Tag Archives: Rainier

Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob

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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!

Reflection Lakes

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It is that time again.  The wildflowers are in full bloom, and every person visiting Paradise leaves dazzled and in full comprehension of how the name came to be.  There are many fantastic wildflower hikes to do, but one of the stunners to be sure is the Lakes Trail, which passes by the famous Reflection Lakes. Reflection Lakes are beauty unto themselves when Mt. Rainier is out and reflecting in the lakes (hence the name), but the wow-factor only increases when the wildflowers are out in all their glory.

You can get to Reflection Lakes two ways.  Either approach from Paradise on the Lakes Trail, or you can take a shorter route from the Reflection Lakes trailhead on the Stevens Canyon Highway.  I prefer to enjoy my wildflowers and mountain scenery a bit longer, and the longer version is OUTSTANDING, so I opted to begin my stroll at Paradise.  This loop begins and ends in the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, and is 5.4 miles roundtrip with a 1,300 elevation gain (and a 1,300 foot elevation drop).  Walking sticks are advised for those with sore joints.

Doing the walk counterclockwise is highly recommended, for the stunning Rainier views during the latter portion. From Paradise, you’ll begin by parking in the Visitor Center Lot.  The trailhead is where the one-way Paradise Valley Road driving loop begins, just below the Paradise Lodge.  I recommend starting early in the morning, when the cool air feels fresh and smells sweet, and before the bugs come out.  The insects can be really intense one it warms up, and are particularly bad at dusk. I was lucky enough to see a fox, four deer, and six marmots on my walk, so keep an eye out for animals!

You’ll begin be descending fairly steeply (this is the only rocky portion of the trail) into beautiful subalpine firs and fabulous meadows. The trail flattens out a bit at the bottom, and you’ll cross over the Paradise River and pass by some beautiful little falls.  After a few hundred yards, you’ll cross the Paradise Valley Road and head uphill up over Mazama ridge, before heading downwards again towards Reflection Lake. The Lakes Trail joins the Wonderland Trail for a short way while passing by Reflection Lake.

You’ll reach Reflection Lake 1.7 miles from the trailhead. After passing Reflection Lake and a pond alongside it (this .2 miles is alongside the Stevens Canyon Road before you dip back into nature), you’ll curve around to the left and have the option of following the Wonderland Trail towards Paradise River Camp, or continuing on the Lakes Trail.  I opted to continue on the Wonderland Trail for a few hundred feet, and was rewarded with a beautiful view of Louise Lake.  After snapping a photo, return to the Lakes Trail and head upwards for a half mile, before arriving at Faraway Rock for an excellent view of the Tatoosh Peaks and Louise Lake.

A short uphill grade from Faraway Rock (.2miles) will have you passing by two ponds on the right, and a lovely marshy area to the left before bringing you to a decision on whether to continue on the Lakes Trail for 2.6 miles, or to take the High Lake Trail for 2.2 miles.  The High Lake Trail cuts to the left through the trees and rejoins up with the initial first mile leg of your walk.  I opted to stay with the longer Lakes Trail (following Mazama Ridge) so I could avoid re-tracing. This loop continues above Paradise and comes back down by the Paradise Lodge, ending the hike in fields of wildflowers with Mt. Rainier spectacular in the background.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  As you head right at the ‘Y’ in the road to continue on the Lakes Trail, you’ll pass by a vibrant green meadow to your left and then round the corner to have Rainier literally in your face.  She is too large and beautiful and close to capture in all of her beauty, but you’ll snap a hundred photos trying! Every step the next mile for me was a spiritual experience. I was wading through rippling oceans of Lupine, my eyes darting across fields to take in the fireworks of Magenta and Harsh Paintbrush, American Bistort, Yellow Arnica, Rosy Spirea, White and Pink Heather, Subalpine Daisies, and Sitka Valerian  – all identified using the Mount Rainier Subalpine flower gallery . There were countless others weaving together the landscape, with stunted firs framing the mountain.

The climb is a pleasant gradual incline and mesmerizing at every step.  After about a mile, the trail meets with the Skyline Trail for the final 1.4 miles. From here on, you’ll begin running into considerably more people.  The marmots abound, and the wildflowers change with every dip and turn.  You’ll have a llittle ascent into a watershed, then have a bit of a climb, before the path definitely turns itself downwards and gently propels your feet towards the Paradise Lodge/Visitor Center Parking Lot.

There are more stunning photos in every direction – of the mountain, wildflowers, waterfalls, and the Tatoosh Range. The earlier hikers hit the trail, the less people there will be sharing the popular Skyline Trail at the end of the walk.  Set an alarm and get out there by 7 am and enjoy – I’m getting excited for you and this fabulous adventure you’re going to have.

