Hike description: If you've studied the map of Mount Rainier National Park, surveyed the vistas from Mount Fremont Lookout or heard about the wonders of Grand Park but just aren't sure you can manage the almost-14-mile round-trip hike from Sunrise, take heart. There is an easier way to get you there.
This trail starts outside the northern boundary of the park and takes you first to Lake Eleanor (in about 1.25 miles), a lovely lake with campsites and a pit toilet, and then up to Grand Park. You will know you are almost there when you can see the top of Mount Rainier above the trees. When you have reached the edge of Grand Park, Mount Rainier will fill the horizon and astound you with its majesty. Do this hike on a clear day for the most impact. During early wildflower season, the long, flat Grand Park plateau will be ablaze with color and the avalanche and glacier lilies will delight you. And don’t forget to marvel at the silver forest sentinels, reminders of forest fires or yore.
And, yes, do this hike during late season when the road to Sunrise is closed but the Forest Service roads are still open.
Directions: Drive state Route 410 about 24 miles east of Enumclaw and just past the viewpoint for Mount Rainier, turn right on Forest Service Road 73. Pass trailheads for Skookum Flats and Sun Top and continue over the Huckleberry Creek bridge (at about 6 miles). Continue on Forest Service Road 73 as it goes to the right (past the winter gate). Keep to the right at the junction at 8.5 miles and at about 10 miles reach the trailhead at Eleanor Creek, elevation 4,520 feet. The sign on the road identifies the creek. Trailhead signs are up the trail a bit. The trailhead is on your left, parking on the right hand side of the road will accommodate about six cars.
Difficulty rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult)
Miles round-trip: 8
Elevation: 1,500 feet
Best time of year: July-October
Map: Green Trails 270 Mount Rainier East and Green Trails 238 Greenwater
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass and Mount Rainier or National Park weekly or annual pass
Also: Green Trails Map 238 Greenwater shows the roads to the trailhead. All but the first 1/4-mile of this trail are in the national park so all park regulations apply. Don’t forget your 10 essential items and, during summer the 11th essential – bug spray. Lake Eleanor can be buggy, much to the delight of the fish in the lake. Pit toilet at the Lake Eleanor backcountry camp (permit required). Practice Leave No Trace travel and pack out your own trash.
Info: For trail and road conditions in the Park: www.nps.gov/mora; “Day Hiking Mount Rainier” and “50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park,” both Mountaineers Books.
Hike of the Week is presented by The Mountaineers Tacoma Branch Hiking/Backpacking Committee. For other hikes, visit www.theolympian.com/hiking.