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USA: WASHINGTON: Mount Rainier

Scenic trails in and around Mount Rainier National Park are revealed in the following photo galleries.

Mount Rainier: Paradise hikes

Several spectacular hikes start at Paradise Visitor Center in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA. Walk the stunning Skyline Loop Trail any good summer day, or view spectacular fall foliage colors peaking in the first or second week of October. A good loop or car shuttle hike starts at Paradise along the Skyline Trail to Lakes Trail, along Mazama Ridge, and downhill to Reflection Lakes where you meet the Stevens Canyon Road. Optionally loop back high or low.

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Spray Park and Tolmie Peak hikes from Mowich Lake trailhead

Spray Park and Tolmie Peak are some of the best hikes in Washington for enjoying fields of blooming avalanche lily flowers (Erythronium) in mid July.

After a dozen hikes to Spray Park splendor since 1982, in summer 2020, I discovered an adventurous loop return to Mowich Lake via Knapsack Pass Trail (external link to Washington Trails Association) (6.7 mile loop with 2600 feet gain), in Mount Rainier National Park. However, slippery exposure on steep scree and snow scared my wife Carol, who vowed never to hike Knapsack Pass again! Fortunately, the snow was soft enough to cross safely on our warm day, August 17th. I delighted in this beautiful circuit, done counterclockwise, as described in my article “2020 Aug: Spray Park–Knapsack Pass Loop trail, Mt Rainier NP.”

Beware, the unmaintained and unmarked Knapsack Pass Trail exposes hikers to steep scree and year-round snow which could become dangerously icy. The trail is best navigated by experienced hikers only, in late summer using a good map, GPS device, and trekking poles (or an ice axe if icy). The worn trail, marked with cairns and boot tracks, may become difficult to follow in the half mile of scree and snow fields southeast of Knapsack Pass.

Look for lenticular cloud caps (see photos) which occasionally condense from water vapor in standing waves of wind flowing over Mount Rainier. Such lens-shaped clouds over Mount Rainier probably led to invention of the term UFO (Unidentified Flying Object). The first widely publicized UFO sighting in the United States came from private pilot Kenneth Arnold flying over Mount Rainier in June 1947. Arnold’s report of nine flying shapes like pie pans and half moons soon led press to popularize the term “flying saucer.” Then, in 1952, the term “UFO” was first suggested by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt who headed the US Air Force’s Project Blue Book, the official investigation of UFOs.

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Mount Rainier: Sunrise hikes

Several classic trails depart from Sunrise Visitor Center in Mount Rainier National Park. Walk the aptly named Wonderland Trail towards the vast flower fields of Berkeley Park or Skyscraper Pass (7.5 miles with 1440 feet cumulative gain). Many like to wander past Shadow Lake and Sunrise Camp to stunning glacier views from Burroughs Mountain.

Once you’ve done the main view hikes, a worthwhile option is Palisades Lakes Trail (6.2 miles with 1630 feet gain to Hidden Lake, but be ready for dense mosquitoes in July).

For vigorous physical conditioning and altitude training, we like to day hike the Burroughs Mountain Trail starting from White River Campground in a clockwise loop of 10 miles with 3200 feet gain. Follow the rambunctious White River along Glacier Basin Trail, climb steeply to Second Burroughs Mountain (7400 feet elevation), then return via Shadow Lake. Fields of yellow glacier lilies made us smile in mid-July. Other flowers show up later, until snows returning in late October discourage safe hiking. Beware a few steep snow banks remaining in July and new slippery snow after mid October.

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Mount Rainier: Summerland hike

Hike from White River Campground to the flower fields of Summerland and further to scenic Panhandle Gap, the highest point on the Wonderland Trail of Mount Rainier National Park. Summer wildflowers include gentian, lupine, and Lewis’s Monkeyflower. Mount Rainier looms large to the west and Mount Adams appears on the southern horizon.

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Mount Rainier: Naches Peak loop

Hike Naches Peak loop trail in the first half of October for good fall foliage color in Mount Rainier National Park. Park your car at Tipsoo Lakes on Highway 410 just west of Chinook Pass, between Enumclaw and Yakima. Easily walk the Naches Peak Loop Trail from the Tipsoo Lakes picnic area to Chinook Pass, cross the highway, and continue clockwise for best Mount Rainier views to the west. View Mount Adams in the distance to the south.

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Global warming: climate change on Mount Rainier

From 1913 to 1994, Mount Rainier’s glaciers shrank 22% by area and 25% by volume in conjunction with rising temperatures (Nylen 2004). Monitored glaciers are continuing to retreat as of 2009 (NPS). Over the last century, most glaciers have been shrinking across western North America (Moore et al. 2009) and the globe (Lemke et al. 2007), in association with increasing temperatures. Mount Rainier’s glaciers make up a quarter of the total ice area in the Lower 48 states. Read more about global warming and climate change.

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