Read more about accessing Reflection Lakes from the Stevens Canyons Road trailhead here: http://www.visitrainier.com/pg/hike/9/Reflection%20Lakes

Indian Bar

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Oh Indian Bar.  To be clear, this hike is not for the weak or weary.  This hike is a hard stretch of the Wonderland, with 14.5 miles round-trip and a 2,900 foot elevation gain on the way in (800 on the way out). Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  A hundred times over.

In an interview with the backcountry carpenter at Mt. Rainier, see blog here: (https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/07/stories-from-the-mountain-meet-mt-rainiers-backcountry-carpenter/)  he said that Indian Bar is one of his favorite places in the park.  Furthermore, he said that he had never NOT seen a bear at Indian Bar (sorry for the double negative), and sightings included a mother bear with three cubs, and a six-bears-in-one-day day.  Bears, wildflowers, dozens of waterfalls, and a babbling brook all in a private, wide-open valley.  YES PLEASE!

Indian Bar can be reached from two different access points – beginning from Box Canyon or from Fryingpan Creek Bridge (taking the the Summerland Trail from the White River side of the park).  I’ve done the Box Canyon route, and will focus on this route for all intensive purposes.  The Box Canyon trailhead is on Stevens Canyon Road, 11 miles east of the Longmire-Paradise Road. The gravel trail (with a sign) is directly across from the parking lot.

The first mile-and-a-half allow hikers to pass alongside Nickel Creek and another small creek with a mild grade. The next mile and a half are tough – there is a lot of elevation grade without much reprieve, and the area is all forested – not allowing for scenic overlooks until the 3-mile mark. At three miles, hikers will reach the crest of the Cowlitz Divide, which hikers will follow for the next four-and-a-half miles. Off the right hikers can settle themselves into a moderate sized field of wildflowers with nice views southwards, to drink and eat trail mix before continuing north and climbing onward.

As hikers continue onwards on the ridge, the trail gradually opens up.  Mt. Rainier will start to show its southeast side ahead and to the left through the trees, and the trail will follow the contours of the ridge, at times quite steep, but allowing hikers to rest on some flat stretches, and enjoy the wildflower meadows as they widen and beckon. Finally, the trail widens to show Mt. Rainier in all of its glory, with a colorful valley in the foreground. This is the high point of the trail at 5,914′ and from here, hikers will descend 800′ into the valley where Indian Bar sits in a huge open meadow.

The Ohanapecosh river splits the meadow in two, and the Indian Bar shelter beautifully sits to the west side of the river, its open side facing the flowing water.  Animals frequent the meadows north of the shelter and camping areas, and in late spring there are many waterfalls pouring down the lava cliff faces high above the valley. The backcountry camping area is southeast of the shelter about 100 feet, and sits right above Wauhaukaupauken Falls, which are small but beautiful.

Once you’ve set up your camp and rested a bit, it is recommended to clamber up the hill above the camp.  Elk sightings are almost guaranteed when the animals are in rut in September.  Remember always to give animals plenty of space.  Bull elk can be extremely aggressive in mating season, and you should take care never to surprise a black bear.  Take extra precautions around the black bear if there are cubs around.  Never get between a mother and her cub, and make sure to make plenty of noise when hiking at dusk and dawn, so as not to catch a bear unaware and on the defense.

This hike is generally snow-free from late July – September, and the wildflowers are out in full effect late-July to mid-August. If hikers arrange for a car drop-off, the Box Canyon hike can be combined with the Summerland trail to the trailhead at Frying Creek bridge (another 8.7 mile hike), for a one-way 17 mile hike through some of Mt. Rainier’s most beautiful country.

If you choose to do the Box Canyon trail in and out of Indian Bar, it is most definitely recommended as a two-day hike, so make sure that you apply for the appropriate backcountry camping permit, which must be arranged in person. Wilderness Camping and Climbing permits are available at the Longmire, White River, and Carbon River Wilderness Information Centers (WICs) and at the Paradise Climbing Information Center during the summer season. Permits are also available at visitor centers.

Cathedral Falls

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The Nisqually Valley is an amazing and wonderful place, and Mt. Rainier is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Sometimes it is hard to wonder why we’d ever venture out of the valley for more beauty, but sometimes a short day trip can have spectacular results.  Cathedral Falls, located in the Cowlitz Valley – is just such one of these places.

Mt. Rainier has waterfalls galore.  But Catheral Falls is spectacular.  It feels like you could be in Costa Rica or in Western Africa, but with huckleberry bushes and pine and cedar trees surrounding you.  What’s more, the drive to Cathedral Falls is only about 1.5 hours from Ashford, and about 45 minutes if you are staying in Packwood or Morton – which happens often to folks who don’t make reservations on busy summer weekends. The hike is easy, and you get to traverse behind the waterfalls on the trail! Family friendly, and dogs are welcome. Read on for the details!

