Tag Archives: wildflowers

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!

Deadhorse Creek Trail and Moraine Trail

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The Paradise area is filled with wildflowers this time of year, and the fields are filled with bright-spotted beauties while the trails are packed with eager photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.  In can be tricky trying to find any solitude at Paradise this time of year, but Deadhorse Creek Trail and the Moraine Trail to the west side of Paradise are good options for getting away from the crowds.

The easiest way to begin is to park in the lower parking lot at Paradise, which is southwest of the Visitor Center.  This 2.5 mile hike is moderate with wide trails that are paved for a portion of the walk. There is a 400 ft elevation gain that takes place mostly within the first .75 mile, with the middle section of the hike flattening out, and the descent on the return.

From the trailhead at the lower parking lot, take the well-marked trail due north, bearing right at the first Y-intersection. If you park in the main Paradise parking lot, head up the stairs to where most of the trails begin and cut hard to your left.  You’ll be paralleling the Visitor Center on the Avalanche Lily Trail and you’ll cross the Alta Vista Trail, and then you’ll come to the T intersection of Deadhorse Creek Trail where you will take a right.

Once you’re on Deadhorse Creek Trail there is no way to go wrong, as there are many other trails that intersect Deadhorse.  You can turn around if you are tired or let your feet guide you towards the glacier, a field of flowers, into the valley, or towards a creek.  If you continue to follow Deadhorse Creek Trail, after about 3/4 of a mile you will have the option to turn left onto the Moraine Trail.

The Moraine Trail is not a loop, but it does take you right down to the “snout” of the Nisqually Glacier. Most visitors skip this option as the trail is unpaved and easy to overlook.  The Moraine Trail is a great place to veer off the more-frequented Deadhorse Creek Trail, dip over a rise and head down into the valley where the Nisqually Glacier sits.  You can find a few rocks to relax upon and soak up the quiet of your own corner of Paradise before retracing your steps on the Moraine Trail and rejoining Deadhorse Creek.  If you choose to turn back now, the round-trip hike would be just under 2.5 miles.   I recommend taking a left on Deadhorse Creek and continuing on a bit higher.

The Deadhorse Creek Trail meets up with the Skyline Trail after a half mile, and you could either take a right on the Skyline Trail to head back towards the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, or you could push on another .2 miles for a spectacular view from the Glacier Vista trail. Either way, once you begin heading down the Skyline Trail you could also opt to switch over to the Alta Vista Trail after a .5 mile.  At this point, head wherever the beauty calls to you or wherever there are less people to mar your view.  All trails had back to the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, or if you cut to the right (west) on the Waterfall Trail or the Avalanche Lily Trail, they will bring you back down to the lower parking lot.

Any path at Paradise is going to provide you with spectacular views and wildflowers through the rest of the month. Prepare to be awed!

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