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Rainier splendor

The names are nearly as colorful as the blossoms themselves: Cascade aster, Indian paintbrush, glacier lily and white mountain heather.

They are just some of the wildflowers coloring the subalpine meadows at Mount Rainier National Park. Thanks to late snowmelt, this month will be the prime time to take a hike to see the park’s famed wildflowers.

“We had 140 percent of the normal snowpack in June, that’s why the wildflowers are late this year,” said Brian Dempsey, interpretive ranger at Sunrise.

“I would expect (the wildflowers) to be pretty good this year,” said Lou Whiteaker, the park’s plant ecologist. “The moisture was not hugely above average, but it came late. So it’s melting out later, so there should be a lot of moisture. That means it should be a really good wildflower display this year.”

When the meadows at places such as Spray Park, Sunrise and Paradise reach their peak, they will be filled with the violet blooms of broadlead lupine and red and orange paintbrush. Later in the season, visitors will able to see flowers such as mountain bog gentian. A favorite of Whiteaker’s, it has a striking dark blue flower.

In addition to the variety of colors and multitude of flowers, they are popular because they can be seen by anyone visiting the park. A drive to Tipsoo Lake on state Route 410 later this month will provide easy access, while a hike to Grand Park on the north side of the park makes for a longer day hike.

No matter what your preference, here are some recommended wildflower hikes at the park.

PARADISE AREA

Easy: Take the half-mile paved trail to Myrtle Falls. You can start the hike behind the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center or over by Paradise Inn. There are plenty of trailside blooms as you start out. As you approach the falls, your view takes in some of the expansive meadows filled with flowers.

Moderate: Try the 13/4-mile Alta Vista Trail, which has an elevation gain of 600 feet. The trailhead is right behind the visitor center. The trail winds through the heart of the famed Paradise meadows. Give yourself at least 75 minutes to do this hike. Those looking to extend their trip can add another 1.2 miles roundtrip by going to Glacier Vista at 6,336 feet.

Strenuous: The five-mile Skyline Trail loop rewards hikers with some of the best flower views at Paradise. The loop has an elevation gain of 1,700 feet. The trailhead is on the north side of the parking lot. During the 41/2-hour hike, you’ll cross a variety of habitat zones and see a wide variety of flowers.

NORTHEAST CORNER

Easy: The Naches Peak Loop Trail is a good option for late summer. It covers 31/2 miles, with 500 feet of elevation gain, near Chinook Pass off state Route 410. In the two hours it takes, you’ll go through lush subalpine meadows and past mountain lakes, said Brian Dempsey, interpretive ranger at Sunrise. You also can take a short walk around Tipsoo Lake. “It gets such deep snow, that is one of the reasons it is one of the best places for wildflowers on the east side,” he said. Last year, lupine was everywhere, Dempsey said. You’ll also see Pasqueflower, scarlet and magenta paintbrush, Indian paintbrush, spreading phlox, and pink mountain heather.

Moderate: At Sunrise, Dempsey recommends combining the Silver Forest Trail with a trip to Shadow Lake. Start with the two-mile Silver Forest Trail, which has a 150-feet elevation gain. It takes one hour to do the out-and-back trip. A bonus on the trip is the Emmons Vista Overlook (a half mile) that offers “arguably the best view of the mountain,” Dempsey said. On your return, continue about one mile to Shadow Lake. The area was filled with broadleaf lupine last year.

Strenuous: This trail to the Shriner Peak fire lookout offers a challenging trek and good views of wildflowers. Count on five hours to make the 8-mile roundtrip hike. It has an elevation gain of 3,434 feet. “So far this year, the flowers have been decent. There is still some snow at the top,” Dempsey said. The trailhead is about 31/2 miles north of the Stevens Canyon entrance on state Route 123. “This is a good place to have a hike if you want to break up the drive from Sunrise to Paradise,” he said.

NORTHWEST CORNER

Easy: Follow the trail to Eunice Lake. It is 51/2 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 450 feet. The trailhead is at the Mowich Lake Campground. The lake is surrounded by meadows that are filled with flowers, said Amy Mann of the Tacoma Mountaineers. Among her favorites is false hellebore. “The leaves look quite a bit like corn. It’s fun to see when it’s not in a cornfield,” she said.

Moderate: The destination is the reward on the Spray Park Trail. The 6-mile roundtrip hike has an elevation gain of 1,300 feet and takes about four hours. The trailhead is on the southeast side of Mowich Lake. It has as many flowers as Paradise and Sunrise, but far fewer visitors. In a previous story, one ranger described the meadows as “a riot of wildflowers in the summertime.” Among the flowers you’ll find are lousewort, lilies, lupine, paintbrush and heather. On your way to the park, you’ll be treated to great views of Mowich Glacier and the mountain itself.

Strenuous: Extending your Spray Park trip to Seattle Park turns this into an 11-mile roundtrip, Mann said. You also can turn this into an 18-mile loop including the Carbon River and Tolmie Peak trails. The meadow area is just west of the Carbon Glacier, below Russell Glacier, and is a good place for late-season wildflowers.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com

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