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