About Spray Falls
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. So your experience at this falls could be a fulfilling (and adrenaline-pumping) one, a disappointing one (if you ended up settling for the partial views), or a forgettable one (if something bad happened trying to get to a good view of the falls). Allow me to explain my experience.
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 car park at the end of the Mowich Lake Road, 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 (most of them had single-lane log bridges over them or could be traversed easily enough by rock hopping) before I proceeded to climb through several switchbacks.
Along the way, 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, as well as what I thought was Giant Falls in the distance as well as some other unnamed cascades.
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.
The official trail ended at the banks of the creek, but from here, I was only able to get a partial view of the 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 (right in the middle of the creek), I only managed to get marginally improved views.
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. 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 unusually late Spring-like conditions at the end of August 2011. I was sure that the creek levels on the day of my visit were more of an anomaly at this time of year and that 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 quite risky. 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.
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 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.
As for the waterfall itself, it was said to drop around 300ft or more in an unusually twisting manner. It was that twisting characteristic that made me think it had the shape of a bent funnel. The combination of the sheer size of this falls along with its unusual shape was why I found Spray Falls to be both beautiful and memorable thereby resulting in its high scenic rating.
Since the 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. Since 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), it pretty much guaranteed a healthy year-round flow at least for 2011 as the volume on the falls was more indicative of late June or early July flow and we were just about to head into September.
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), 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. So indeed, this excursion would definitely take the better part of a day.
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.
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.
Take the fork on the right, which becomes 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 terminates at the car park and trailhead, which is within a stone’s throw from the lovely Mowich Lake. 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.
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