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Green Lake

Mount Rainier Area > NW - Carbon River/Mowich
46.9950, -121.9155 Map & Directions
9.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
1,500 feet
Highest Point
3,270 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
Find adventure and beauty among the rare high-elevation rainforest surrounding Green Lake. Photo by Solo Steve. Full-size image
  • Mountain views
  • Dogs not allowed
  • Waterfalls
  • Old growth
  • Good for kids
  • Lakes
  • Rivers

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

National Park Pass
Saved to My Backpack

The Green Lake Trail is a moderately strenuous but relatively short hike to a pocket lake set among a rare high-elevation rain forest. The trail's wide, ambitious grade rewards accordingly for your efforts, ascending through stands of humbling firs, passing a picturesque waterfall, and ending on the shore of a lovely mountain lake. Continue reading

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Hiking Green Lake

The Green Lake Trail is a moderately strenuous but relatively short hike to a pocket lake set among a rare high-elevation rainforest. The trail's wide, ambitious grade rewards accordingly for your efforts, ascending through stands of humbling firs, passing a picturesque waterfall, and ending on the shore of a lovely mountain lake.

From the clearly marked trailhead on the decommissioned Carbon River Road, head abruptly uphill, passing an interpretive sign -- one of the best you will find at a trailhead in Washington. A 3-D map of the trail area, a little natural history, and a briefing on the tried-and-true methods of wilderness common sense help you get a sense of how to appreciate the forest around you before leaving you to it.

The lower half of the trail winds among ancient Douglas fir that are the hallmark of the Carbon River Rainforest. This is considered the only inland temperate rain forest of its kind, being well beyond marine areas. But just like the valleys of the wet Olympic coast, the Carbon catches showers in its trajectory, holding them longer, and making its own fog when it needs to. In other words, this valley lives and breathes differently from its neighbors.

At a half mile, regard a recently-fallen giant fir as you walk along, as much as under, its extraordinary length. The lineage this tree belongs to is still thriving below this point, but above here is a transitioning forest. As you hike, younger and slimmer hemlock overtake the forest, higher in number than any other kind of tree in the area. In fact, this is the rain forest's climax state.

The trail rounds an arm of mountainside near the one mile mark, and you suddenly hear Ranger Falls. Several false way trails drop to the left, but don't be tempted down them; they lead to nothing. The true Ranger Falls overlook, 200 feet off the main trail, is marked by an obvious sign. Most of the year Ranger Falls is well-fed, plunging 100 feet through a narrow slot choked with boulders and felled giants. At high summer it merely trickles in comparison.

After Ranger Falls the trail makes up for lost momentum, climbing steadily through the montane zone. The canopy of interwoven hemlock (and a few silver fir) breaks for patches of sky which mark the top of the climb. A marvelous log bridge set aside a cedar with twin buttresses that resemble bellbottoms spans the stream in a serene bend worth stopping to admire. A 50-foot rise beyond the crossing brings you finally to the side of Green Lake, 1.8 miles from the trailhead -- 4.8 miles from where you left your car.

Western hemlock dominate the lakeshore, suggesting an arena with sidewalls that strive to outdo the width of the lake. Logs choke the outlet of Green Lake, but make for a very scenic and fun lunch spot. One log floats freely around the lake but is usually parked near the outlet dam and is known to some as "the surfboard."

There is no trail beyond this point and no reason to attempt to follow any way paths that dwindle among the thickly-forested shore. No camping is allowed at Green Lake. Ipsut Creek makes a good alternative, offering the amenities of a front country campground with the exception of plumbing (no fires allowed).

Wheelchair Accessibility

This trail is wheelchair friendly up to the turnoff for Green Lake. A former road, the trail along the Carbon River before turning off to Green Lake is relatively flat and may be appropriate for wheelchair users. The grade is variable but rarely steeper than 4%, and roots and rocks in the trail may be avoided thanks to the wideness of the trail.

Hike Description Written by
Wes Partch, WTA Correspondent

Green Lake

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.9950, -121.9155 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

National Park Pass

WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

Getting There

From Buckley on Highway 410, turn south onto Highway 165. Immediately ahead is a poorly-marked intersection. Make a sharp right, and continue 1.6 miles to another intersection, then take a left. Follow the main highway through three small towns with a few food options, two saloons, and one last chance for gas (in Wilkeson). Each town is about two miles apart.

Carbonado is the last town, 7 miles from Buckley. Abide the 35 mph speed limit after Carbonado as the "highway" weaves in and out of cliff recesses that prohibit visiblity. After three more miles is a scenic, if not scary, bridge that spans the canyon of the Carbon River, 10 miles from Buckley. In another half mile veer left at an obvious junction, following signs for Carbon River.

The right fork leads to Mowich Lake, also in Mount Rainier National Park. Continue another 8 miles to the road end, 18 miles from Buckley, passing through tree farms in various stages, before entering old forest. Park in the lot at the road end, displaying a National Park or interagency pass from your rearview mirror. The lot accommodates about ten vehicles. Limited amenities are available, including pit toilets and garbage/recycling. An interpretive sign tells a little natural history.

More Hike Details


Mount Rainier Area > NW - Carbon River/Mowich

Mount Rainier National Park

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)

50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. Ira Spring and Harvey Manning. The Mountaineers

Green Trails Mount Rainier West

Buy the Green Trails Mount Rainier Wonderland No. 269S map

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Green Lake

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