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Grove of the Patriarchs and Silver Falls

Difficulty: easy

5.2 miles

Elevation gain: 1000'

Max elevation: 2244'

Camps: Ohanapecosh

First hiked by me: 2020

2022 update: Grove of the Patriarchs is inaccessible because a flood damaged the suspension bridge. No ETA for repair. The Silver Falls part of this hike is fine.

This hike has the highest awesomeness/difficulty ratio of any at Rainier. It combines three easy trails, which can also be hiked separately:

Silver Falls is impressive, and the trail offers multiple excellent viewpoints of both the main falls and the series of rapids above it. So much spray and boiling water!

The loop that connects Silver Falls to Ohanapecosh campground heads up one side of the Ohanapecosh River and back down the other, but it's primarily a woodland rather than river hike. And what lovely woods these are: open and light. Of all the forests on Rainier, I vote for this one as most likely to contain elves. It's a place for laughter and singing.

Near Ohanapecosh campground, there are hot springs. Not big enough to bathe in, but it is interesting to experience bath-temperature water oozing out of rocks. There was once a concession here with hotel, cabins, and bathhouses run by the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs Company, but it was bought out and the buildings removed in 1961.

Ohanapecosh means 'standing at the edge' in the Sahaptin language of the Taidnapam. This was the name of a Taidnapam settlement a few miles outside the current National Park boundary.

At the other end of the route, Grove of the Patriarchs is a magical island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River, accessed by a suspension bridge. This is home to giant Red Cedars, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlocks, some more than a thousand years old. Tasteful wooden walkways have been constructed to protect the roots of these ancient trees from the crowds of tourists.

The Ohanapecosh is unique among Rainier's major rivers because it is fed entirely by meltwater from snowfields above Indian Bar, rather than by an active glacier. That means no silt, and no periodic lahars. The water runs crystal clear rather than the usual turbid gray, and it has nurtured these trees for millennia rather than destroying everything in its path as is the normal way of Rainier rivers.

If the Silver Falls Loop is inhabited by wood elves, I'm pretty sure this island is home to a powerful elf queen. Were I a hero on a perilous quest, I suspect she'd tell me I could rest here as long as needed, for no enemy may pass the enchanted waters of the Ohanapecosh. Then she'd give me some kind of item, telling me it was carved from a fallen branch of a wise old tree that had spent its life soaking up earthpower from this special river. Later on, that item would undoubtably save me from some unexpected peril.

It's just that kind of a place.

The low altitude and gentle gradient make this a potentially great winter or snowshoe hike. WA-123 is closed at the park entrance during winter, so you'll have to hike an extra mile each way along the road to reach the start of the trail at Ohanapecosh campground. When the snow gets deep, WA-123 closes all the way back at its junction with US 12, adding an additional 2.6 miles of road hiking each way. Be careful over the many bridges if you choose to hike this in deep snow conditions.

A magical forest

How could there not be elves here? Just look at it!

Bridge over the Ohanapecosh River, immediately below Silver Falls

Silver Falls

More Silver Falls

Grove of the Patriarchs is reached by crossing the Ohanapecosh River on a suspension bridge

Hiking poles and pack for scale

Wooden walkways protect the Patriarchs from the feet of too many visitors

Patriarchs, in a grove

Patriarchs, of a more furry species