Hike description: For a short hike, the path to Sourdough Gap has plenty to offer: A view of Mount Adams, an occasional glimpse at the summit of Mount Rainier, a pristine alpine lake and opportunities to extend your trip through the Cascades.
The trail uses the Pacific Crest Trail to travel from Chinook Pass to Sheep Lake and then upward to the scenic notch in the rocky peaks known as Sourdough Gap. The first mile is essentially flat, but it creates the illusion of climbing as state Route 410 drops away below you. The climbing starts at the 1.2-mile mark as you head upward to Sheep Lake.
Fishing and swimming are permitted at this small lake and it’s a popular destination for those looking for an easy backpacking getaway. But for the best views, keep going beyond the lake upward to Sourdough Gap. Mount Rainier’s summit is visible through the peaks below Sourdough Gap. Mount Adams is more easily viewed. While we’ve been told Mount St. Helens is also visible from this spot, it was hidden by a patch of low clouds when we were there.
We hiked this trail on June 30 and it was excellent shape, although snow still covered the trail in places in the trees below Sheep Lake. Snow also covered portions of the trail and slopes beyond Sourdough Gap for those looking to extend the trip farther along the PCT or down to Crystal Lakes. A short walk beyond the gap (about 0.25 miles with a snowfield crossing each way) to the pass above Crystal Lakes is all that’s needed to deliver a big view of Rainier.
Directions: Follow state Route 410 to Chinook Pass and find parking just east of the pass and the boundary to Mount Rainier National Park.
Difficulty rating: 3 (5 is most difficult, 1 is easiest).
Miles round trip: 6.5.
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet.
Best time of the year: June-October.
Map: Green Trails 270: Mount Rainier East and 271: Bumping Lake.
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass.
Also: Hiking from Chinook Pass over Sourdough Gap past Crystal Lake and down to Route 410 near the Sunrise Road covers nearly 7 miles each way. Toilet facilities are located at the trailhead on Chinook Pass. Dogs on leashes are permitted on this route, but are not allowed on trails in nearby Mount Rainier National Park. Bicycles and hang gliders are not permitted. Several geocaches are hidden along the route. For more information, visit geocaching.com.