The appropriately-named Rainbow Falls State Park features a gentle waterfall along the Chehalis River as its main attraction, but it’s what you can’t immediately see from simply pulling off State Route 6 that makes this west Lewis County gem a place you have to visit.
The park is essentially divided into two parts, with Rainbow Falls itself the centerline. To the north, the park’s official entrance sits just off Leudinghaus Road. Enter into the park from there to get access to the campsites, day use area, picnic shelters and restrooms. Further on, a path leads to the edge of the Chehalis River for prime viewing of Rainbow Falls.
But for the purpose of this post, we’ll focus on the south side of the park, home to miles of hiking trails on a picturesque forested hillside.
Oddly enough, the hiking trails aren’t signed from State Route 6, so to find them you’re going to have to look for a vehicle pullout that once served as the state park’s entrance. If you’re driving westward from Chehalis, you’ll see a brown sign directing you to Rainbow Falls State Park, but you’ll want to look to your right shortly ahead for the vehicle pullout. From the opposite direction, pass Chandler Road on your left and look for the pullout on your left.
Pull into that vehicle pullout and make sure you’re a safe distance off the road, then cross State Route 6 — again making sure the road is clear — toward a steel gate. Cross that steel gate and you’ll be at the starting point for some of the most underrated trails Lewis County has to offer.
Get ready to traverse several miles of trails, each with their own names that perfectly describe what those trails are best known for.
In this post we’ll start our hike off on the Deer Trail, which is reached by following the main trail straight and following the sign to the right.
This trail meanders and winds its way up the hillside while taking you away from the road noise of the highway and into a beautiful stand of forest that is home to wildlife such as birds and other small animals. On a couple occasions, you’ll be able to hear a babbling brook; if you want to see it up close and personal, take a side detour down the Woodpecker Trail, a short connector that leads to a small ravine and a couple bridges crossing the creek that feeds the Chehalis River.
If you double back, you can reconnect with the Deer Trail, from which you can see the outer boundary of the park. This is a good spot to stop briefly and see if you can hear woodpeckers driving their beaks into the wood of the trees in the distance. Maybe you could even spot a deer or two!
The deer trail connects to the wider trail in the center of the system, so you’ll want to take a left and start heading down the hill again. But it won’t be long before you’ll take a right on the Hemlock Trail, which quickly crosses a creek that is quite active during springtime, then you’ll make a slight ascent as you walk through old-growth cedar and hemlock. Clovers and oxalis will soon come into view as the Hemlock Trail connects with the Salal Trail, which itself is lined with flora and is a special treat in the spring and summer.
Before long, the Hemlock Trail connects with the Oxalis Loop, passing next to lush ferns and some of the tallest trees in the park. The final attraction, a very tiny waterfall that is more worth a stop for its pleasant sound than the sight, reminds you that you’re back at the starting point of your journey. From here, you can cross the highway and take in Rainbow Falls, or better yet, jump back in your car and grab a campsite for the night at the park.
The entire trail system south of Highway 6, while unsigned and relatively unknown to travelers passing by, is one of Lewis County's most underrated and deserves a spot on your list for spring and summer hiking!
To get there, head west on State Route 6 from Chehalis and follow the signs to Rainbow Falls State Park. About 1/4 mile past the sign advertising the park, pull into a pullout on your right, cross the highway on foot and enjoy the trails!