“First part is a popular, steep climb to Marble Gap; while less used, next mile provides great views of back side of rim.”
— Lee Watts
Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Wilderness permits are not required. A campfire permit is required and can be obtained from any forest service station.
There are three parts to this trail. The first part is the 0.8-mile climb to Marble Gap. This trail is the shortest route to the Marble Rim, so it is quite popular, even though it becomes very steep near the gap. Along the climb, there are scattered stands of trees that provide welcome shade, but also many open areas of meadows and marble rocks. There are close-up views of Marble Mountain's white (or very light blue) cliffs, along with great views of Black Marble Mountain and the entire rim. It looks like it would not require rock climbing skills to scramble up almost to the top of Black Marble Mountain, starting from about half-way up the Marble Gap Trail. Black Marble's final summit block may be more difficult.
For the second part, the trail continues past Marble Gap descending slowly until it reaches a point near the end of the ridge that runs perpendicular to the back side of Marble Mountain. From there, you have superb views of the rugged back side of Marble Mountain and the Marble Rim. In the opposite direction, there are sweeping views of Elk Peak and on down Rainy Valley.
For the last part, the trail descends very steeply through a thick forest down to Rainy Creek. I found much of the trail either overgrown or covered with fallen trees and dead branches. It was impossible to follow. However, a CCC trail maintenance crew was working on the the second part of the trail (described above) and planning to continue down to Rainy Creek. They should complete this maintenance before August 2017.
The trail passes near a large meadow surrounded by the very steep walls of the Marble Rim. However, much of the meadow was covered with thick, head-high plants and there were plenty of mosquitoes. There is a grassy area on the southwest side of the meadow that would be very beautiful.
If you are starting from Rainy Creek and doing the Marble Gap Trail in the opposite direction, carry plenty of water. It is hot and there is no water beyond the stream crossing at about 5100 feet. I did not see any good place to camp along this section of the trail.
I attempted to take the Rainy Lake Trail to Rainy Lake, but it was so overgrown that after about a mile I was unable to find any way to continue through the brush and was forced to return back up Marble Gap. The CCC crew is planning to do maintenance on this trail in August 2017, but they could not guarantee this.
Flora & Fauna
Before it disappeared in the trees, I think I briefly saw a Roosevelt Elk. Their current range does extend to this area. It was huge with a very large spread of antlers and it left many trails of use marked by hoof-prints almost the size of a mule. These made it a lot harder to decide which was the real trail.