by Diane Spicer
The best Mount Rainier day hikes?
I get lots of emails asking for my recommendations for the top 3 hikes to do when you're in Seattle and you've only got a limited time for hiking at Mount Rainier National Park.
So I've selected my 3 favorite day hikes in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park for you to enjoy.
They are presented by order of difficulty, with the most challenging hike first.
And each was chosen to highlight an aspect of Pacific Northwest hiking in the top left corner of Washington State, within easy driving distance from Seattle.
It's tough to single out just three Mount Rainier day hikes to share with you. Living in the proximity of Mt. Rainier gives a hiker an embarrassment of riches.
And because I don't know exactly what kind of hiker you are, I've tried to present three different options for the best Mount Rainier day hikes, a little something for everyone.
Each description offers you:
Let's go Mount Rainier day hiking!
Let's start off with the grandest of the grand day hikes that Sunrise has to offer a hiker: Burroughs Mountain day hiking.
It's also one of the most difficult trails, for reasons that will be explained below.
Drive 17 miles up a winding paved road to the Sunrise Visitor Center.
There is free parking in the large paved parking lot.
Head into the small Visitor Center to check on trail conditions or closures, and pick up a map if you need one.
Sunrise has an interesting history, so spend a bit of time in the Center after your hike and learn about how human interventions shaped this national park.
There's also a concession stand in a separate building, with the usual fast food choices.
The Burroughs trail is actually three destinations rolled into one, giving a day hiker plenty of options.
The trail begins at the parking lot, heading up a paved trail until it quickly joins the Sourdough Ridge Trail. That's where the fun begins!
Hike upward on a wide, dusty trail (~400 feet gain) to a five way trail junction at Frozen Lake.
The Burroughs Mountain trail takes you up a steep section of trail, where you will encounter the snow field and a steep drop off on your right hand side.
Tip: Steps from previous hikers will be punched into the snow, but they will likely be icy and may be spaced too far apart for smaller hikers.
You arrive at First Burroughs (elevation 7,000 feet) after hiking less than three miles, for a round trip of 4.8 mi/7.7 km. Elevation gain: ~900 feet.
You can push on to Second Burroughs (elevation 7,400 feet), costing you a bit more mileage (round trip 7 mi/9.6 km round trip).
Highly recommended, because:
After spending a lot of time taking it all in, you have a decision to make.
You can turn back here, and be highly satisfied that your leg power and sweat brought you to a fantastic destination.
But if you're a sturdy hiker, why not venture down the flank of Second Burroughs, over a barren plain, and up to Third Burroughs for a mind blowing, up close view of Mt. Rainier's glaciers?
Once on Third Burroughs, rest and rehydrate while you listen to chunks of Mt. Rainier thunder down her sides.
You won't be the only person heading up to Burroughs, as this is one of the most popular Mount Rainier day hikes.
So get an early start for several compelling reasons:
The Burroughs Trail hands you an opportunity to get right up close to Mt. Rainier, "in her face" as a mere day hiker.
The trail also gives you a chance to practice your snow hiking skills, if you go early in the season.
Once you've safely navigated the snow field, you are in for a treat: barren alpine flatness with The Mountain looming close by, and possibly a close encounter with the resident goat herds.
For more details, photos and a video, go here.
You can make a loop out of this hike (check your map), heading back to the Visitor Center on a different trail offering fresh vistas.
However, there is a snow field that lingers into summer on this route, although it's not as dicey as the previously mentioned one.
No need to drive all the way up to Sunrise for spectacular Mount Rainier day hikes.
Instead, at five miles from the White River Entrance Station (where you've paid your access fee or shown your annual pass), turn left into the White River Campground.
Park in the daily visitor lot (it's free but can fill up with climbers and hikers on a fine summer day).
The trail head is at the upper edge (toward the mountain) of the camp ground, and is well marked.
This trail gains 1300 feet with a round trip distance of 7 miles.
Not only is this one of the most splendid Mount Rainier day hikes, it's also used by climbers to access the Glacier Basin camp and a climbing route up the mountain.
A lot of time and effort was put into the trail recently, so it's a dream to hike: no snow field to navigate, while the trail is wide, well graded and not too rocky (it used to a mining road).
So this hike can be done in half a day, with moderate effort. And it's highly suitable for kids.
Hiking into Glacier Basin puts you in touch with three amazing Mt. Rainier features:
And here's why this is one of the best Mount Rainier day hikes for families:
If you're hiking with folks who don't like to push it, the trail begins with a gradual up hill grade.
Once you're in the basin (after a bit of an uphill push), sit down along the river and spot the mountain climbers on the Inter Glacier as they push upward to Steamboat Prow.
Or turn your attention to the flowers and serenity.
This day hike often gets overlooked, but that's good news for you:
You've seen Mount Rainier day hikes that start high (from the Sunrise parking lot) and low (a mere five miles from the entrance, at the White River campground).
Now let's try something in between.
Drive past the White River campground on the road to Paradise, but keep an eye out for the Sunrise Point pull out, approximately 10 miles from the White River Entrance Station.
Expect a lot of folks taking photos from this vantage point, but don't expect m(any) of them to join you on this hike.
That's good news! Everyone is focused on getting to Sunrise, which means you'll have a good chance for some solitude. That can be mighty hard to come by on Mount Rainier day hikes.
This hike is easy in terms of exertion, and it's not for you if you yearn to get really close to The Mountain (see Pick #1 above).
Round trip mileage is a mere 2.5 miles, with an elevation gain of 400 feet (most of it at the end, 200 feet, to access the convenient flat spot atop Dege Peak).
It's one of the best Mount Rainier day hikes in the Sunrise area for lots of reasons beyond the easy trail (see below).
Optional: You can drop off of Dege Peak and continue on to the Sunrise Visitor Center, about 2 more miles one way, for great views of Mt. Rainier.
Caution: If you're a heads down, hard charging hiker, skip this one and do the Burroughs Trail two days in a row, with different destinations.
How about this? 360 degree views are yours on this peak, when the weather is clear, giving you a "five volcano" day: Mt. Rainer, plus Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Glacier Peak and Mount Baker.
And for so little effort!
The Cowlitz Chimneys are up close and personal, allowing you to daydream about Mt. Rainier's eruptive past.
You can also look back at Fremont Looutout, a hiking option from the Burroughs Trail above.
There is a flat spot to sit on when you reach the peak, but it's small and may be populated with other hikers.
Tip: Only do this hike on a clear day, because it's frustrating to sit on top of Dege hoping for the clouds to part (ask me how I know).
Or do this hike on a foggy day if you like to tune into wildlife.
To extend your day hike, there are two choices.
You can drop off the peak and hike toward the Sunrise Visitor Center on the Sourdough RIdge trail, adding another four miles to your day while enjoying great views of Mt. Rainier.
Or you can hike the trail back to Sunrise Point and pick up the Palisades Lake trail, which drops off the ridge.
There are some important pieces of information you need before you decide to tackle these hikes:
Although there are many hiking guide books written about the Mt. Rainier trails, there are only a few that really hit the mark.
If you're looking for more information about these 3 hikes, as well as ideas for other hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, this is the hiking trail guide to get.
Mount Rainier is truly one of the most spectacular hiking destinations in the continental United States.
You can immerse yourself in the wildlife, the flowers, the alpine terrain, or just gawk at The Mountain Herself.
Here's wishing you true blue skies and plenty of time to enjoy your Mount Rainier day hikes.
Best Mount Rainier Day Hikes
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