Tag Archives: Reflection Lake

Bench and Snow Lakes Trail

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This early season hike is a personal favorite, with such variety it keeps you interested and engaged throughout. It’s slightly lower elevation and sun exposure gives this trail the advantage of opening earlier in the season, as well as one of the first higher elevation hikes for wildflowers! You never know what you’re going to see on this hike, from well hidden frogs to a black bear in the meadow; it’s a great hike for families!

 

Bench and Snow Lakes trail head is located on the Stevens Canyon road. From Paradise it is on your right, 1.5 miles past Reflection Lake. Considered a moderate difficulty trail, this 2.5 mile round trip (out and back) crosses a series of ridges, with ups and downs throughout, gaining 700’ in elevation. Give yourself about 2 hours to complete.

 

From the trailhead you start with a view of Mt Rainier to the north, and you follow the trail through rich green foliage among the wildflowers and trees. The trail takes you to a meadow nestled up to the Tatoosh Range, the meadow attracts a variety of wildlife, marmots, deer, and even bears are sometimes spotted from the trail. I was lucky enough to see a bear during my hike! It surveyed us from the bushes before deciding to crash off into the brush. (Black bears at Mt Rainier information here). The hike rises and falls, sometimes a dirt path, then a rocky surface, crossing simple logs over Unicorn Creek (where we were surprised by a well-camouflaged frog keeping cool!), and stunning viewpoints of Mt Rainier.

 

After .75 miles the trail forks. If you follow the trail to left it will take you down to Bench Lake. Keep to the right and you will reach Snow Lake after .5 miles. Veer to the east and the trail will take you to the Snow Lake backcountry camp. If you stay right, the lake will be right over the next crest, with nice flat rocks to rest and look up at Unicorn Peak on the Tatoosh Range. Take some time to relax, enjoy the quiet scenery, and watch little fish darting around in the lake.

 

If you’re hiking in the summer months bring bug spray, as the lake and shade can get a bit buggy. This is also a good hike on those days when the mountain is hiding behind clouds, there’s still plenty to see!

Exploring the Stevens Canyon Road

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Thousands of visitors come to Mt. Rainier each year, and expect to see spectacular views. Sometimes hiking just isn’t on the menu, but that’s okay, you don’t have to hike a couple of miles to get to some great views, they’re just right off the road! The Stevens Canyon Road is perfect for those who don’t mind a little time in the car to explore some great views.

Running from Ohanapecosh to just below Paradise, the Stevens Canyon has a myriad of stopping points and jaw dropping views. Coming from the Nisqually Gate, the road is past Longmire and to the right; it can also be accessed from the Paradise Valley Loop Road.

Inspiration Point is one of the first stops you can’t resist taking a picture. The pullout shows off a beautiful spread out view of Mt. Rainier and her lower valleys. A can’t-miss photo to bring home with you!

Once you leave Inspiration Point heading east, you’re going to drive by Reflection Lake. It’s a true gem- right off the side of the road! On clear days, the image of the mountain is perfectly reflected, giving this lake its appropriate name. The Lakes Trail going up to Paradise has trailheads here, as well as a shorter hike around Reflection Lake called the High Lakes Trail, a 2.4 mile hike that takes you to Faraway Rock overlooking Reflection Lake and Lake Louise.

The first half of the Stevens Canyon Road follows the Wonderland Trail, until Box Canyon where the road goes South and the Wonderland to the North. There are great hikes off this road, including Pinnacle Peak, the Bench and Snow Lakes (one of the earliest trails for wildflowers), and Lakes Trail.

As you’re driving along enjoying the beautiful scenery, don’t forget to stop at Box Canyon! Trust me, it is well worth your time. Box Canyon used to be covered by the Cowlitz glacier, now over 2 miles away! The glaciers recession polished the rocks underneath, leaving them smooth and its runoff carved a canyon over 118 ft deep! A short ½ mile walk on the left side of road takes you to a pedestrian bridge over the canyon where you can marvel at the effects of the glacier. This trail is flat and great for small children, older adults, and strollers- though you’ll want to keep a close eye on the kiddos crossing the bridge! To the right of the road are bathrooms and some info boards telling the story of the glacier.

Continuing on towards Ohanapecosh you’ll drive by the Grove of the Patriarchs- another must see! It’s quite a name, Grove of the Patriarchs, but it couldn’t be more fitting. This short 1.1 mile loop will take you over a suspension bridge and onto a boardwalk traveling through monstrous trees. This is an old growth forest with trees 1,000 years’ old and up to 300 feet high!  You can’t help but be in awe of these ancient giants.

Across the street from the Grove of the Patriarchs, ½ a mile from the road is Silver Falls. You can watch the Ohanapecosh River cascade down from the bridge just below the falls or the viewpoint next to it. Definitely bring the camera for this one! Silver Falls can also be accessed from the Ohanapecosh Campground (Loop B, a 2.7 mile loop hike), or from Route 123 (0.6 miles total, 1.6 miles north from the Ohanapecosh Campground, park on the left side of the road).

The Stevens Canyon Road can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and abilities. It hosts a variety of stunning views and breathtaking landscapes. This road does close during the winter as it could get dangerous with snow. Remember to always stay on trails, especially around rivers, waterfalls, and steep cliffs, as accidents do happen and fences and railings are for your protection as well as the forests.

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

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!