Tag Archives: hiking

Rampart Ridge

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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.

Stories from the Mountain: Meet the Utelas

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The Mt. Rainier Visitors Association is working in a series we like to call “Stories from the Mountain.”  This will be a series of interviews with Nisqually Valley locals, National Park staff, and visitors just like you!

Meet David and Marci Utela.  Both have been visitors to the park for 60+ years, beginning with family adventures from their youth.  David Utela, hailing from Winlock, WA, remembers visiting the park for the first time, around 5 years old. In the late 1940s and early 50s, his family would visit the park to play in the snow and admire the wildflowers. Dave began frequenting the park on a regular basis at 15 years old, one his friends has cars, and he and his buddies began hiking, camping, and skiing regularly at the mountain. He remembers Skiing at Paradise in army surplus cross-country gear, and recalls the rope tow being very steep and terminating somewhere near the Alto-Vista trail.*  After a day of floundering in the snow (he and his friends were learning), they’d ski down to Narada Falls.

In the mid-60s through mid-70s, Dave entered his hiking and climbing phase, often joining a group of amateur mountaineers from the University of Washington. They’d do self-arrest and crevasse rescue practice on Inter Glacier, and he made many summits via Camp Muir and Schurman.

Marci Utela, from Kirkland, WA also first visited the park as a child. She remembers these first young visits as special occasions, but when she and Dave began dating in the 1960s, Mt. Rainier became a huge part of her life. One of her favorite memories was her summit of Mt. Rainier from the Schurman side when she was 27 years old, in 1974.  As the only female in the group, she recalls being held up by the other man on her line, and being frustrated because the rest of men thought it was Marci that was holding up the group.  Marci was doing just fine, thank you kindly gentlemen! She remembers how spectacular it was when the sun came up over Tahoma, and the amazing view from top of the mountain.

The Utelas spent a lot of time before having children in the Klapatche area, with great campsites and beautiful views. When Marci was pregnant with her first child in 1980, the Utelas snowshoed on the road to Paradise in the winter, and camped ON Reflection Lake.** How many people can say they were snowshoeing and camping on frozen lakes in utero? Marci was pregnant with her second child during a camping trip in Van Trump Park, so both of the Utela children started their relationship with Mt. Rainier early on.

The Utelas hiked numerous times in the Tatoosh Range with Pinnacle Peak being a favorite hike before and after children, and they used to snow camp just behind the rock outcropping between Pinnacle Peak and Castle Rock, when it was still permissible to do so. ** Enjoyable time was spent hiking and camping in the Sunrise area, off the West Side road (it extended further then).  The Utelas enjoy how close the mountain looks and the accessible trails around the Sunrise Visitor Center, although they find themselves camping more often on the west side of the mountain. Most trips were taken summer through early fall, but spring snow shoeing, cross country skiing and snow camps had their own magic.

After both of the Utela kids were born (in 1980 and 1982), the family camped nearly every summer at Cougar Rock.  The location is excellent for family outings, and the Utelas would drive up to Paradise or down to Longmire for adventures, cross the road and over the log bridge to walk through the rocks by the Nisqually River, listen to Ranger talks in the evenings, and sit by the campfire to visit with friends as the children would scamper through the forest.

Just a few years ago the Utelas camped again at Cougar Rock with friends and  went up to Paradise for sunset and Reflection Lakes for moon pictures. In their “older” years, they enjoy staying at Paradise Inn in September, when the crowds have subsided a bit but the fall foliage is in striking bloom, though they also love Paradise in August when it is in full bloom.  They have been up to Paradise once already this year, and will likely make an August and a September visit as well. Dave says the beauty, variety, and majesty of the mountain and surroundings keep them coming back.

The children of the Utelas used to make fun of Marci because every time the mountain came into view (be it from Seattle, on a drive, or nearing the park entrance), she would exclaim “Be still my beating heart.” She explains that the mountain is still breathtaking, even when you are seeing it for the thousandth time. “The mountain is so majestic.  The mountain is beauty, tranquility, serenity, inspiration, meditation, really almost spiritual.”

