By Jessi Loerch
August is an amazing time to visit Mount Rainier. It’s usually warm and sunny, the berries are ripe and many flowers are still blooming.
This weekend, two of my favorite hiking buddies and I took a trek up to Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout, on the northwest side of Mount Rainier.
It’s a great hike, with the chance to jump in two excellent mountain lakes, if you’re into that kind of thing, which I totally am.
The hike up to the lookout is relatively easy. It’s about 6 miles and 1,100 feet of gain. You begin at Mowich Lake, a fine destination on its own. The trail follows the lake’s shore for a short while before heading off into the woods. At 1.5 miles from the lake, the trail forks at a signed junction. Before heading left to Eunice Lake and Tolmie Peak, be sure to walk about 200 feet to enjoy the view down from Ipsut Pass. The Wonderland Trail snakes steeply down the pass to the Carbon River. It’s a pretty spot. After soaking in the views, turn around and head toward Eunice Lake. The trail drops somewhat steeply before climbing up to Eunice Lake. The trail is moderately rooty and rocky in some places, but never difficult to follow. A number of families with young kids were making the trek.
Once you reach Eunice Lake, you’ll be able to see the lookout above you. That’s where you’re going. It looks a bit intimidating, perched so high above you, but it’s only actually about 600 feet of gain and the trail is well-graded.
We took an abnormally long time getting up the trail, though, because the huckleberries are fantastic right now. And a number of green berries are still on the bushes, so if you’d like to try this hike soon, you’re likely to find plenty of berries to enjoy as well.
The lookout has fabulous views, of course. It was built in 1933. The peak is named for botanist William Tolmie, who along with native American guides, explored the area around the mountain and gathered medicinal plants in 1833.
Be sure to climb up the stairs and admire the views from the tower. We spent a good deal of time admiring the scenery and taking silly (and a few serious) photos.
After a leisurely lunch, we headed back down to Eunice Lake.
A number of people were wading out to a small island; a few were trying to get a kite up in the air. We found a quiet spot where we could go for a quick dip. The water was cold and refreshing.
The hike back took no time at all. We finished with enough time for another dip, this time in Mowich Lake. I was a happy hiker. Two mountain lakes in one day. I love summer.
If you go
To get to Mowich Lake, follow Highway 410 east until you reach Buckley. Head south on Highway 165. You’ll pass through Wilkeson and Carbonado. At a Y in the road, keep right. (Left takes you to the Carbon River Ranger Station.) Follow the road to the end, about 17 miles in. Most of the road is dirt. It’s rough, but manageable in a standard passenger car. Be sure to stop and pay at the self-serve station, or display a national park pass. This is a popular area and you’re likely to get a ticket if you haven’t paid. (About two-thirds of cars had a ticket on their windshield when we finished our hike.)
Mowich Lake has a wide space for tent camping, and it was busy while we were there. While our trail was moderately busy, it looked like most people were heading up to Spray Park.
Mowich Lake would make an excellent base camp for hikes. Do Spray Park one day and Tolmie the next. Mowich Lake does not require a backcountry permit and the sites are free. All sites are first come, first served. There’s no potable water, but bring a treatment method. The lake is very close. There is a pit toilet and a big bear box for food storage.