A few miles past Enumclaw, along the winding path carved by Route 410, Federation Forest sits nestled by the mighty White River. Though perhaps not as showy or intimidating as other parks around Mt. Rainier, Federation Forest State Park offers a quiet refuge where families and hikers of all levels can enjoy the simple beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Easy parking is available at the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center, which serves as a home base for the many trails that wind through the old-growth forest in the area. Though the center is currently closed due to COVID-19 (as of May 2020), the park itself is open and restroom facilities are available. You will need to purchase a day-use Discover Pass for $10 upon entry (or $30 for an annual pass). From the interpretive center, visitors can explore over 6 miles of trails and 574 acres of historically conserved forest.
White River Loop Trail
For an easy nature walk and picnic, the loop trail by the White River is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. With virtually no elevation gain and clearly marked paths, the trail is accessible for hikers of all skill levels. The massive pine trees provide plenty of shade and opportunities to learn about the forest, and their majesty makes it easy to understand why this place is sometimes called “the land of the giants.” Historically-minded hikers will be pleased to note that Federation Forest is also part of the Naches Trail — a much longer route dating back to the 1850s that once connected Eastern and Western Washington.
Exploring Federation Forest
For those seeking a little more thrill, you can follow the trail by the White River and venture up onto the riverbed itself, which yields impressive views of the surrounding foothills and mountains. The area also makes for a great study in the lifecycle of a river, as tiny tributaries cut across the smooth river rocks and rejoin the larger current at various points. Sharp-eyed adventurers may even be able to spot eagles circling overhead, or evidence of elk in the area. Fallen logs and tree branches also make the perfect building material for a riverside fort, though you should be sure to return the materials to a natural state when you’re done.
If you choose to press on with the loop trail, you’ll be rewarded with views of moss and lichen-covered trees, the occasional woodpecker, and numerous fungi that call the forest home. Not only are these sights beautiful, but they are also excellent education opportunities for families with young children, as the old-growth Douglas firs become host to a variety of other forms of life.
This trail also offers the perfect spot for a picnic, with a well-maintained picnic area in a grassy field. The location is set just above the White River, with a wooden fence for safety. Picnic tables, a second restroom facility, and a large open field make this the perfect place to relax and simply take in the views of the surrounding mountains. From here, hikers can press on along the trail, or turn around for a short hike back to the interpretive center.
Take It Slow
To make a fuller day trip out of Federation Forest, visitors should consider following multiple trails, as several of the paths are quite short. Alternatively, Federation Forest is a great stop on your way into or out of Mt. Rainier National Park (although you’ll have to wait for the national park to reopen before you can combine it with Federation Forest). The park is also a great way to introduce children to local flora and fauna, as the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center features a garden of native plants for visitors to learn from.
The main lesson offered by Federation Forest is the same as that of quarantine: take it slow. The old-growth forest is its own reward; instead of excruciating effort to reach a mountaintop vista, the forest invites visitors to take a deep breath and briefly become one with the trees.