We couldn’t agree more! On one of Marci and David’s early adventures one summer on the Northern Loop Trail, they fell in love with Mystic Lake.  For awhile the Utelas had it written in their wills that their ashes be spread specifically in that area, but they have decided that their earthly remains can be left anywhere within the park.  Fitting for a couple who have lived their lives so close to this incredible National Park.

* The the pomalift and the rope tow at Paradise were removed in 1973
** Camping on Reflection Lake or at the rock outcropping below Castle Rock and Pinnacle Peak are no longer allowed, as many more backcountry camping sites have been established since the 1970s to protect the fragile park wildlife

If you have a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at, or call the Visitor’s Center at to be in touch.  We’d love to share your story!

High Rock Lookout

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We’re thrilled that the great weather has brought thousands of visitors into Mt. Rainier National Park the last few weeks.  However, long lines to enter the park has people asking about hikes and activities that are available in the Nisqually Valley, just outside the park entrance.  Don’t worry – there are plenty of hikes and activities to enjoy in and around Ashford, where our Visitor’s Center is located.  One such hike is the High Rock Lookout.

High Rock is one of the fire lookouts that was used by the Forest Service in pre-satellite days, so that staff could keep an eye out for smoke, indicating a forest fire.  Since their purpose was to observe large swaths of land, fire lookouts are always located atop high peaks and offer incredible views.  High Rock Lookout is just such a site, and still retains the original 1929 tower, perched at 5,700 feet and offering an incredible view of Mt. Rainier.

To get there, continue driving east on SR 706 from the Mt. Rainier Visitor’s Center in Ashford. After about 3 miles, turn right on Kernahan Road (also which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 1.5 miles before taking a right on Osborn road. Immediately, take a left on FR 85 (it is unmarked), and continue 5.8 miles.  When the road forks, take the left fork onto FR 8440 (unmarked) and  continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the left.

An slightly longer, but smoother alternate route is to drive east on SR 706, turn right on Kernahan Road (which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 4.6 miles before taking a right onto FR 84 (this is unmarked – it is one turn after the dirt road with the gate on the right) and keep on it for 6.8 miles, bearing right onto FR 8440 for the final 2.7 miles to the trailhead (on the right).  This route is recommended for cars lacking 4-wheel drive.

The trail is 1.6 miles each way, but with a hefty 1,400 foot elevation gain. The well-used trail is wide and in great condition, following the spine of the ridge through hemlock and silver fir with wildflowers decorating the trail in the early summer months. The path steepens as it approaches the lookout, and towards the end hikers can choose to either scramble up a steep rock slope with a 600 ft. vertical drop to the right for the most direct route to the lookout, or wind a bit further through the forest and then cut back up along the ridge, approaching the lookout from the west with the cliff to the left.

High Rock sits on a prominent point on Sawtooth Ridge, and is a popular destination for nature photographers. From the lookout, enjoy the amazing view of the south face of Mt. Rainier, the Tatoosh Range, and Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to the south and east respectively.  Look down at Cora Lake, nestled in the forested valley below, and marvel at the sheer rock faces.

This hike takes on average of three hours round trip, and while the steep incline may intimidate hikers early on, the hike is finished in a short time and the view is well worth the effort. The fire lookout is open during the summer so hikers can go inside and check it out, but folks mostly spread themselves out among the rock, enjoying the sun and the spectacular views.

The view from the top has the most clarity in the early morning or late-afternoon, but the bugs are full-on at dusk and dawn.  even during the day, bugs will keep most hikers moving steadily through the shade.  The path is clear of snow as of early July, and bear grass, Indian paintbrush, and avalanche lilies color the landscape.

While this trail does allow dogs, dogs should be kept on a leash due to the dangerous ledge near parts of the trail.  Similarly, this path is not recommended for young children.  Since there are no public facilities, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.

Happy hiking to you and yours!