|Area: Chinook Pass||Hike Type: Dog-friendly||Pass: Northwest Forest Pass|
|Distance: 7.25 mi RT||Duration: 4 hrs||Difficulty Level: Moderate|
|Elevation Start: 2,600||Elevation End: 4,318||Elevation Gain: 1,718|
|Snow-Free: June – Late-Oct|
The seldom-hiked trail to Doe Falls is a pleasant prelude to summer hikes ahead, especially with snow remaining at higher elevations. Reasons why this trail is seldom hiked? For starters the trail to Doe Falls branches off the Suntop Trail (about 2.5 miles from the Suntop trailhead). Also most hikers on the Suntop Trail are hiking to the Suntop Lookout with its heralded views of Mount Rainier, not an introspective waterfall.
Hikers in need of a “tune up” often hike to Doe Falls from the lower Suntop trailhead as we did. Doing so provides a good workout as well as views. One caveat: a potentially hazardous crossing of Buck Creek early in the season.
After a gentle start through lowland forest, the trail began to climb and just when we were getting into the rhythm of hiking we braked to a stop at Doe Creek (N 47° 00′ 45″, W 121° 32′ 46″; 2,998 ft). Without a bridge there was no way to ford the creek without getting boots wet and with some risk of mishap. The creek was running higher than we were comfortable with, so we backtracked to the trailhead to formulate “Plan B.”
Back at the trailhead we studied the map as I remembered access to a higher trailhead on a previous hike to Doe Falls. My memory and the map were in agreement – a good sign! There is a short spur further up Forest Service Road 7160 that eliminates fording Doe Creek and shortens the hike to Doe Falls. We drove back to the forest service road and continued to Spur 310 (left) at 3,048 feet (N 47° 00′ 54″, W 121° 33′ 00″).
Though narrow, the spur was in good shape with convenient pullouts. Continue to the end of the spur (about a mile) or park at one of the pullouts for an easy turnaround as we did.
The spur ends at an unsigned switchback on the Suntop Trail (N 47° 00′ 45″, W 121° 32′ 52″; 3,146 ft). Though not signed the trail is hard to miss. Here two trails head uphill — you can hike either trail, they soon merge. The trail climbs through an old clear-cut with views of the Palisades, the White River and Noble Knob. The trail dipped in and out of the forest; in the open we enjoyed sun that was warm enough to work up a sweat and welcomed cooling shade in the forest.
As we hiked we discovered large patches of wild strawberries in bloom, bead lily, hellebore, Canadian dogwood, wild blackberry and thimbleberries. It’s always a treat to find wild strawberries (Fragaria species) – the berries are smaller and sweeter than domestic strawberries. Native Americans had many uses for wild strawberries – some Native Americans (including the Skokomish) used the leaves as tea for medicinal purposes.
Though the Suntop trail is open to mountain bikers and equestrians, we were startled when suddenly two mountain bikers screeched to a stop just ahead of us. We were careful to watch and listen for other mountain bikers on the trail. Parts of the trail are bordered with overhanging vegetation and it can be difficult to see or hear around the switchbacks.
At 4,082 feet we came to the junction for Doe Falls, about 2.5 miles from the lower Suntop trailhead. The 1/2-mile Doe Falls trail (No. 1174) is gentle as it undulates through a cool, forested stretch. A little further on, the trail opened up and we began to encounter more wildflowers, even a little bear grass where light enters the forest.
If you are hiking with children use extreme caution as you approach the waterfall where the trail has eroded and is exposed. Enjoy partial views of the waterfall from the trail as you approach Doe Creek, a campsite and a fire-ring. We’ve heard the waterfall can dry up later in the year though that was hard to imagine on our recent visit in June. Then Doe Creek was running swiftly to the edge of a cliff before plunging into a deep gorge.
Waterfall experts rightly claim that it is difficult – if not impossible – to get a good photograph of Doe Falls (4,318 feet). This is more due to difficult lighting than lack of ability. We were also unable to get a great photograph though the setting is restful and a good place to settle for a spell on a lazy, summer day.
History buffs may be tempted to explore beyond the waterfall on an old path that parallels the creek – upstream we found signs of an old horse camp or hunter’s camp not far from the waterfall.
The hike to Doe Falls from the lower Suntop trailhead is about 7-1/4 miles round trip with 1,800 feet of elevation gain. If you start from the spur off Forest Service Road No. 7160(310) the trek is about 5-1/2 miles round trip with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.
To get to the Suntop (lower) trailhead: From Enumclaw drive east on Highway 410 about 29.9 miles to the Buck Creek Recreation Area a couple miles past Camp Sheppard. Turn right onto Buck Creek Road No. 7160, cross the White River then turn left onto Road No. 7160(210) and continue about a mile to the signed Suntop trailhead, elevation 2,600 feet.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required and dogs must be leashed. The Suntop Trail is open to horses, mountain bikes and hikers. The Doe Falls trail is hiker-only. For current conditions on roads and trails in the White River Ranger District, contact Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest in Enumclaw at 360-825-6585. The map is Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater.
– Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert
|Starting Point: 47.00815, -121.53196|
Trailhead: N 47° 00′ 30, W 121° 31′ 56