Have you ever been to Mount Rainier for the wildflower season? If you haven’t, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you make it up there soon.
I just spent a short but very satisfying weekend at the park and was blown away by the flowers. You really should go.
If you don’t believe me, listen to John Muir, a first-rate connoisseur on the beauty of nature, who said Mount Rainier had “the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of the all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.”
Here are a few ideas for place to go to check out the flowers.
The hike up to Sheep Lake is short and relatively easy. That’s excellent, because you’ll want to take your time. I’ve seen trails with denser flowers but never one with such variety. The trail had the widest variety of wildflowers I have ever seen blooming all in one spot. We saw lupine, daisies, gentian, columbine, magenta paintbrush, elephant’s head, tiger lilies and so many more.
The lupine on this trail is perfect right now and it smells simply amazing.
The hike up to the lake is 4.2 miles round trip and only gains 400 feet. This would be a great hike or backpack for kids. When we were up there, at least half a dozen families were set to spend the night. It made me happy to see so many people getting their kids outside.
I didn’t bring my daughter with me, but I’d love to bring her back. It’s a great lake for swimming. I even took a quick dip and it felt amazing. It’s a small lake and not nearly as cold as most mountain lakes.
If you’d like to go farther, climb up to Sourdough Gap for great views.
The lake is off of Highway 410, on the Northeast side of the park. There are several options for campsites along the highway, both before and after the trailhead, which is near Chinook Pass.
Get more info on Sheep Lake here.
The flowers are starting to pop out at Paradise, although it’ll be a bit yet before they’re at peak bloom. You have lots of options at Paradise. You can just have a picnic or you can enjoy one of the many trails. Paradise is on the south side of Mount Rainier.
I’d suggest the Skyline Trail Loop, which offers grand mountain views and excellent waterfall and wildflower viewing. It’s one of the best trails I’ve ever hiked. You get a huge payoff for not a lot of work. The trail is 6 miles with about 1,400 feet of gain. You’ll barely notice the climbing while you gawk at the views.
I didn’t get to hike it this weekend, but a quick check of WTA’s trip reports show that flowers are blooming. There’s still some snow on the trail. Judging from what I saw while at Paradise, the flowers haven’t peaked yet and you’ll be able to enjoy them for a while yet. Check the trip reports before you go. This is a popular trail and it gets regular updates.
I would be willing to hike Summerland every year if I could. This is a truly magical hike. On a clear day, you get nice views of Rainier. But even on a cloudy day, this is a gorgeous spot. (I wrote about it earlier here.)
Summerland is a broad, ridiculously lush meadow with small streams burbling through it.
I can’t really put its beauty into words. You’re just going to have to go yourself. The trail is just under 9 miles round trip with nearly 2,000 feet of gain.
Summerland is near Sunrise on the northeast corner of the park. Get more info and directions here.
Spray Park is an extremely popular hike on the northwest corner of the park. The trailhead starts from Mowich Lake, a lovely lake next to a small walk-in campground.
The trail features, again, really excellent views of the mountain and seemingly endless meadows of wildflowers. The hike is about 7.5 miles with 1,600 feet of gain.
I know from social media and trip reports on the WTA that the flowers are a peak right now, so you’ll want to make this trip soon. If you can spend the weekend, you can do Spray Park one day and Tolmie Peak Lookout the other.
Palisade Lakes and Sunrise
The Palisade Lakes Trail trail doesn’t offer any mountain views, but there are plenty of wildflowers and seven (seven!) lakes.
This trail seems to get less traffic than some of the others, so you’re more likely to find a peace and quiet. You can also find a nice lake to jump in, if you’re brave. Round trip is 7.5 miles, with about 1,800 feet of gain.
Sunrise is also an excellent spot for flowers and grand mountain views — and it’s just a short drive from the Palisades Lakes trailhead. The flowers at Sunrise aren’t peak yet, but they’re brilliant on the drive up.