I’ve lived in Washington state all my life so I’m used to looking out the window and seeing this familiar snow-capped mountain in the distance. As we say in fine weather around here, “The mountain is out!
As a native of the Pacific Northwest, this is a prerequisite for enjoying hiking, or at least having some appreciation for it. My favorite part of summer growing up, and still today: putting away my water bottle and granola bars, hopping in the car with my aunt at 5 a.m. and driving up to Mount Rainier, the gem. from the crown of western Washington and my heart. On the way home, my aunt gives me Rainier cherries from the local market and a Starbucks race – something that has become our tradition. (We can’t have enough coffee.)
No matter how many miles we drive or how many hours we sleep, it’s always worth it.
I have done dozens of hikes over the years; here are some of my favorites around Mount Rainier. Whichever hike you choose, I hope you fall in love with the Pacific Northwest even more along the way. Don’t forget your water and snacks, stay on the trails and leave everything better than you found it.
Kelly Butte Fire Lookout
Round trip distance: 3.4 miles; Northwest Forest Pass required
If you’re looking for a short hike that offers stunning views, look no further than Kelly Butte. The last half mile of the ride is a bit precarious and leads to a small parking lot, so I recommend planning this in advance. After crossing the switchbacks and identifying the wildflowers on your way, your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views from a restored gazebo. Plus, if you’re early, you might even have this lookout and viewpoint all to yourself.
Sheep Lake at Levain Gap
Round trip distance: 6 miles; Northwest Forest Pass required
The hike from Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap has amazing views of the South Cascades and you can get to Sheep Lake after just 1.8 miles. I recommend continuing and driving the 1.4 miles to Sourdough Gap for the most scenic shots of Rainier. There is 1,100 feet of elevation gain on this enjoyable subalpine hike that offers stunning mountain views in a lush area of wildflowers in July and August.
Skyline Trail Loop
Round trip distance: 5.5 miles; National park pass required
The perfect stop on your hiking route, the Skyline Trail Loop is the primary route for traversing the heavenly side of Mount Rainier and is home to Glacier Vista, one of the most iconic views of Mount Rainier and a nearby waterfall. . For those who don’t want to do the 5.5 mile hike, which climbs to 1,450 feet, this becomes a turning point. But I encourage you to move on. In July and August, you are likely to see meadows with wildflowers like pink mountain heather, bistort, and scarlet brush. The large Paradise parking lot is next to Paradise Inn so I recommend you come early to reserve your spot to enjoy the trails with minimal foot traffic.
Tolmie Peak Lookout at Lake Eunice
Round trip distance: 7.5 miles; National park pass required
The Tolmie Peak Lookout is a great option if you are looking for stunning views and the chance to swim in a lake once you get back. The first time I did this trail – which has an elevation gain of 1,100 feet and tops out at 5,900 feet – I hit a snowfield halfway and was unprepared with sticks. Make sure to check the weather so you can bring the best gear.
Round trip distance: 9.4 miles; Discovery pass required
A must-see in the Pacific Northwest, Mailbox Peak is known for its two routes: there’s a steep trail that is fairly eroded by all visitors that gets you up quickly to the top, and a newer, safer trail offering a more stable climb. Clean up after yourself if you stop for lunch and snap a photo next to the famous letterbox upstairs – it’ll outlast the letter you’ll be tempted to leave behind. The Washington Trails Association reports that the trailhead can hold over 50 cars per hour, so look for the upper parking lot and plan to get there early.
Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls
Round trip distance: 8.2 miles; Northwest Forest Pass required
Can’t choose between a lake and a waterfall? Find yourself a hike that does both. This 13 km round trip hike from Serene Lake to Bridal Veil Falls requires 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Both natural attractions are especially beautiful on sunny days, so be sure to check the weather first! You can enjoy a cool dip in the lake, especially if you take the recommended detour to see Bridal Veil Falls.
Summerland – Panhandle Gap
Round trip distance: 12 miles; National park pass required
I’m often asked what my # 1 hike is, and I can confidently say this 12 mile adventure takes the cake every time for its meadows, stream, and views. Summerland leaves me sore the next morning, but it makes me fall in love with the Pacific Northwest again for one reason in particular: the wildflowers. I will never forget when I entered the last mile of this hike and encountered a field of pink mountain heather. Never walk in the flower fields – stay on the hiking path, from where you can take a nice photo if you get close to the ground. I recommend you rest next to Fryingpan Creek for a snack before continuing to the Panhandle Gap and its breathtaking views 2.5 miles away.