Hiking in Mount Rainier National Park
Although the mountain can seem remarkably benign on calm summer days, hiking Rainier is not a city-park stroll. Dozens of hikers and trekkers annually lose their way and must be rescued—and lives are lost on the mountain each year. Weather that approaches cyclonic levels can appear quite suddenly, any month of the year. With the possible exception of the short loop hikes listed here, all visitors venturing far from vehicle access points should carry day packs with warm clothing, food, and other emergency supplies.
Nisqually Vista Trail. Equally popular in summer and winter, this trail is a 1¼-mile round-trip through subalpine meadows to an overlook point for Nisqually Glacier. The gradually sloping path is a favorite venue for cross-country skiers in winter; in summer, listen for the shrill alarm calls of the area's marmots. Easy. Trailhead at Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Rte. 123, 1 mi north of Ohanapecosh, at the high point of Hwy. 706, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/nisqually-vista.htm.
Sourdough Ridge Trail. The mile-long loop of this self-guided trail takes you through the delicate subalpine meadows near the Sunrise Visitor Center. A gradual climb to the ridgetop yields magnificent views of Mt. Rainier and the more distant volcanic cones of Mt. Baker, Mt. Adams, and Glacier Peak. Easy. Access trail at Sunrise Visitor Center, Sunrise Rd., 15 mi from the White River park entrance, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/day-hiking-at-mount-rainier.htm.
Trail of the Shadows. This ¾-mile loop is notable for its glimpses of meadowland ecology, its colorful soda springs (don't drink the water), James Longmire's old homestead cabin, and the foundation of the old Longmire Springs Hotel, which was destroyed by fire around 1900. Easy. Trailhead at Hwy. 706, 10 mi east of Nisqually entrance, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/day-hiking-at-mount-rainier.htm.
Skyline Trail. This 5-mile loop, one of the highest trails in the park, beckons day-trippers with a vista of alpine ridges and, in summer, meadows filled with brilliant flowers and birds. At 6,800 feet, Panorama Point, the spine of the Cascade Range, spreads away to the east, and Nisqually Glacier tumbles downslope. Moderate. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Rte. 123, 1 mi north of Ohanapecosh at the high point of Hwy. 706, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/skyline-trail.htm.
Van Trump Park Trail. You gain an exhilarating 2,200 feet on this route while hiking through a vast expanse of meadow with views of the southern Puget Sound. The 5.8-mile track provides good footing, and the average hiker can make it up in three to four hours. Moderate. Hwy. 706 at Christine Falls, 4.4 mi east of Longmire, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/van-trump-trail.htm.
Burroughs Mountain Trail. Starting at the south side of the Sunrise parking area, this three-hour, 7-mile round-trip hike offers spectacular views of the peak named in honor of naturalist and essayist John Burroughs. The challenging trail passes Shadow Lake before climbing to an overlook of the White River and Emmon's Glacier. Continue on and you reach First Burroughs Mountain and Second Burroughs Mountain. This area on the northeast slope of Mt. Rainier has some of the most accessible tundra in the Cascades, and you can observe the delicate slow-growing plants that survive in this harsh environment. Early season hiking on this trail can be particularly hazardous due to snow and ice on the steep mountain slopes; check conditions before starting out. Difficult. Starts at south side of Sunrise parking area, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/burroughs-mountain.htm.
Wonderland Trail. All other Mt. Rainier hikes pale in comparison to this stunning 93-mile trek, which completely encircles the mountain. The trail passes through all the major life zones of the park, from the old-growth forests of the lowlands to the alpine meadows and goat-haunted glaciers of the highlands—pick up a mountain-goat sighting card from a ranger station or visitor center if you want to help in the park's effort to learn more about these elusive animals. Wonderland is a rugged trail; elevation gains and losses totaling 3,500 feet are common in a day's hike, which averages 8 miles. Most hikers start out from Longmire or Sunrise and take 10–14 days to cover the 93-mile route. Snow lingers on the high passes well into June (sometimes July); count on rain any time of the year. Campsites are wilderness areas with pit toilets and water that must be purified before drinking. Only hardy, well-equipped, and experienced wilderness trekkers should attempt this trip, but those who do will be amply rewarded. Wilderness permits are required, and reservations are strongly recommended. Difficult. Longmire Visitor Center, Hwy. 706, 17 mi east of Ashford; Sunrise Visitor Center, Sunrise Rd., 15 mi west of the White River park entrance, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 98304. www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/the-wonderland-trail.htm.
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