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The Naches Trail | Roaming Around Rainier #3

With a our picture-frame like view of Mt. Rainier, and a reasonably clear night, I'd setup the camera to take a series of photos that I could use to generate a time-lapse star trail. And, as a bonus, I hoped to catch the head lamps of early morning climbers on their way up to the summit. And, since I knew that I'd need more time than one battery would afford, I got up every three hours during the night to switch out batteries, using my 175W inverter to charge them while we slept.

Unfortunately, my ISO settings on the camera were too low, resulting in images that were too dark to recover.

On the positive side however, the camera clicked away through the morning hours and captured the scene as the sun streaked over the horizon, illuminating the mountain and little else.

Yes, I'll take "waking up here" any time.


As with the previous morning, and already tasty breakfast was only helped by the view. We sat out on the edge of the scree field as the sun rose and the light drifted further down into the valley. We were in no real rush, running the Naches Trail our only plan for the day. "Only," ha!

After getting everything packed up, we started back toward the highway - along a different route than we'd taken in the night before - and before long we were distracted by a fork in the road that seemed like it might lead down to the river. Well, as always, we contemplated whether we should investigate, and then couldn't help ourselves but to take the unknown and check the situation out.

What's that peaking out above the trees?

It was a great decision. A nice little camp site right next to the river would be great for us in the future with @mini.turbodb - though we'd likely have to show up mid-week to have any hope of finding it unoccupied.

Our little detour a success, we headed back the way we'd come as the sun rose higher in the sky, the air clearer than either of the two days prior. What a great time to be exploring our home state!

We explored a few more little side roads - again, we thought that Naches would be an hour-or-two ordeal at this point - before returning to WA-410, stumbling upon this interesting contraption along the way.

Initially I thought it was some sort of radio antenna, but further showed the lines to be simple ropes, so I have no idea what it is. I'd love to hear any ideas in the comments below!

We also happened upon a woman in a Subaru who was outside her car, peering at her passenger front wheel as we pulled up to ask if she was OK, and if she needed any help. Clearly distraught, her request was for a "Ride back to the highway," because "Something is terribly wrong with my wheel - it's making a really horrible screeching noise." We were happy to oblige, but I was pretty sure I knew what the problem was, so I suggested that she first move her car into a wide spot along the side of the road. I had her do this by first backing up, and then pulling forward into the spot. As she did, I let her know that her problem was fixed, and she could carry on. A little unsure, she continued forward a little ways and the noise was gone. She was thrilled!

It's always nice when the "horrible problem" is just a rock caught in a brake dust shield.

* Not the actual Subaru.

It was mid-morning when we finally made it to FS-70, the access road to Naches, and we were greeted with perhaps the best road sign I've ever seen - even better than those signs that say, "High Clearance 4WD Required."

You read that right - no a**holes allowed.

FS-70 was paved quite a bit further than I'd expected, but that was just fine - because as we eventually approached the entrance to Naches, it was clear that any semblance of road maintenance was going to be a thing of the past - at least for the foreseeable future.

Here, the maintenance was different - it was trail maintenance - as in, do the minimum necessary to make the trail passable by narrow, high clearance, 4WD, armored vehicles. Much of the trail was worn 5 feet below the original forest floor - rocks, roots, and fallen trees encroaching into the rutted channels.

Within the first half mile, we were already three-wheeling it in the easy sections.

In addition to the terror, the beauty of the trail was immediately apparent. The thick canopy made photos difficult, but allowed sunlight to sprinkle down, casting a warm yellow glow onto the trail. We enjoyed it when we weren't focused on keeping the body panels away from obstacles.

Now, I'm probably making everything sound a little more dramatic than necessary, but I will say that this trail is probably one of the tougher that I've run from a narrowness-and-body-damage-potential perspective. It is not however a dangerous or scary trail - there's no risk of falling off a cliff as there might be on something like Radical Hill. I can see it being extremely fun in a vehicle that's already a little banged up, where you're less concerned about bumping into things that protrude onto the trail.

A mile or so up - and just before another 45° hill climb - we passed a group of hikers on their way to Government Meadows, and obviously incredulous that we'd be driving a trail that they were using hiking poles to navigate.

Thanking them for letting us by, we pointed the truck up the 45° slope and eased into what may have been the trickiest section of the entire trail. See, about halfway up, there is a stump on the right and the trail is off-camber. Pulling in the passenger mirror, we got as close to that stump as possible - I'm talking about fractions of inches. If you try and stay left which is what your brain is saying, gravity will bring you crashing into the stump - a fate that had clearly befallen several before us. I can only imagine this section of trail when it's wet - it must be pure disaster. The climb ends at a blind turn over a rocky ledge - a place I had to climb out to get a look at where the road even went!

