Mount Rainier so dominates Northwest geography that worthy nearby locales are easily overlooked. But when summer throngs clog the Queen of the Cascades, solitude and serenity can be found just a few miles south of the great mountain along the Cispus Area Loop and vicinity.
Located off U.S. Highway 12 near Randle in east Lewis County, the Cispus Area Loop in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest offers campgrounds, picnic areas, fishing and some primo hiking and outdoor opportunities. These include the combined trails to Angel and Curtain Falls (aka: Covel Creek Falls and Phantom Falls), Layser Cave and Cowlitz Falls Park.
Covel Creek Falls
The trail to Covel Creek Falls and Angel Falls starts at the Cispus Learning Center and follows Covel Creek. It’s a great two-fer, offering two beautiful but different waterfalls in one hike. You’ll hit Covel Creek Falls first. After about a mile, the trail starts climbing as it skirts a series of small stair-stepping falls. Don’t stop here. The main attraction, Covel Creek Falls, is to the right of the trail junction for Burley Mountain.
Covel Creek Falls is approximately 75 feet high and 30 feet wide. The trail winds behind the falls. For a good cardio workout, continue past the falls and start climbing. Steeply. Take a left at the fork in the trail. Continue about a mile uuuup to Angel Falls.
Tumbling about 175 feet down a sheer rock face, Angel Falls is a silver sliver of water that cascades down impressive granite slabs. Watch your step here. The ground may be wet, the rocks slick. Downed logs offer a nice place to enjoy lunch. Swig some water while you stuff your lungs back into your chest.
The Covel Creek Falls and Angel Falls Loop is a moderately trafficked 3.6 mile loop trail. It’s rated as moderate. Leashed dogs okay. While this trail is sometimes advertised as “easy” or “family friendly,” novice hikers may find it challenging, especially on a warm summer day.
Layser Cave is one of the most significant archaeological sites in western Washington. Named for the U.S. Forest Service employee who discovered it in 1982, the prehistoric cave dates back some 7,000 years. It’s located on the Cispus Loop. It’s a .25 mile walk off a dirt road. The trail offers a magnificent view of the Cowlitz River Valley.
Cowlitz Falls Park
Secluded Cowlitz Falls Park is out in the middle of nowhere. But what a find!
Reposing beneath spiky blue ridges bristling with conifers, the day-use park is located at the east end of Lake Scanewa where the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers meet. The lake is humongous, with quiet aquamarine waters that stretch for miles. There’s a campground nearby.
The day use-only area includes a small beach, swimming area, fishing options, a floating dock, and a few trails. Trout fishing is available from June 1 through February 28. This park is owned and operated by the Lewis County PUD.
Cowlitz Falls Park is located on Falls Road, just outside Glenoma off U.S. Highway 12. Follow the signs. It’s about 10 miles off the highway.
Cispus Area Loop Drive
Speaking of drives, the Cispus Area Loop is a worthy one. Located near the small mountain hamlet of Randle, the 29-mile Cispus Loop is drenched in local color. The sometimes bumpy road winds along the serpentine coils of the Cispus River past campgrounds and wildflower meadows as well as choice hiking, fishing and picnic sites.
If you’re looking for quiet, scenic places to soak up some classic Northwest majesty, consider east Lewis County and the Cispus Area. Both offer deep draughts of solitude and serenity, especially on busy weekends when the Mountain is besieged by summer crowds.