While cavorting all over visiting National Parks, I'd neglected the one closest to home. Although Mt. Rainier National Park is a mere 3 1/2 hour drive away, I've been there a grand total of once, and that was way back in the 90s.
Time to get reacquainted!
|Stevens Canyon Entrance|
In late July, I planned a return trip to coincide with one of my three-day weekends. Early that Friday morning, after dropping my hubby off at the Portland airport for a business trip, I continued northward into Washington State.
|Wonderland Trail to Sunrise|
I didn't make campground reservations (I learned the White River Campground was first-come first serve), and was a little bit worried about securing a site for the weekend. Arriving around 11 am, I was surprised to find it nearly full. After driving around the campground for 30 minutes, I got lucky and spotted a just-vacated site. Quickly, I parked my car and hurried to pay. I think I got the very last one!
|Waterfall on the Wonderland Trail|
The White River campground is situated in the NE corner of the park. To reach the nearby Sunrise Visitor Center it's a short drive or 2.5 mile hike. Can you guess which option I chose?
|Mt Rainier is hidden in the clouds|
Yep - after setting up camp, I donned backpack and headed up the Wonderland Trail, destination Sunrise Lodge and Visitor Center. The Wonderland Trail is a 95.2 mile long trail that circles Mt. Rainier's entire base and I was excited to be hiking a small portion of this famous path.
|Junction with the Sunrise Trail|
It was a tough 2000 foot climb through mostly viewless woods. Not much for wildflowers blooming either, but the path did cross underneath a cool waterfall about halfway.
|Beautiful purple flowers|
Reaching the first junction, I took the half mile trail heading to Sunrise. After having the uphill climb mostly to myself, it was a shock to encounter so many people! I hiked with the crowds all the way to the visitor center.
|Sunrise Visitor Center|
Sunrise didn't impress me. It's huge parking lot was full of vehicles. The weather-worn lodge looked like it had seen better days. The visitor center looked like a log stockade from the Davy Crockett days. And people were everywhere.
I made a quick trip inside the visitor center to check it out, buy a pin for my collection, and inquire about the best wildflower hikes. Then I headed to a nearby picnic area for a quick snack and to figure out where to go next.
|Hiking above Sunrise|
A plethora of hiking trails departed from Sunrise. Some climbed high up nearby ridges, others followed level alpine meadows. The morning's rainy weather had given way to low-lying clouds and cool temps. Although it was no longer raining, foggy skies hid most of the majestic mountain views.
|Lots of foggy clouds up high|
Where did I want to hike? Should I climb higher? Or stay low and look for wildflowers? Seeing large groups of people heading up the trail to Frozen Lake, I made a snap decision to follow the crowd.
At first I thought I'd made a mistake. The trail climbed higher into the fog. Views became obliterated by the low-hanging clouds. The temperatures dropped, and I put on all the layers I had with me (which wasn't much).
|Teaser peeks of the mountains|
But after crossing a high saddle, the skies began to clear slightly. I began to see the green forest below, and adjacent mountains began to show themselves.
The wildflowers up here were sparse, but what they lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality.
|Trail across the talus slope|
|Big patch of heather!|
Then I began climbing the final steep pitch to frozen lake. Along the way, I passed some lovely alpine meadows decked out with vivid orange paintbrush.
|Orange paintbrush brightens up the landscape|
Approaching Frozen Lake, the fog sunk down to trail level. Temperatures hovered near freezing, and a few icy raindrops pelted the hikers.
|Path to Frozen Lake|
Oh, it was miserable! The wind blew and I swear the raindrops began morphing into sleet pellets.
|Frozen Lake in a foggy sleet storm|
To top it off, the lake was shrouded in clouds, making it extremely hard to photograph. But I did my best, trying to capture it's amazing ice formations along the far shores.
|Blue glacial ice|
|Back down the Wonderland Trail|
In the end, after a few wrong turns, I located the Wonderland Trail and decided to do more exploring.
|Very foggy here|
The Wonderland Trail dropped steeply down off Frozen Lake's high ridge. The fog began to lift and temperatures increased dramatically.
I did however, have to cross a couple of snowfields. But they were a snap, thanks to my skiing experience, and my trekking poles.
|Magenta paintbrush and mountains|
Below the snowfields, the alpine meadows began opening up, and so did the wildflowers! Lovely magenta-colored paintbrush dotted the landscape.
|Only wildlife sighting|
I even caught a little chipmunk peeking over a rock - my only wildlife sighting of the day.
|More gorgeous paintbrush|
The alpine meadows were fantastic! Flowers and partial mountain views - Now I was glad I'd decided to come this way.
I passed by lovely little Shadow Lake, it's water a mixture of brown and forest greens. A nearby backpacking campground was plumb full of weekend campers.
|Wildflowers at Shadow Lake outlet|
I loved all the wildflowers at the lake's outlet too.
|Pink heather meadow|
Near the Sunrise Trail junction, I passed by a meadow full of pink heather. Outstanding! I also crossed a few gorgeous bubbling mountain streams, fed by glacial snowmelt.
|One of many mountain streams|
Finally locating my path back to the campground, I began retracing my steps downhill. But just before the trail disappeared back into the woods, the clouds parted and I got a great view of Mt. Rainier's summit in all her glory.
|Mt Rainier finally came out!|
Arriving back at camp, the neighboring site invited me over for stew and beer. A group of five friends from Tacoma, they were so welcoming, I spent a couple of pleasant hours around their campfire, before finally crawling into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow was another big day - I planned a hike into the fabulous wildflower meadows of Summerland.
Stay tuned - I'll cover that adventure in my next post!
Sharing with: Scenic Weekends and Through My Lens