Now on a ridge, a few clearings and meadows made for peek-a-boo views of the landmark to our west.

We'd spent a couple hours on the trail by this point, and made it a sum total of about four bumpy miles, maybe four and a quarter. At any rate, as we came upon the parking area for Government Meadows and the crossing of the Pacific Crest Trail, it was the perfect spot to get out, stretch our legs, and give our butts a rest.

"Government Meadow - In the fall of 1815, the people of the Longmire Wagon Train spent two days in this meadow resting and preparing for their descent down the west side into the Puget Sound area"

There are a couple cabins here, and the first one we saw was not the one we were looking for. The second, however, was the perfect place for us to eat our sandwiches and chips ... and enjoy the warmth of the mid-day sun. Oh, and we brought out the two avocados that were travelling with us as well - still not quite ripe, and necessary for dinner!

After lunch, we carefully packed the guacamole fruit back in it's place and climbed back into the truck, just as the group we'd passed an hour earlier started to arrive. Perfect timing, really.

Almost immediately, we came to one of the few elements of the trail that I'd been expecting - some wooden boardwalks. See, back when I was just getting into this whole go exploring all the time thing, I'd read a bunch of trip reports from folks who were already out doing this. It'd turn out that those folks would end up becoming good friends, but at the time I simply viewed the stories inspirationally. At any rate, I remembered seeing Frankenstein on these boardwalks, and so had been looking forward to seeing them myself.

Tight squeeze.

Easy peasy.

There were - as it turned out - several of the boardwalks, many of them a little worse for wear - entire boards missing from their platforms. Some careful maneuvering and a little spotting from @mrs.turbodb were enough to get us through, and we continued on to the apex of the trail at Naches Pass.

From this point on, the trail was reasonably easy - at least comparatively. Sure, there were narrow sections, some rocks, roots, and rutting - but it was nothing like what we'd experienced on the west end of the trail. We made good time until we reached what was nearly the end of the trail, where we ran into a Jeep, blocking our path.

He'd already been there for 27 hours when we showed up.

LOL - his grumpy look matches his grumpy grill!

We chatted for a moment just to see if we could help, as it was initially unclear what exactly the problem was. Unfortunately, it wasn't as simple as pulling him out from a deep hole or around a tree. Nope, he'd somehow managed to strip a gear in the steering box, and he'd already arranged for a replacement part to be delivered the next day. With less than half a mile to go on the trail, we decided to call it good, and headed back to the nearest graded Forest Service road, which would loop us around - all the way back to the trailhead.

And along the way - views.

Our mental energy spent for the day, we were glad that our camp site - or at least, a location I'd found on Google Earth that I hoped would be good - wasn't all that far away. Our biggest concern, really, was that if it was as good, that it would be occupied.

As we pulled in, the view was everything I'd hoped. I mean, I guess it would have been nice to have a little shade somewhere, but with temps in the mid-70°F's, even the lack of shade wasn't that big a deal at all. And the view - well, I'd say it was acceptable.

Only 4:30pm or so when we parked in our spot, I opened the tent immediately and we climbed up for a well deserved nap before making dinner - taco-rritos with lots of guac just before the sun started to settle towards the horizon. There weren't a ton of clouds, but the color over the next half hour or so was still quite pleasing to the eye, and before long, it was time for bed.

We fell asleep that night, content - each of us thinking of the excitement of the day, but also of what awaited us on the next. We both enjoy hiking in beautiful places, and I had a lead on a lookout that was apparently "not to be missed." And boy, did that end up being an understatement...


The Whole Story


  1. Nate Baldwin
    Nate Baldwin October 19, 2020

    I ran the Naches Trail probably 15 years ago or more in my old Jeep Grand Cherokee. Man what a tight, steep trail. It was late in the year as well and many of the deep holes were full of water. I was on 36" tires at the time and it was still deep! Nice work.

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 19, 2020

      Thanks Nate! In a Grand Cherokee sounds like quite the accomplishment yourself, though with 36's, it was clearly well built! ? It'd be interesting to see what you thought of the trail if you headed back now - you know, a "then and now" opinion. I wonder if maintenance has kept it similar, improved it, or if traffic has made it even tighter than before...

  2. Jeannie
    Jeannie October 19, 2020

    Those mysterious wires - for the bird circus held once a year. Species from all over come to show off their skill on tightropes. It’s not easy putting one bird-foot in front of the other. Owls, in their wisdom, tend not to participate.

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 19, 2020

      Umm hmm. 😛

  3. Greg von Buchau
    Greg von Buchau October 19, 2020

    You got that ahole part right.

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