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Owyhigh Lakes from Deer Creek

Difficulty: strenuous

10.5 miles

Elevation gain: 3100'

Max elevation: 5360'

Camps: Deer Creek

First hiked by me: 2021

This is the longer, steeper, and more scenic of the two ways to reach Owyhigh Lakes as a day hike. If you want to get there in a hurry, go via Owyhigh Lakes from White River Road instead. Or if you can arrange for a car at both ends, combine both trails as a through-hike.

The trailhead along WA 123 is unassuming and easily missed. The first 0.4 miles descends quite steeply, and you know what that means, Dear Reader: a kick in the teeth will be waiting for you at the end of the hike!

Most of the trail is a gradual climb through forest. It's the joyful kind of forest found on the eastern side of Rainier, with sparse enough trees that plenty of light makes it down to the forest floor, resulting in happily verdant undergrowth.

Water is a theme here. The area contains a multitude of streams and creeks, each of which flows over many waterfalls. White noise is a constant companion, shifting in volume and frequency as you grow closer to one falls or another. Notable examples are Deer Creek Falls near the start of the hike, crossing Deer Creek and Chinook Creek, Boundary Creek Falls, and Kotsuck Falls. That last lacks a good viewpoint, but seems impressive when glimpsed in the distance between trees, and it made my butt clench where a narrow few feet of trail hugs a cliff above it.

Higher up, forest gives way to a series of open meadows. There are no summit views here, but that's more than made up for by approaching and then passing below the dramatic Cowlitz Chimneys. These are a group of four rhyolite towers, remnants of an ancient volcanic plug. They're attractive and geologically fascinating.

Owyhigh Lakes are named after Chief Owhi of the Yakama. Kotsuck means 'middle' in the Chinook Jargon.

Deer Creek Falls

Chinook Creek

Bridge above the top of Boundary Creek Falls

Looking backward at Shriner Peak

The Cowlitz Chimneys

Owyhigh Lakes in front of Barrier Peak