Breaking In Our New Bikes On Carbon River Road In Mount Rainier National Park

Two Bikes, A Trail, And A Campground

Biking on Carbon River Road - Pacific North Wanderers.jpg

In the northwest corner of Mt. Rainier National Park is the Carbon River Road. It runs a little over five miles from the park's entrance, paralleling the Carbon River, to Ipsut Creek Campground. It is a popular destination for bikers since it is one of the few areas that bikes are allowed inside the park. The road is mostly clear of obstacles, vehicular traffic is prohibited, and it maintains a 2 percent grade throughout, which made it a perfect spot to break in our new trail bikes.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
— John Muir


A Familiar Road


Carbon River Road in Mount Rainier National Park


We previously explored the Carbon River Road about a year ago when we hiked to Green Lake. Its trailhead is about three miles down the road from the parking lot. It was quite a walk to get to the trailhead back then, and we told ourselves we would bring bikes next time! Ipsut Creek Campground is even further down the road and beyond it are various hiking trails. With no vehicle access on the road, it makes it difficult for many to reach these areas. However, this was not always the case.

The road was open to vehicle traffic up until 2006. That is when a major washout occurred. It was one of many previous floods that beat this stretch up over time. It was the final one that made the park reconsider its efforts in continually throwing money away to fix it, only to have it happen all over again. So, the decision was made to close the road permanently to vehicles. Knowing that the popular destinations in this area of the park would now be harder to reach by foot, they opted to allow bicycles from the parking lot up to the campground.



Our First Real Ride on Our New Jamis Bikes


Our Jamis Bikes on Carbon River Road. Sorry about the blurry photo :-p


We arrived at a packed parking lot about 3 PM on a Sunday. After quickly using the vault toilets, we threw on our backpacks and helmets, then got on the bikes and headed out. There were a good number of hikers still heading deeper into the park, but most that we passed were on their way back. Of everyone we passed, we saw about 10-15 others on bikes during our explorations.

This being our first time riding bikes in quite a few years, we were each a little out of "bike shape". Many adjustments of the gears and a short time later, we were getting the hang of it again. We both have Jamis Dragon Series trail bikes, which we were fortunate enough to win back in March of this year. Thanks, Jamis! They are sturdy, plus-tired, and attractive bikes that we look forward to taking on many adventures to come!


The first half of the road is pretty uneventful when it comes to mountain biking purposes. It is flat, wide, and provides little "fun" when one thinks of biking through the forest. Keep that in mind if you are looking for more of a challenge, this is not that type of trail. What the first half does provide is a peaceful, lush forest which runs along the cold waters of the Carbon River. Views of Mt. Rainier are not present. However, you can see many peaks on the other side of the river where the national park borders up to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.


After about 20-30 minutes of riding, we reached the Green Lake Trailhead. Here we stopped for a quick break. The trailhead does provide a makeshift bike rack if you would like to proceed on foot up to the lake; which we recommend.


The plus sized tires, with their low pressure of air, and the front suspension system on each bike made this quite a comfortable and enjoyable ride so far. After snapping a few photos and hydrating, we continued.

Shortly ahead we came to our only obstacle; the river has washed out the road. We stopped for a moment, assessed the situation, and, not knowing any better; we attempted to ride through it. The water came up to about peddle height, and it was not flowing too fast, and we would have made it all the way across without any issues if it was not for those slippery river rocks.

We each made it about 3/4 of the way through the passing before slipping. We only ended up getting our feet wet, nothing major. It was probably best to walk this section. Find out later in this post if we learned our lesson on the way back :-p


A short distance ahead of the washout is a picnic table and a small open field up against the banks of the river. Here, a sign for Chenuis Falls points toward the river, indicating the falls are on the other side. There is also a foot bridge leading out to the waters. Unfortunately, the bridge does not go very far out. We were not able to cross here. We peddled on.


At this point, the road becomes rougher, rockier, and has some slight hills. It was becoming more fun! We rode on, knowing we were just about to our destination.

We reached a bridge crossing over Ipsut Creek. On the other side was the campground. As we crossed over, we heard some nearby animal noise that had us a bit concerned. It was close by, but we could not spot it. We heard it 3-4 times. A low, grunting, growling sort of noise, likely Bigfoot (all uncertain sounds in the forest are Bigfoot).


We took a short break to explore, re-hydrate, and snap some photos. As we were doing this, two more bikers arrived. We had a brief conversation about the hiking trails further up. They complimented us on our bikes and wished they had the bigger tires for a smoother ride.


The ride back was a blast! Being all downhill, even if it was only a 2 percent grade, we were able to pick up some speed. Arriving back at the washed out section, one of us decided to give it another go at the crossing by riding through it. Success! Barely.

The rest of the ride to the Jeep was quick and fun. There were still many hikers making their way back as well. We had to speak up a few times to alert them to our presence. Even on this wide road some groups of people still manage to take the entire width of it to themselves. Nevertheless, it was a splendid time, and we look forward to getting back out there soon.



Final Thoughts


Pacific North Wanderers Biking the Carbon River Road


Besides the easy road to break in our bikes, we also chose this spot so we could scout out a future camping opportunity. The Jamis Dragon Series bikes are designed for bikepacking, and we plan on loading them up in the future and heading back to Ipsut Creek Campground for a 1-2 night stay. We are crazy excited about our new bikes. We have one more means of getting ourselves "out there!"

One last thing, we want to give a big shout out to Green River Cyclery for assembling the bikes! They're friendly people with a wonderful shop and cafe in Auburn. We talked a bit, had a bite to eat and a drink. We hope to meet up with them again on one of their group outings.


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Helpful Information and Additional Links

Coordinates: 46°59'41.9"N 121°54'56.4"W
Biking Trails: 5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Pass Required: America the Beautiful (National Parks)


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