While hoards of tourists are streaming to Paradise to get their wildflower fill for the summer, it is a great time to find a hike with a view and get in some quiet trail time in the forests of the park. Let others fight for parking! Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob Lookout are great destinations and are moderate hikes (.9 miles from the trail head to Lake George, and another 1.6 miles to Gobbler’s Knob Lookout), and there are very few people on the trail.
“What?!” you say. “A lake, a fire lookout, and a moderate-level hike accessible to the family that can be enjoyed in relative solitude at Mt. Rainier? How can this be?!”
I’m so glad you asked! The Lake George/Gobbler’s Knob trailhead are on the Westside Road, which is the very first left you can make when entering the park from the Nisqually entrance. However, there is a catch. Continual flooding of the Westside Road has shut down public vehicle access for nearly 15 years. The road is gated off after the first 3 miles, and is only accessible for work vehicles.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Then how do we get there? How far is it from the gate to the trailhead?”
Don’t throw in the towel yet! Park your car alongside the Westside Road at the gate. The trailhead for Lake George/Gobbler’s Knob is approximately 4 miles from the gate on your lefthand side, and is impossible to miss. Many people choose to make a visit to Lake George/Gobbler’s Knob an overnight or even two-night experience, and hike in the 4 miles to the trailhead. There are campsites (even a group campsite) available at Lake George, and the 4.9 mile hike from the gate to the lake is relatively easy, though hikers will be packing in on a gradual incline the entire hike. Gobbler’s Knob can then be done as an afternoon hike once the backpacks are dropped off and camp is set up, or the next morning before packing up camp. Heading out is easy, as hikers enjoy a gradual descent that is gentle on the knees.
“But didn’t you say this is a moderate hike? One where my family and I can hike 5 miles roundtrip and relax lakeside, as well as at an old fire lookout?! 13 miles and 5 miles are quite different. We were really looking for a day hike”
Settle down sassypants! You’re absolutely right. 13-miles is a different cup-of-tea than a 5-mile hike. But lucky for us, there are other ways to utilize the Westside Road. Does your family bike? Grab your bikes, helmets, and day packs, and enjoy a 4-mile bike to the trailhead and a .9 mile walk to Lake George. The roundtrip 8-mile bike ride and 1.8 mile hike to and from Lake George can be done easily in 2-2.5 hours, and the drive from Ashford (where the visitor Center is located) to the Westside Road gate is just over 20 minutes. This bike and hike can be done in as little as an afternoon, and Gobblers Knob is a strongly recommended addition.
The 4-mile bike ride from the Westside gate to the trailhead is all uphill on the way in, so get an early start to beat the heat. Mountain bikes are recommended for the gravel road, and make sure to carry an extra tube and a pump. There is a bike rack at the trailhead, which you’ll pull up to on your left.
The hike to Lake George is easy, wide, and pleasant. Even young children who may have freeloaded in a seat on mom or dad’s bike can make their way along this path, and the hike is short enough to feel like a cool-down for your uphill bike ride. Mt. Rainier will show her face within the first .4 miles of hiking, so make sure to peer westward through the trees to enjoy your mountain views. Once arrived at Lake George, you can picnic with your family in shady quiet and soak in the beauty of the blue-green lake. Make sure to check out the historic log patrol cabin (it was originally built as a horse barn) that sits on the northeast end of the lake, built in 1934.
Once everyone is rested and has snacked at Lake George, continue on the trail another 1.6 miles to the Gobbler’s Knob. Gobbler’s Knob is one of four fire lookouts within the park boundaries that are historically maintained, with stunning views of the mountain. The trail to Gobblers Knob begins by following the bank of Lake George before taking a few mellow switchbacks. Hikers are then treated to a pleasant respite from elevation gain as the trail flattens out alongside a pond and makes its way across a small valley, before the ascent begins again and the path meanders its way up in a few more agreeable switchbacks.
After 1.2 miles the trail intersects with Goat Lake Trail, which heads outside the park and into NSFS land. (This is another route to Lake George and Gobblers Knob – this junction can be reached after 4 miles of hiking, beginning at the trailhead outside the park for Lake Christine). You only have .4 miles left to go! This last section of trail will fly by, as the trail opens up to fields of wildflowers to your left, and then curves up and behind the huge rock outcropping on which the lookout sits.
Mt. Rainier, who has been showing her face through the trees throughout your hike, is now out in all of her glory. You’ll scramble up the rocks alongside the lookout and settle on your own private boulder throne, or perhaps climb up the lookout stairs and lean your back against the historic 1933 building while soaking in the beauty of the mountain. Rainier is huge from Gobblers Knob (5,485 ft.), and there she provides you with a panorama that is arguably one of the best in the park. You can see Mt. Wow to the south and Mt. Ararat to the east, and on a clear day you can see Mt. St. Helens gray and yawning in the distance.
Have a snack. Relax. Soak in Rainier in peace and quiet – you and your companions may be the only visitors! The 1.6 mile return to Lake George is a moderate descent where walking sticks come in handy but the path is generally very kind. From Lake George, the .9 miles back to the trailhead and your awaiting bike will take you 20 minutes max. The 4-mile bike ride to your parked vehicle is all downhill and also takes less than 20 minutes. If you’re really cruising, you can get from Gobbler’s Knob to your car in a little over an hour.
The secret is out. Grab a friend or your family, load up those bikes and get out there!