lake Road eventually terminated at the parking lot and trailhead, which was within a stone’s throw from the lovely Mowich Lake itself.

Rainier_176_08242011 - The surprisingly busy parking lot at Mowich Lake, which was also the trailhead for Spray Falls
The surprisingly busy parking lot at Mowich Lake, which was also the trailhead for Spray Falls

There’s also a campground here, which can be an attractive option for enabling even longer hikes amidst the Spray Falls / Spray Park vicinity.

Overall, the drive from Seattle to Mowich Lake was about 70 miles taking me between 2.5-3 hours.

By the way, I wasn’t able to visit the Carbon River Section of Mt Rainier National Park because its road was washed out just east of the ranger station there.

Thus, I wasn’t able to visit Ranger Falls, which definitely would’ve been an entry in this website had I been able to visit it.

Right to left sweep from within the cascading stream downstream of Spray Falls ending at a partial view of the falls itself


Bottom up sweep from within the middle of the cascading stream showing a partial view of the falls at the end


Right to left sweep starting with a full view of the falls then panning along the cascading stream that had to be crossed to get here


Fixated on a full view of the falls in motion

Tagged with: mt rainier, mount rainier, national park, mowich lake, pierce, washington, waterfall, spray park, puyallup, wilkeson, carbonado, carbon river



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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