To get there, you’ll need to head towards Riffe Lake.  From the Ashford Visitor’s Center, head west 6 miles to Elbe, and take a left on Hwy 7 to Morton.  Once in Morton, take a left on Hwy 12. Head east for about 8 miles, and take a right on Kosmos Road, and take your next main left on to Champion Haul Road.  Follow this road along Riffe Lake and over the bridge, and continue following the road to the right onto a dirt road.  Follow this for a bit less than a mile, and take a left on another dirt road.  This road has a gate that should be open, posting that it is privately owned by a timber company, but publicly accessible.  Rules and regulations are posted.  Carry on, and the dirt road will take you into Gifford Pinchot National Forest! You’re almost there.

Drive for about 4.5 miles, keeping on the main dirt road and curving uphill and to the left.  Just when you’ve thought your lost your way, you’ll see the cars parked at the trail-head.  Unload your kids, dogs, snacks and packs, and hit the trail! The path is wide, well-maintained, and obstacle free.  The shady forest is cool and sweet smelling, huckleberry bushes are everywhere, and wildflowers liven the trail in late spring/early summer.

After about a mile, you’re there! And it will take your breath away. The falls launch 248 feet above, pummeling over an overhang high above, and creating a sheet of water that visitors can walk behind, or marvel at from various viewpoints to either side/front of the falls.  The trail takes all hikers behind the falls, and aside from a spactacular vantage point, visitors can linger in the cavernous hollow in the rocks that gave Cathedral Falls its appropriate name. At the bottom of the falls, the water has pounded the rock into a gentle swoop that loops the water around in a semi-circle before continuing it on its way.

The falls are most spectacular when the falls are running when the water is at its highest, from early May to mid-June, or after a heavy rain in the fall.  The falls will lose most of their power by late-June, but a trickle should continue through the year.  This is a great hike for a rainy day – hikers are protected by the tall cedars and pine trees, and hikers can continue their hike after the falls if they are interested in exploring further.

A wonderful family outing awaits at Cathedral Falls – enjoy!

Cora Lake

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Continuing our list of amazing hikes and activities to do just outside Mt. Rainier National Park in the beautiful Nisqually Valley, we’re pleased to introduce visitors to Cora Lake.  Cora Lake is a wonderful 1.4 mile hike (roundtrip) that is great for children, provided they are given a sturdy hand to hold during the creek crossings.  From start to finish, hikers will enjoy lush green foliage and the spectacular waterfalls of Big Creek.

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/FR 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 4.2 miles before taking a right on FR 8420.  Continue 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Both FR 52 and FR 8420 are in good condition and are drivable for passenger cars, so long as you are wary of the occasional pothole.

Parking is on your right, with the trailhead and a Cora Lake sign to your left.  If the road seems to narrow significantly, you’ve gone too far – turn around and you’ll see the trailhead about 100 yards down on the right.  You’ll begin up a gradual incline with a well-maintained trail, and children and adults alike will enjoy looking for frogs along the way.

After about 10 minutes, you’ll see your first waterfall.  The beauty just gets more spectacular form here on! Continue along Bog Creek and you’ll come to a spectacular waterfall shooting out of the rocks high above, and continuing through lovely pools.  Below these pools is your first creek crossing!  Big Creek is passable by walking on rocks and logs – but beware – the logs are slippery when wet, so it is best to give little ones a hand and let them go near the front.  There is no real danger other than a soggy shoe, so comfortable hiking sandals are a great idea to avoid the wet-foot worries!

You’ll hike up a small hill through a switchback, and keep an eye out for Mt. Rainier peering at you through the trees! The mountain is with you the entire hike, though it is sometimes hard to make out through the denser growth. Notice that you are in a stand of old-growth trees for the latter half of the hike, providing beauty and a sense of calm.

After the switchback, you’ll make your way back across the creek for your second crossing.  The waterfalls at this point are wide and stream steadily over giant rocks, creating a spectacular view.  Keep climbing for another 5-10 minutes until the trail flattens out, and you’re there!

The 30 minute hike will end at the tranquil Cora Lake (elevation 3,800 ft.), where there is plenty of space for hikers to find their own space to picnic, fish, swim, and relax – even on busy weekend days.  From mid-June to mid-July, peer into the shallow water to look for tadpoles and pollywogs.  There are thousands in early summer!   High Rock Lookout (written about previously here: https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/09/high-rock-lookout/) is viewable 1,600 feet above, perched on an aptly-named large rock with sheer walls.

