Tag Archives: Tatoosh Range

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!

Don’t Let the Rain Stop You

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You’ve got an adventure all planned to one of the most beautiful places in the world, and now it’s raining.  Sigh.  What is there to do at Mt. Rainier without all of those spectacular mountain views?  Lucky for you – there is plenty that Mt. Rainier still has to offer, even with grey skies and some drizzle. Mt. Rainier is home to old growth forests, plenty of animals, and wildflowers and waterfalls abound, even in the rain.  Here are some ideas to make sure that you still have a fantastic time on the mountain.

Heading through the Nisqually Entrance on the Southwest corner of the park, begin by winding your way up to 6.5 miles miles East to Longmire.  Stop and check out the Longmire Museum, open year-round. The museum is open 9-5 July 1st – Sept 2nd,  with its historical collection on the early history of Longmire, and exhibits and an information booth.  Operating hours are limited outside of peak season, so check here to plan your visit.

Leaving Longmire and continuing east for four miles, you’ll drive right over Christine Falls. This is a beautiful two-tiered smaller waterfall that shoots ecstatically from a slot canyon in the rocks.  You can take great photos from the road, or walk five minutes below the falls for a view of the second tier of the waterfall, framed by the beautiful reinforced concrete/rock bridge you just drove over on SR 706.

Hope back in your car heading east, and you’ll soon come to a large parking lot on your right.  Pull on over, and welcome to Narada Falls! Narada Falls is a family favorite, because all family members get to cross the reinforced concrete/rock bridge that crosses over the first tier of the waterfall on the way to the restrooms, and a short 5-minute walk gives the visitor a fantastic view of the entire two-tiered 188 foot waterfall.  The mists from the falls at the viewpoint can get you a bit damp – but you won’t even notice if it is already raining and you are wearing your rain jacket! Here there are restroom facilities and picnic tables as well.

Once at Paradise, take a look around to see if the clouds will clear to give you a view of the Tatoosh Range, or if you can catch a glimpse of the mountain.  If Rainier is not out, don’t despair! Head to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, open June 15th – September 1st, 9 am – 7 pm daily. There are interactive displays, videos, ranger talks, photos, climbing relics, a gift shop, and wonderful area to get warm and spread out your family’s picnic lunch and rest for a bit before heading out for more fun.

This time of year (August), the wildflowers are in full bloom as well.  A walk around the Paradise area in the mist is still beautiful. The yellow-green grasses, blue-green sub-alpine trees, and the pinks, yellows, purples and whites of the flowers pop against the grey. The animals are often out in the rain as well, so keep an eye out for marmots, deer, mountain goats, and even black bear – particularly at dawn and dusk.

On your way back down, about a half mile after you cross over Christine Falls, you’ll see a parking lot for Comet Falls on your right-hand side. If you have appropriate weather gear and it isn’t raining too hard, the is a 2-3 hour hike round-trip to Comet Falls (3.8 miles total) is mostly protected by trees.  You’ll cross above Christine Falls after . 7 miles on a beautiful little log bridge, and you can continue on to Comet Falls if your feet are still feeling dry and comfortable. If the weather clear, Von Trump Park  and its fields of wildflowers and mountain views is an additional mile after Comet Falls, making your total round-trip hike 5.8 miles.

A few of the lower hikes in and around Longmire offer some great hikes for rainy days as well. Twin Firs, Trail of Shadows, Lower Kautz, Rampart Ridge Loop Trail, Eagle Peak, and Carter and Madcap Falls are all great wet weather hikes as well.  Look them up on the NPS website, or stop by our Visitor Center for additional information.

Enjoy the rain!

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