Grey muddy debris covers plants, trees, and a trail.
In August 2001, warm temperatures increased melting of the Kautz Glacier. The meltwater saturated loose glacial debris resulting in a small debris flow along Van Trump Creeks. Mud and debris covered trees and trails.

Be Geohazard Aware!

Recent research has improved our understanding of Mount Rainier, an active volcano. Active steam vents, periodic earth tremors, and reported historical eruptions provide evidence that Mount Rainier is sleeping, not dead. Seismic monitoring stations around the mountain should provide days or weeks of advance warning of impending eruptions. However, other geologic hazards like debris flows, glacial outburst floods, and rockfall can occur with little warning.

Detailed geohazard information is available at park visitor centers and from scientists at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory.

The more time you spend in an area where there are geologic hazards, the greater the chances that you could be involved in an emergency event. While most people consider the danger to be relatively low, you must decide if you will assume the personal risk of visiting these potentially dangerous locations. When you arrive in the park, be sure to review posted geologic hazard, evacuation, and escape information. Longmire, Carbon, and the campgrounds at Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, and White River are all vulnerable to geologic hazards. Many trails pass through geohazard areas. Remember, ANY river in the park is at risk of a debris flow.

Rising water level, shaking ground and a rumbling noise may signal a debris flow or lahar. If you are near a river and notice:

  • A rapid rise in water level
  • Feel a prolonged shaking of the ground
  • Hear a roaring sound coming from up valley (often described as the sound made by a fast–moving freight train)

Then move quickly to higher ground! A location 160 feet (50 m) or more above river level should be safe.

Geohazard Warning Sirens
Geohazard sirens are located at high visitor concentration locations along the Nisqually river including Cougar Rock Campground, Longmire, and Nisqually Entrance. If you hear the siren during your visit, head uphill, away from rivers.

A deep ditch cuts through a road, filled with broken trees. A ranger stands on one of the tree trunks for scale.
Westside Road damaged by a 2007 debris flow, close to the trail head of Tahoma Creek Trail. Note the ranger for scale.

NPS/Daniel Keebler

Geohazards & Trails: Tahoma Creek Trail

The former Tahoma Creek Trail had a long history of hazardous and life-threatening conditions. In the late 1980s, a very large debris flow destroyed several sections of the trail and a large section of the Westside Road, leaving visitors, staff, and vehicles stranded. Since that time the Westside Road has been closed to public vehicle access at Dry Creek and Tahoma Creek Trail was no longer maintained.

Since the road closure, Tahoma Creek continues to have floods and debris flow events, the most recent in August 2015. Each event has impacted the road and degraded existing sections of the trail, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to navigate Tahoma Creek Trail.

Hiking Tahoma Creek Trail is not recommended. Debris flows contain large volumes of water, mud, boulders, trees, and anything else picked up along the way. They almost always occur suddenly and move rapidly downstream. If you are in the debris flow corridor you may have no avenue of escape.

Large rocks and broken trees fill up the space between forest trees, with water still running over the rocks.
The path of Tahoma Creek Trail completely obscured by rocks, broken trees, and other materials left behind by a debris flow.

NPS/Daniel Keebler

Tahoma Creek Trail has not been maintained since the events in the 1980s. All efforts to maintain both the Westside Road and the trail are repeatedly undone by subsequent flood and debris flow events.

Tahoma Creek Trail is an example of a trail particularly hard hit by geohazard events, but it is not the only trail in the park at risk of floods and debris flows. Most trails in the park pass through geohazard zones. Remember, if you notice a change - either a sudden drop or rise - in water levels, feel the ground rumble, or hear a loud roaring sound, move to higher ground immediately!

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Video of the August 13, 2015 debris flow at Mount Rainier NP. Zachary Jones & Caroline Pedro were walking up Westside Road to the Tahoma Creek Trail when they heard a loud rumbling. Zachary asked Carol what the sound was, she thought it might be a passing train. They kept walking to a clearing where they had a full view of Tahoma Creek. In the distance, they saw huge mounds of tree debris and boulders raging down the creek. Zachary said if we're gonna die, we might we might as well film it! (Both are fine.)

Last updated: February 7, 2024

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