Hike description: The Paul Peak Trail is scorned by some as a "reverse hike." That is, the trail goes down on the way in and up on the way out. For those with a summit orientation, this makes no sense. But if your goal is to find a nice destination, whether up or down, this is a great trail. The trail goes through some of Mount Rainier’s wonderful old-growth forest and takes you to a lunch spot by the North Mowich River. And, if your knees/feet/legs don't enjoy going downhill, this hike has you doing that part of the hike at the start of the day when your body is fresh. After lunch by the river, with the opportunity to soak your feet in cold water, you are ready for the uphill trek out.
Starting from the Paul Peak Trailhead, the trail takes you through old-growth forest down about 250 feet, then up 600 feet, then down about 1,200 feet to the junction with the Wonderland Trail, in 3.1 miles. On the way down to the junction, the trail is made up of switchbacks through a section of blow-downs that offer wonderful views of the river and of Mount Rainier on a clear day. Enjoy the views for their own sake and as good rest stops along the way. At the Wonderland Trail junction keep going downhill to the river’s edge and lunch. If the bridge is in you, further exploration is possible over at Mowich River Camp. The guidebook has a good description of the first 3.1 miles of the trail but stops short of getting you down to the river for lunch.
Words of warning: For the summit-oriented, this is a hike around Paul Peak, not to the top. The trail is not as formidable as you might think. The switchbacks are really very gentle. You will find yourself surprised at how easy it is to hike back out.
Directions: Drive state Route 410 to Buckley then pick up state Route 165 through Wilkeson. Cross the Fairfax Bridge and take the right fork toward Mowich Lake (the left fork goes to the Carbon River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park). The road goes through timber farms and takes you to the Mowich entrance to the park. The Paul Peak Trailhead is 0.6 mile beyond the sign welcoming you to the park. During the winter, the road to Mowich Lake is gated just past the Paul Peak Trailhead.
Difficulty rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult)
Miles round-trip: 7.2
Elevation: 1,100 feet
Best time of year: April to October
Map: Green Trails 269 Mount Rainier West, 269S Mount Rainier Wonderland Trail
Pass: Mount Rainier annual or day pass
Also: Vault toilets and picnic tables at the trailhead. Please remember to stay on the trail. Cutting switchbacks causes trail erosion and rapidly degrades the trail.
Information: Check the Mount Rainier National Park website for trail and road information, including snow conditions: www.nps.gov/mora/home.htm; “Day Hiking Mount Rainier,” Mountaineers Books.
Hike of the Week is presented by The Mountaineers Tacoma Branch Hiking/Backpacking Committee.