Fall Hiking: Palisades Trail - Visit Rainier

Fall Hiking: Palisades Trail

Area: Hwy 410

Hike Type: Forested w/ exposed viewpoints

Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Distance: 8.8 miles RT           Duration: 4 hr 10 min                        Difficulty Level: Moderate

Elevation Start: 2,340 ft         Elevation End: 4,440 ft        Elevation Gain: 2,100 ft

Prime Season: Mid June – Mid Nov.       Snow free: Mid June – Mid Nov

Location: N47°2.2560, W121°32.8800


Described by mountain biking site Singletracks as “having it all,” a fall trip on Palisades Trail #1198 offers something for hikers, bikers and budding mycologists alike: thickly forested hills, breath-taking panoramas, tight switchbacks, water features and dozens of mushrooms species all within view of the trail. On a recent November hike, the falls were flowing at an attractive level, and the trail was in good condition, and free of snow.

The hike begins at a nondescript pullout on the north side of Highway 410, a quarter mile beyond Skookum Falls. The signed trail begins abruptly from the west end of the parking area. This moderately difficult hike offers its steepest section of trail in the first 50 yards, as visitors ascend into the shady fir and cedar forest.

Shortly after the path begins to level off, hikers encounter the junction with White River Trail #1199. Stay left and follow the trail toward the creek. While wildflowers, including orchids, are a popular draw here in late spring, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles and the occasional chartreuse, or deep lavender colored fungi, rise from the club moss and needle duff.

The route is dog and kid friendly, but can be made more intense depending on hiking pace. If the hike proves too aggressive for younger adventurers, Lower Dalles Falls provides a nice spot to stop and enjoy the 280 ft., snow-fed waterfall. The lower falls are embraced by a tangle of vine maples and flanked by enormous cedar trees. On our maiden trip to this enchanting spot, we encountered a handmade wooden sign that read, “Will You Marry Me?”

Beyond, the trail is well maintained with switchbacks leading to a steep set of wooden stairs. Testing the handrail for soundness is recommended! Once the upper falls and Dalles Creek are crossed, the trail becomes a flat jaunt through mossy undergrowth to the first lookout point.

Mind the kids and pets on the overlook at the 2.5 mile mark; a dramatic drop greets visitors at the edge of the tree line. Our party found that the flat rocks provided ample seating for lunch alfresco. Views of protruding cliffs to the east, Suntop Mountain and Skookum Falls to the south and the milky White River in the valley below draw the eye in every direction.

Though this lookout proved adventure enough for the five-year-old in our group, the views become more expansive the higher one climbs, through forests in various stages of maturation. Higher vantage points offer captivating panoramas of Mt. Rainier and the White River Valley, culminating at a rocky outcropping, for hikers desiring a longer trek. Still farther beyond, the trail connects with Ranger Creek Trail #1197, Noble Knob Trail #1184 and Twentyeight Mile Lake.

Most hikers that we have encountered on past visits were residents of area villages, such as Crystal Aire and Alta Vista, who use the trail for routine exercise for themselves and their pets. Trekking poles are advisable in places, due to trail pitch and loose debris, and strongly recommended when snow is on the ground.

From Farman Rd on Highway 410, drive 26.3 miles east or approximately 30 minutes from downtown Enumclaw, ¼ mile past the Skookum Falls pull out on the right (south), trailhead is on the left, large pullout.

Written by Kari Desser