NOTICE: November 21, 2021 – Mount Rainier National Park Announces Temporary Closure of Grove of the Patriarchs
A patriarch is defined as the head of a family and as such deserves respect; another family is equally deserving of respect, the Grove of the Patriarchs at Mount Rainier National Park. In fact this old-growth forested grove is worthy of awe, even seasoned mountaineers will feel inclined to tip their hats to these majestic, old-growth trees.
The user-friendly trail is a hike through Time where seedlings compete for light on caboose-sized nurse-logs and the forest canopy blocks out light except when shafts of sunlight slip between the mighty boughs of these evergreen giants. The gaps of light between these giants are filled in with robust vine maple and tenacious ground-cover. Though the grove feels like a place suspended in Time it is ever-evolving and changing.
When we visit the Grove of the Patriarchs the poetry of Dylan Thomas often comes to mind where the late poet described in flowing cadence how Time ticked a heaven around the stars and the poet walks abroad in a shower of all his days. Though we cannot comprehend Time we can feel it brush against us when we visit the grove.
Listen. Silence has a voice: the rustles of little birds, the far-away snare drum effect of Pileated woodpeckers working a snag, the faint praise of the breeze as it kisses new growth on the tips of evergreen boughs, the murmuring voices of other hikers who feel compelled to keep their voices low. Even children seem to know it’s not a place to whoop and holler but rather a place to step into Time immemorial and hold still.
The Stevens Canyon Entrance of the park is where the Grove of the Patriarchs trail begins. Be sure to have the appropriate pass or prepare to pay an entry fee.
Visit on a weekday if possible, preferably a cloudy day if you are a photographer as a cloudy day enhances the colors and there are fewer people on the trail. Cloudy days enhance the myriad shades of new, green vegetation and the turquoise hues of the Ohanapecosh River.
You’ll feel the thickness of Time as if it were a palpable essence as soon as you set foot on the trail, soft and carpeted with pine-needles. Yet we walk hand in hand with Time as we go, admiring the lively ferns that grace the floor and vanilla leaf beaded from the previous nights’ rain. Big trees border the trail all along and if you think these trees are big, think again. Some of these giants are only in middle-age, others scrappy seedlings that have taken root and seek sustenance anywhere they can.
Investigate the moisture-dappled shelf fungus that literally looks like shelves extending out from the rough bark of Douglas firs where you’d almost expect to see a sprite or a fairy. Small, brown mushrooms snuggle in clusters under fallen logs and under ferns along the edge of the trail. Pass under a large tree that fell across the trail years ago, high enough that only the tallest hikers need to stoop a little.
You’ll soon come to a signed trail junction; the trail heading uphill goes to Deer Creek Falls via the East Side Trail. The trail to the grove descends to cross the Ohanapecosh River on a bouncy suspension bridge. A sign recommends folks cross one at a time; the bridge will sway a little. The bridge is safe but neither we nor park rangers want to see people jumping up and down on the bridge to make it bouncier.
On the other side of the Ohanapecosh River the trail continues through stately forest to a designated junction for “The Loop.” You can hike either way. Both directions lead to the patriarchs with benches artfully arranged where you can sit and take it all in.