Crystal Peak eases you into the views.
Eagle Peak saves the best for your last few steps.
And Shriner Peak entices you to stay all night.
Trails like these are coveted by Northwest hikers. Views, altitude and a good workout.
The problem is the window is small for hiking mile-high trails like these on the perimeter of Mount Rainier National Park.
“Those higher trails will start to get dustings of snow in October,” Rainier ranger Daniel Keebler said. “You’ll want to try to get them in by the middle to the end of the month.”
Once the snow starts accumulating, these trails can become dangerous or inaccessible, leaving many hikers to spend the remainder of the fall, winter and early spring on lower and arguably less scenic routes.
So, before the snow starts flying in the foothills and your thoughts start turning to ski season, here are five mile-high hikes around Rainier worth bagging this October.
Miles: 7.6 roundtrip
Elevation gain: 3,070 feet
Peak: 6,595 feet
Map: Green Trails 270 — Mount Rainier East
Directions: Follow state Route 410 into Mount Rainier National Park and park on the west side of the road about a half-mile north of Sunrise Road. The trailhead will be across the street.
Details: After a couple of miles, you’ll start getting glimpses of Rainier through the trees. Then the trail enters an open slope with constant views.
From the upper slopes, you’ll look up the White River drainage at Rainier and the Emmons Glacier. Once you reach the rocky summit of Crystal Peak, you can look down on Crystal Lake and across the valley at the backside of Crystal Mountain Resort. Some of the upper lift towers are visible from here.
You can extend the trip 3.4 miles (and about 1,000 vertical feet) to Crystal Lakes. Camping is available at both lower and upper Crystal Lakes. From the upper lake, the hike can be extended even further (another mile each way) to the Pacific Crest Trail on Sourdough Gap just beyond the park boundary.
Miles: 7.2 roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2,955 feet
Peak: 5,958 feet
Map: Green Trails 269 — Mount Rainier West
Cost: $15 per vehicle.
Directions: Enter the Nisqually entrance via state Route 706 and continue to Longmire to find parking. The trailhead is on the south side of the Nisqually River.
Details: It’s not uncommon for hikers to zip past Longmire and the Eagle Peak trailhead on their way to Paradise or more popular hikes. But if you’ve never hiked this trail on a clear day, you’re missing out.
The trail climbs with almost every step to a saddle between Eagle and Chutla peaks. From here you can see Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and a dominating view of Rainier.
Rarely busy even in the summer, the trail is a favorite of many rangers living in Longmire who relish Eagle Peak as a great workout with a killer view.
Pinnacle Peak, a much more popular (and easier) hike, is just a couple peaks down the ridge.
Rainier remains out of sight until the final steep steps of this hike. But once it comes into view, you’ll want to stay for awhile.
Miles: 10.4 miles
Elevation gain: 2,565 feet
Top: 5,465 feet
Map: Green Trails 302 – Packwood
Cost: $15 per vehicle park entry fee.
Directions: Enter the park through the Nisqually Entrance and turn left on the Westside Road. The road is closed after three miles. Park here and hike 3.8 miles to the trailhead.
Details: You don’t always have to climb 3,000 feet to a get a mile-high view of Rainier from the park perimeter. One easier hike is the view from Gobblers Knob on the park’s southwest side.
There are two ways to get to the Gobblers Knob lookout and choosing the right one for you can depend on a couple of things.
If you don’t have a season pass to Rainier, you can save a few bucks by hiking in from the Lake Christine trailhead (see the Mount Beljica hike) which requires a $5 Northwest Forest day pass instead of a $15 Rainier pass. It also cuts about 1,200 feet of climbing off the hike.
While the trip to the lookout is about the same distance from either side, you can cover the ground quicker from inside Rainier. The drive to the trailhead is easier (especially if you don’t have four-wheel drive and a vehicle with ample clearance). And with the first 3.8 miles on the closed portion of the Westside Road, you have the option to bike the unpaved road, leaving less than five miles of hiking.
Biking the Westside Road also offers opportunities for other short day hikes (3.2-5.8 miles) to scenic spots on the Wonderland Trail.
Miles: 4 roundtrip
Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
Peak: 5,475 feet
Map: Green Trails 269 – Mount Rainier West
Cost: $5 per vehicle Northwest Forest Pass.
Directions: From state Route 706 east of Ashford, turn north on Forest Road 59/Copper Creek Road. Drive 3.5 to the first intersection then continue another 1.5 miles to Forest Road 5900. Turn right and continue to the Lake Christine Trailhead.
Details: I hiked this trail in August with a buddy and our wives and we found the mosquitoes so thick beyond Lake Christine we were almost chased off the trail. But one of the great things about hiking in October is that the bugs have typically called it quits for the year.
This trail is just outside the park in the Glacier View Wilderness. The hike can be extended past Goat Lake into Mount Rainier National Park and up to Gobblers Knob with minimal effort (2.3 mostly flat miles each way), but the views from the top of Beljica will satisfy most hikers.
Miles: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 3,434 feet
Peak: 5,834 feet
Map: Green Trails 270 – Mount Rainier East
Directions: Reach state Route 123 via Route 410 or U.S. Highway 12. (Stevens Canyon Road is closed for repair.) Park on the west side of the road about nine miles north of the Ohanapecosh Campground. The trailhead will be across the street about 100 yards south of the parking area.
Details: Located on the east side of the park, this trail climbs more than just about any 10-mile-or-less day hike at Rainier.
It’s also a good trail for spotting wildlife. On a morning last weekend, I saw fresh coyote prints, grouse fluttering out of the bushes, and I heard the occasional bugle calls of elk.
The trail is not particularly steep even though it climbs with almost every step. I could see hardly anything from the summit fire lookout when I arrived, but I was rewarded for my work about 10 minutes later.
Like ships emerging from the fog, Rainier and the smaller rocky crags that surround it started to take shape as the higher cloud cover moved on. A lower cloud cover remained, leaving the appearance that these peaks were islands on a sea of white fluff.
You can’t enter the fire lookout, but a small backcountry campsite is 100 yards away, giving you the opportunity to stay as long as you like. Backcountry camping permits must be acquired from the park’s Wilderness Information Center (360-569-6650).