If hikers would like to continue their walk, the Big Creek Trail continues to the right of Cora Lake for .6 miles before splitting.  To the left fork, hikers can pick their way across an avalanche slope below the sheer face of High Rock, to enjoy a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier after a half mile.  This route is not recommended for the kiddos! The right fork is the Teely Creek Trail, which makes its way to Granite and Bertha May Lakes.

Both Big Creek and Teely Creek Trails are open to motorcyclists and mountain bikers. Big Creek runs highest from late-May to mid-July, or once the fall rains begin.  After a heavy rain the trail can be muddy and Big Creek difficult to cross, so check your weather conditions.  In late summer into the fall (pre-rainy season), the creek will be lower, and should be a breeze.

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!

Stories from the Mountain: Meet Mt. Rainier’s backcountry carpenter!

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The Mt. Rainier Visitors Association is beginning a new 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 James, one of the backcountry carpenters for Mt. Rainier.  James has been working for Mt. Rainier for 10 years, working for the Maintenance Department in a variety of roles. In 2007, James began doing historical carpentry on the back-country structures for the park.  James gets many questions about what this job entails, and which structures he works on.

Here is the deal: all of the older structures in the park are historically protected.   While visitors most often are familiar with the Visitor’s Centers and the Longmire and Paradise Lodges, anyone who has hiked in the backcountry of Mt. Rainier has likely enjoyed the site of one of the backcountry patrol cabins, shelters, or the fire lookouts that are spread throughout the park.  The National Park works to preserve these structures, along with their historical integrity, meaning that James and his co-workers maintain these buildings using traditional woodworking and masonry techniques.

There are ten backcountry patrol cabins spread throughout the park.  These are cabins that park rangers stay in while they are working in the backcountry to protect hikers and ensure park rules.  These backcountry patrol cabins include Lake George, Ipsut Creek, Golden Lakes, Lake James, Mystic Lake, Huckleberry Creek (no longer used by rangers), St. Andrews, Three Lakes, Mowich Lake, Indian Henry’s. These cabins were built between the 1930s and 1950s and are all old-growth log cabin structures. although Lake James and Mystic have been completely rebuilt. The most common work on backcountry cabins includes replacing rotten logs, and repairing storm damage to roofs, windows or beams. There are also two base camp patrol cabins located at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman.  While technically ranger stations, these structures differ from the other backcountry cabins in that they  are located at 10,080  and 9,440 feet respectively, and are made out of slabs of rock.

There are four fire-lookouts in Mt. Rainier: Shriner, Gobblers Knob, Fremont, and Tolmie.  All of the fire lookouts were built between 1932 and 1934.  Because the lookouts are all built at high points, they offer stunning views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding areas.  However, their vantage points also leave the lookouts exposed to extreme weather conditions, and the lookouts often need to have their decks, windows, and roofing repaired.

There are also three backcountry shelters, located at Indian Bar, Camp Muir, and Summerland. These are the only backcountry structures that the public can stay in.  Interested parties should speak to a Park Ranger when obtaining the wilderness permit required for backcountry camping. Permits can be obtained from any ranger station in the park during their normal hours of operation.  More info. on obtaining overnight permits can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping-and-hiking.htm

James has had the opportunity to visit every structure in Mt. Rainier National Park.  His favorite structures are the Ipsut cabin (complete restoration still in progress), Three Lakes, and the Indian Bar shelter. James believes that Ipsut and Three Lakes are the best examples of traditional full-scribed log-work, and he enjoys the combination of log and rock-work that comprise the Indian Bar shelter.

In term of location, James has trouble choosing a favorite place to work or visit. He likes the way Camp Schurman is built out of the rocks and often sits above the cloud deck nestled at the bow of Steamboat Prow, exactly where the Emmons Glacier and Winthrop Glacier split and become their own entities. One of his favorite views is from Tolmie Lookout where you can see all of Puget Sound, the Seattle city-scape, and the Olympic Mountains; and he also enjoys the panorama of Mt. Rainier from Fremont Lookout. James loves Indian Bar because of its plethora of animals – (he says he’s never visited the shelter without seeing a bear!), and because of the shelter’s beautiful valley setting.

While James works for the Maintenance Department year-round, (specifically for the Carpentry shop), he does most of his backcountry work during the summer, as the structures are inaccessible during the winter due to snow.  James and a co-worker usually hike to the structures they work on, and stay and work in the structures for eight-day tours in the summer and fall. The supplies and materials they use are usually flown in by helicopter in the beginning of the season, although snowmobiles, ATVS, and mules are also sometimes utilized in designated areas.

James will be working on the Camp Muir project along with his colleagues beginning the latter half of summer 2013, and his other major upcoming projects will include replacing sill logs at Lake George, and continuing to finish the rebuild of Ipsut cabin.  Good luck James, and thanks for all of your hard work!

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!