The wildflowers of Mt. Rainier are just starting to come out in full force, but so are the crowds. If you have done your wildflower hike and have an extra morning where you’d like to get back ont he trails, or you’re just looking for a mountain view and a trail free of the crowds, Rampart Ridge is a nice moderate day hike that can be managed in 2.5 – 3 hours.
The Rampart Ridge trail is a 4.9 mile loop that begins and ends at Longmire. We recommend doing this hike clockwise so that you can enjoy the view of Rainier when it comes into view on east side of the ridge. To begin, park in the Longmire parking lot and cross the road (if it is clear Mt. Rainier will be spectacular across the meadows), and head to your left. You’ll see a sign for the Trail of Shadows (which is also a loop) and Rampart Ridge, and continue clockwise.
The first .2 miles of the trail overlaps with the westernmost part of the Trail of Shadows trail. After crossing a wooden bridge and making your way through lush, marshy foliage with Devil’s Club and Skunk Cabbage, you’ll set foot on drier soil and begin marveling at the old growth firs towering above and the calming shade they provide. Keep an eye out for the sign that will point you left to the Rampart Ridge Trail, and here the slope will start to incline slowly.
The trail begins gently for the first half mile as you gradually hike through the trees, and then gentle switchbacks will keep you heading up the mountain for another 1.5 miles. The trail is never unbearably steep, and the path is wide and free of obstacles for 98% of the route, with the exception of a few loose stones on the ridge. There is a 1,300 foot elevation gain in total – an intermediate to advanced hiker will be able to make his/her way up the mountain in no time, and even beginning hikers or families will find the trail do-able with a few breaks along the way.
After two miles, hikers reach the west end of the ridge, and a small viewpoint at 3,700 feet. For the next mile, the trail follows the ridge, offering glimpses of Longmire and Longmire Meadows below and to the right, and with Mt. Rainier peaking through the trees directly ahead. There are a few small spurs off the main trail where one can take a few steps and take a glorious photo of the mountain, but Mt. Rainier comes into full view the last quarter mile on the ridge, allowing mountain lovers and photographers to gaze at their heart’s content at the huge and glorious mountain before them.
The trail will eventually join with the Wonderland Trail. Follow the trail to the right and descend the 1.8 miles towards Longmire. This is an enjoyable descent – nothing too hard on the knees and minimal switchbacks. You will descend through the trees for a little over a mile before you’ll notice the ecosystem changing back to the marshy dense foliage similar to the start of the trail. A little creek will babble alongside you to your left, and you’ll walk over a lovely boardwalk until you meet the Mountain Hwy/SR 706. Cross the highway and continue going straight – note that this is not well-marked, but continue on and you’ll me just fine. After .3 miles walking int eh woods alongside the road, you’ll emerge just above Longmire, and can make your way back towards your car.
Don’t forget to take one look back at Mt. Rainier, beaming over the Longmire meadows in all her glory.