CAMPSITES: 188 | GROUP SITES: 2 | RV SITES: 0 | RESERVATIONS: Recreation.gov Page
AMENITIES: picnic tables, fire platforms, flush toilets, water, dump station | PROHIBITED: pets off-leash, firewood gathering
SEASON: late May – late September | MAX RV/TRAILER LENGTH: RV: 32 ft, Trailer: 27 ft
NEARBY: Grove of the Patriarchs, Silver Falls
WEBSITE: Recreation.gov Page
Ohanapecosh Campground, at an elevation of 1,900 feet, typically opens earlier and closes later than the other camping areas in Mount Rainier National Park. You won’t find the wide-open vistas here that you’ll find at sites further up the mountain, but the lower elevation and sheltered location means that the trees are taller and more robust, and the trails nearby provide ample opportunities for woodland recreation.
The campground is the largest of the three drive-in facilities in the park, with 188 individual sites and 2 large group areas. Overnight camping fees are $15 and each of the eight loops has its own set of restrooms and washing areas. The spacious amphitheater hosts ranger presentations every evening during the summer, each of which adds depth and informational value to any Rainier experience.
The visitor center, located at the campground entrance, is home to wildlife displays and interesting details about the park and the surrounding area. Rangers are on hand to answer questions and the small gift shop features instructive books and other items for both adults and children.
Running through the campground is the crystalline Ohanapecosh River. Because it is supplied mainly by other creeks farther up the Cascade Range rather than originating from a glacial source (like so many of the other rivers in the park), the water of the Ohanapecosh is clear and blue, rather than milky with suspended sediment. Although it looks inviting, especially on a hot day in late summer, the water is cold and fast-moving; swimming here is not for the faint of heart.
There is history here as well, and plenty of it. The hot springs located near the campground were the early draw, and a small resort had sprung up in the area by the 1920’s, before the National Park boundaries were expanded. Remote as it was, back then in the days of wooden-spoked automobiles, thousands of visitors made the trip anyway, drawn to the healing properties of the mineral springs.
Those days are gone and all that remains of the buildings that once stood on the site have been obliterated by time and Park Service bulldozers, leaving only the springs themselves, which are now little more than steaming bogs and mineral-laden rivulets that flow down the side of the hill and into the river. Signs along the Hot Springs Nature Trail – that begins at the visitor center – still offer early photos and short descriptions of the man-made enterprise that stood here all those years ago.
The Nature Trail, at a mere half-mile in length, is the shortest and easiest of the trails that lace the Ohanapecosh zone. Hikers have a staggering variety of options, many of them suitable for families and small children, others that cater to more serious boot travel. The Silver Falls Trail starts from the B loop inside the campground and follows the course of the river for a little over a mile to the junction of the Laughingwater Creek Trail, then turns toward the river to a beautiful overlook of the falls themselves. Returning to the campground is a matter of hiking back on the west side of the river for another 1.2 miles, emerging near the amphitheater.
Just up Highway 123 is the trailhead for the Grove of the Patriarchs, a short and easy hike to an island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River where the towering evergreens rule the sky, many of them a thousand years old or more. These are mammoth trees in a place where huge trees are the norm, and their size makes them stand out.
The town of Packwood sits just ten miles down the highway from Ohanapecosh Campground and is the closest commercial area. There is a grocery store here as well as gas and other supplies, all of which serve to make Ohanapecosh seem less wild and secluded than other areas of the park. (Think White River or Mowich Lake.) The convenience of having resupply options nearby doesn’t detract from the beauty and value of the Ohana experience, however; it isn’t likely that anything can do that.
– Ken Campbell