HIKE DESCRIPTION: Aurora Peak sits in the foreground of what is a stunning view at Mount Rainier’s Klapatche Park. It’s a small, wooded lump of a peak with spectacular views of its own from the top.
But getting there is no easy trip, and it is most easily accessed with the assistance of a bicycle. Aurora is easy to reach from the Wonderland Trail, but getting there via the Wonderland is a multiday backpack trip for most. But by biking 8 miles up the Westside Road, the hike becomes a much more manageable 8-mile round trip.
At peakbagger.com, a website where mountaineers and hikers track their climbing goals, Aurora has been logged 33 times. Of those, 25 where logged since 2013 when Gene Yore and Mickey Eisenberg published the ebook “Guide to 100 Peaks at Mount Rainier National Park” (The Mountaineers Books, $14.95). Aurora is listed as one of the 15 hiking peaks that can earn climbers a free medallion if they log their trips at peakbeagger.com.
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Starting at the end of the driving section of Westside Road, visitors should scoot through the first section of road quickly. Signs warning of falling boulders and huge boulders sitting in the middle of the road should drive home the point.
Ride about 8 miles, and be prepared to spend much of your time pedaling uphill. At a bridge over St. Andrews Creek, stash your bike out of view and follow the trail on the east side of the road. In about 2.6 miles (again going uphill), you’ll arrive at Klapatche Park and the intersection with the Wonderland Trail. This is a good place to pause for a snack and take in the view of Mount Rainier over Aurora Lake.
Turn right (south) on the Wonderland Trail and continue about 600 yards to a faint foot path that leads up Aurora Peak. The path can be hard to spot, but it is located directly behind a Wonderland Trail sign. Follow the path, taking care to minimize your impact, to the top of the peak.
If you have a little energy to burn after the hike, and before the bike ride back to the car, a short side trip on the west side of the road will take you to Denman Falls.
DIRECTIONS: Enter Mount Rainier National Park at the Nisqually Entrance via state Route 706. Turn left on Westside Road and continue for 3 miles and park.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 4.5 (5 is most difficult, 1 is easiest).
MILES ROUND TRIP: 24 (8 hiking, 16 biking).
ELEVATION GAIN: 4,700 feet (half on bike).
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR: July-early October.
MAP: Green Trails 269: Mount Rainier West.
PASS: $20-per-vehicle National Park Pass.
ALSO: Be honest about your fitness level. This trip could take some time. Maybe even 12 hours. Days are getting shorter in October, so you might decide this hike is best saved for when the days are longer. But it is quite doable for many this time of year. Check weather conditions before you go. Route finding becomes more difficult and hazards increase when it snows. Dogs are not permitted.