Wilkeson to Carbon River Bikecamping

Bike camping at Ipsut Creek along the Carbon River inside of Mount Rainier has become something of an annual tradition in my life, first starting in 2015. The backcountry campground used to be a popular car camping destination, but after the road was washed out in 2006, it’s only been accessible to hikers and bikers willing to make the 10 mile roundtrip trek.

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In previous years, I’ve driven to the park, stopped at the ranger station, and parked near the gate, thereby limiting my riding to a (very) manageable five mile, slightly uphill ride. This year, however, I accepted an invitation for a trip that would start in Wilkeson, about 20 miles outside of the campground.

Before I get into the details of this trip, I think it would be helpful to give some background on this trip.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I used to bikecamp all the time. A few years ago, it was normal for me to ride fully loaded into work on a Friday and be gone the whole weekend. Over the last year, however, due to a bunch of different factors, I simply have not been riding my bike that much.

I was invited to join a group of women riding in Montana this summer with Masi, Ortleib, Exped, Adventure Cycling, and Skratch Labs, so to prepare for that trip, I decided I should probably start riding again, with purpose. As part of the trip, we are all being given full bikepacking setups from Ortleib, a new Masi bike and new Exped sleeping mats and pillows!

 New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

So back to the ride….

One of the other women on the trip also lives in Seattle and put out a call for a partner to join her on a trip last weekend. I decided this would be a great opportunity to test my new bags (the bike is being built) and a good training ride. Two birds with one stone!

When I was first sent the Ride with GPS route, I felt confident about my ability to complete the trip. Sure, the ENTIRE way there was uphill, but I quieted my fears by thinking about the gentle grade, my previous experiences, and the ride back to the car. 20 miles of sweet, sweet downhill.

Fast forward to Saturday, deep in the pain cave, regretting every decision I’ve ever made. This ride was hard. Really freaking hard.

Twenty miles is a long way to ride uphill. Thankfully, I made the last minute decision to ride a bike I bought for my boyfriend which has a triple. That means a granny gear.

I lived in that granny gear all day Saturday, and hoo boy, was it a challenge.

If you haven’t done this ride, I highly recommend it (at least the portion from the Ranger Station to camp.) It’s a beautifully graded, gravel trail through the most amazing old growth forests. At camp, there is ample space for everyone I’ve ever seen up there (be sure to register for your backcountry permit at the ranger station) and clean toilets.

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Some helpful tips:

There aren’t any fires allowed, so I recommend bringing another form of entertainment.

Bring your hiking shoes and turn it into a longer trip. From the Ipsut Creek Campground, there’s a beautiful 7ish mile hike to the Carbon River Glacier. This hike is NOT fun in biking shoes, so bring a spare pair.

Bring a water filter. The old water source that used to be right before you got to camp has been washed out, so now the potable water is up the trail a bit at the Ipsut Falls.