We visited Mt Rainier in late September 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
Mount Rainier National Park, the nation’s fifth national park, is centered around Mount Rainier, the tallest volcano (yes, volcano) in the Cascades, and the most glaciated mountain in the continental US. It’s a huge national park, and with five entrances, planning a visit can be daunting. Since we were coming from Sandpoint to the east and heading south to White Salmon afterward, we focused our attention on the Sunrise area of the park, the highest driveable point in the park.
As we visited in late September, many facilities were closed for the season, including campgrounds, visitor centers, and ranger stations. Sunrise had running water, restrooms, and lots of visitors, but no rangers to ask for hike advice or stamp stations for my National Parks Passport. (Side note: as you wander around the buildings and man-made structures in the park–and in most national parks–think about how complicated construction was when building in such remote places a hundred years ago!)
We spent two nights just outside the national park, hiking as much as we could, with and without Bugsy, and had a fantastic time. The hiking is gorgeous and varied, and the looming, snow-covered bulk of Mt Rainier in the distance was exciting every time we caught a glimpse.
During the warmer months, the national park has three RV campgrounds, all primitive, and all with size limits. The two larger campgrounds cap trailer size at 27′, and we are 28′. We probably would have been fine, but we booked a site at Lodgepole Campground in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest just east of the national park’s White River Entrance Station. It was just as close to Sunrise as Ohanapecosh Campground in the national park, and we felt more comfortable with the trailer sizes listed.
We loved Lodgepole: it was quiet (during the week–we left on a Friday and more people were coming in for the weekend), scenic, and well-located just outside the national park entrance. Our site sat next to the American River, and we spent all our non-hiking time sitting by the water. The only negative was that their drinking water supply was broken and we had to drive four miles down to the next campground to fill our bottles.
Despite Lodgepole’s reservation site listing campsites that will accommodate vehicles as big as 90′, we thought driving through the campground felt a little tight in our F-150 pulling a 28′ Airstream. Good luck to those of you parking something 90′ long in there! (Class A RVs, the big buses, top out at 45′, FYI.)
Our hiking goals were: to see Mt Rainier, to do a couple longer/tougher human hikes in the park, and to do a couple shorter dog hikes outside the park. Dogs are not allowed on the national park trails–welcome back to the USA, Bugsy.
We found this website especially helpful in planning our hikes within the national park.
Fremont Lookout Trail
From our campground, it was a 48-minute drive to the Sunrise visitor center, where many of the Sunrise-area hikes begin. Since it was so far from home, we only made the drive once, and since it was getting to be later in the day we chose a hike a moderate length.
Fremont Lookout Trail skirts past Mount Rainier along Sourdough Ridge before splitting off to Fremont Lookout. The old fire tower has huge views of the mountains and valleys to the north… unless it’s cloudy. At 7200′ elevation, the clouds are a lot closer to the ground and often obscure the big vistas.
The hike length was close to six miles, without much elevation gain, and without tooooo many other people on the trail. The views of Mt Rainier were bonkers (before the clouds), and the valleys dropping down from the ridge were pretty. We saw goats, a black bear, and pheasants, and a fellow hiker showed us a video of a rare Cascade red fox he’d seen along the way.
The second human hike was longer and tougher, but a little closer to home. Shriner Peak was only a 25-minute drive from the campground, and we couldn’t figure out why such a gorgeous hike was so uncrowded. Maybe because it climbs up a mountain. The elevation change is challenging but doable, and the hike totals around nine miles.
The first 2.5 miles are through the woods without any views and then BOOM. There’s Ohanapecosh Valley with its smoldering forest fires, there’s snowy Mount Adams, and there’s our favorite, Mount Rainier. BOOM!
At the top of Shriner Peak is another fire tower, a nice spot for lunch before heading back down. We saw a huge mountain goat on the peak, and big elk and black tailed deer along the way. It was an awesome hike.
Don’t think that just because these are labeled “dog hikes” that they should be lower on your priority list. They were both super, particularly the first one.
PCT to Sourdough Gap
This hike, along the Pacific Crest Trail to Sourdough Gap, is in dog-friendly Snoqualmie National Forest, with the exception of a tiny tail at the end. The trailhead is east of the national park entrance, an easy drive from Lodgepole Campground. It follows the PCT north to Sheep Lake where there are some nice campsites, and then climbs up to Sourdough Pass.
Be sure to continue on around the pass for the big view of Mt Rainier. This is where you cross into the national park, where no dogs are allowed. I’m not going to tell you to break the rules, but you cannot just stop at the pass and not get those views at the end.
We loved this hike. It’s easy and gorgeous, serious bang for the buck. Upper Crystal Lake, in the national park down the hill from the vista point, looked like an incredible place to camp, way better than Sheep Lake.
As always, go early! We were alone on the way up, but on the way down we were passing tons of hikers. The parking lot was full at 10:30 on a Friday, but it did seem that most people only went as far as Sheep Lake.
Natches Peak Loop
Caveat: this is not a totally dog-friendly hike. Half is in the doggy William O. Douglas Wilderness, but then you cross into the national park. Well… we started the hike, obliviously, and then… yes, we broke the rules and completed the loop with Bugsy. Sorry, but come on.
It was really early, nobody was around, and it’s kind of arbitrary where the wilderness vs national park lines are drawn, no? I’m sorry I broke the rules, but we were halfway through the hike so there you go. Hiker be warned. It’s an easy and lovely loop! We didn’t have the big Rainier views from Lake Tipsoo due to clouds, but look at these photos to see what beauty you might see there.
Our friend Jason, who lives in White Salmon, said the Ohanapecosh area of the national park is his favorite, so we need to spend some time there.
The following were on our list, but were too far away from Lodgepole to make sense. Next time?
- Summit House (east) has amazing views and their little patio menu has a chickpea curry wrap
- SUNRISE AREA (east): Shadow Lakes Trail – 3 mi
- SUNRISE AREA (east): Summerland Trail – 8.5 mi
- PARADISE AREA (south) – Bench and Snow Lakes – 2.7 mi
- PARADISE AREA (south) – Skyline Trail 5.5 mi
- LONGMIRE (south) – Rampart Ridge 4.6 mi
- Dog friendly loop near Naches (east) – Waterworks Canyon Loop – 3.8 mi