Weekend Backpacker: Seattle
Mount Rainier National Park
Ashford, WA 98304
At 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier presents a hiking challenge all its own. However, most hikers stick to the relative lowlands, the 235,000 acres of national park that surround the active volcano. Year-round snowfields, high-alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers, and views of other impressive volcanoes (Mount Hood, Mount Adams) dominate the landscape. The ultimate backpack at Mount Rainier is the Wonderland Trail that runs 93 miles around the mountain, but it's a 14-day commitment. Break it up for a great weekend excursion.
Recommended trip: Carbon Glacier to Mystic Lake.
Don't let the fact that Carbon Glacier has the lowest terminus of any glacier in the lower 48 fool youÂ—this hike still involves about 3,400 feet of elevation gain. But the reward is a close-up view of an active glacier (so active that glacial floods will occasionally wash out Carbon River Road, so call ahead for conditions). At times the trail takes you within 150 feet of the silty-gray wall of ice, and one of the first campsites you come across (Dick Creek) has a scenic overlook. The hike from Dick Creek gets steep and switchbacked, leading through forests and meadows and offering panoramas of Mount Rainier along the way. You'll reach Mystic Lake after about eight miles, and the designated camp sites (seven individual, two for groups) are located to the east of the lake a steep quarter-mile down the creek. No fires are allowed, but fishing is permitted. Bears can be pests up here so hang your food on the poles provided.
Getting there: Drive south and east from Seattle on Highway 167 to Buckley, then turn south on Highway 165 to the Carbon River entrance of the park. From here, proceed five miles to the trailhead at Ipsut Creek Campground.
Permit information: Backcountry permits are required for camping. They're free and you can pick them up at the Wilderness Information Centers in Longmire and Paradise. There is also a $10 park entrance fee per vehicle, but parking is free. In July and August it helps to reserve campsites: Reservations are $20 and can be made no more than two months in advance of your departure date. Check with the National Park Service for more information.
Maps: Green Trails #269, Mount Rainier West.
Recommended guides: The Mountaineers's 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park is a good place to start. Also, the Falcon Guide by Heidi Schneider and Mary Skjelset called Hiking Mount Rainier National Park outlines 60 hikes both short and long, with elevation profiles throughout.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication