On this tour we circumnavigate Mt. Rainier, or simply, “The Mountain,” as it’s referred to by locals. We also make a side trip to Mt St Helens to view the changes that have taken place since the cataclysmic eruption 40 years ago. Together, these are the two most active volcanoes in the Cascades. Stunning, panoramic views provide a constant backdrop as we take a deeper look at the abundant life supported by these active and wild landscapes. The trails here are some of the best you’ll find in all of North America.
The August tour is scheduled to be after most of the snowmelt to improve trail accessibility and still catch the tail end of the wildflower season. In September you should enjoy spectacular fall color! We operate this tour midweek-only to avoid the weekend crowds from the city.
DAY 1: Sunrise
Begin at Sunrise Visitor Center with a hike above the tree-line through open heather and rocky alpine tundra on the north side of the mountain. Tree islands of whitebark pine and mountain hemlock float upon seas of meadows dotted with wildflowers. From Glacier Overlook, peer down on nearly 4.5 square miles of ice – Emmons Glacier – the largest river of ice in the contiguous states. From Second Burroughs Mountain, Mt. Rainier hovers so close you can wrap your arms around her. If you can manage to tear your eyes away from the mountain for a moment, look north over the endless green carpets of Grand and Berkeley Parks and marvel at the Cascade Mountain Range extending to the horizon. Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains – all are visible on a clear day. Watch for mountain goats and black bears foraging or cooling themselves on the snowfields. In the evening, we head to a nearby ski resort to spend the next two nights at the Quicksilver Lodge.
Walking Distances: – 6 miles; 1300ft gain; 6400-7400ft
DAY 2: Naches Peak
From Chinook Pass (arguably the most beautiful pass in Washington State), hike this quintessential Cascade Crest loop around Naches Peak to views of Mt. Rainier from the east. From this vantage point you can easily see the (missing) profile of volcano’s former cone and imagine what she looked like 5600 years ago before the Osceola eruption when, like Mt. St. Helens, she lost 2000 feet from her summit. Looking to the south along the Pacific Crest (yes, we cross the legendary Pacific Crest Trail on this hike!), the snow-capped tops of Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks are now visible. Notice how the lush green meadows here contrast sharply with the tundra you saw around Burroughs Mountain yesterday. If you’re feeling spry, head down to the clear waters of Dewey Lake for lunch. It doesn’t matter what you choose, there are continuous views all the way back to Tipsoo Lake, an enchanting tiny alpine gem resting just beneath Chinook Pass.
Naches Peak: 3.5 miles; gain 600ft; 5200-5600ft
Dewey Lake: adds 3 miles and 700ft gain
DAY 3: Mt. St. Helens
It wouldn’t be polite to lavish all of our attention on just one volcano, certainly not when Mt St Helens is within reach. To the natives her spirit was “Loowit,” a lovely maiden. But she was also called “Louwala Clough,” or “smoking mountain.” Sure, it’s a bit of a drive today, but what price is that for the opportunity to gaze into the crater of an active volcano?! Even better, nowhere is the view of Mt. St. Helens more stunning than from Norway Pass and Windy Ridge. From this less-visited side of the mountain, look across the lonely waters of Spirit Lake directly into the crater of Mt. St. Helens. Hear the incredible story of the mountain that garnered headlines around the world in 1980 and witness the fascinating changes that have taken place in the “Blast Zone” since the eruption. Listen for the eerie calls of bugling elk in the early fall while watching for the majestic bulls whose antlers frequently feature 6 or 7 points and measure over 5 feet long. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention… the views along the drive aren’t half bad either. We are headed to Paradise, after all! Have dinner on your own at the Inn tonight.
Norway Pass: 4.5 miles; 900ft gain; 3600-4500ft
DAY 4: Hiking in Paradise
Today, hike up the flanks of Mt Rainier toward Camp Muir – and spend another night in, yes…Paradise! Berry patches abound on these slopes. The natives referred to these gardens as “Sahalee Illahee,” or “land of peace.” Famed conservationist, John Muir, dubbed them “the lower gardens of Eden.” Whatever you choose to call them, do not miss the opportunity to savor the flavor of the highly coveted mountain huckleberry in season. With luck, gather a sampling grouseberries. A mere thimbleful of these miniscule, generally overlooked, treasures has more flavor than an entire box of Popsicles. Contemplate the workings of the Nisqually Glacier from above while gazing at the rugged peaks of the Tatoosh Range. Relax upon a rock and take a break in the sunshine with marmots and watch while their youngsters wrestle each other in the meadows. This is where you have your chance to cheer on the intrepid climbers set to ascend to the 14,411 foot summit. At night, don’t forget to step outside for a moment to take in the panoply of stars overhead.
Muir Route: 6 miles; 1600ft gain; 5400-7000ft
DAY 5: Meadows, Forests, and Falls
Heading west from Paradise toward Longmire, drop down out of the meadows and tree islands of the alpine zone into lush old growth rainforests on the western slopes of the volcano. Visit the home of northern flying squirrels and spotted owls and learn about the plants and animals that are unique to and dependent upon these old-growth forests. Waterfalls seem to be everywhere you look. Early in the day is the perfect time to visit 320-foot-high Comet Falls and witness the fabulous rainbow created by the morning sun’s rays passing through the spray from the falls. Sample some of the most delicious mountain-fresh water the world has to offer. If we have the energy, we will keep on past the falls to say our farewells to the meadows and the mountain from another triumphant picnic spot in Van Trump Park.
Comet Falls; 3.5 miles; 1600ft gain; 3600-4900ft
Van Trump Park: 6 miles; 2200ft gain; 3600-5800ft