Seattle mountaineer Karen Sykes offers a roundup of popular day hikes around the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park.
The problem with sunrises is they don’t last long enough — and neither does the hiking season. The hiking season at the Sunrise area on Mount Rainier — August is peak time — is fleeting as a sunrise or a sunset. Fortunately any time of day at Sunrise is spectacular, with dazzling meadows and the mountain so close that with binoculars you can follow the progress of climbers heading for the summit.
On the drive to Sunrise the magic begins before you even step out of the car. Just when you think the scenery can’t get any better, Sunrise Point (6,100 feet) comes into view, with peaks in every direction. Good thing there’s a parking lot there — you’ll want to stop for a closer look. On a clear day there are views of Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood (south), Mount Baker and Glacier Peak (north) and Mount Stuart (east).
After stopping at Sunrise Point continue to Sunrise and prepare to hike. Most trails at Sunrise are snow-free by August, and all are well-signed. Hikes range from nature trails to strenuous hikes and backpack treks. Stop by the Sunrise Day Lodge (rangers are on the ground floor); the Sunrise Visitor Center is closed this summer for renovation. Rangers can offer suggestions for hikes; you can also get a handout that lays out the trail system.
Looking at that menu of trails is a bit like being hungry in a restaurant: What to order first? Some ideas:
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• Several trails branch off from Sourdough Ridge. A path to Sourdough Ridge is between the restrooms and the Sunrise Day Lodge. Hike uphill to where the path intersects Sourdough Ridge. For an easy hike turn right on Sourdough Ridge and hike to Dege Peak (a high point).
• Or turn left and hike to Frozen Lake. A fence keeps you from sitting on the shore, because it’s the water supply for Sunrise, but the hike is ideal for families with children — about 2 ½ miles round trip. It’s also a good lunch spot or turnaround for hikers wanting an easy day.
• Just past Frozen Lake is a trail junction for Mount Fremont Lookout, Burroughs Mountain (one massif with three peaks) and the Wonderland Trail. There are options: Climb to Burroughs’ second summit, known as Second Burroughs Mountain (a moderate hike), though you may encounter snow. If so, follow the boot-beaten path and use trekking poles for balance. (Snowy trails are not suitable for small children.) On Burroughs Mountain the terrain is tundra-like with vegetation that grows under harsh conditions. Rock-lined trails remind hikers that the terrain is fragile; a single misplaced boot can destroy sensitive plants. The hike to Mount Fremont Lookout (7,181 feet) is another easy hike, 1.5 miles beyond Frozen Lake.
• For wildflower displays you can’t beat Berkeley Park: From Frozen Lake follow the Wonderland Trail toward Berkeley Park (ignore junctions for Burroughs Mountain and Fremont Lookout). You will leave the Wonderland Trail where it continues to Mystic Lake. After a level stretch the trail descends into the Berkeley parklands; hike as far as you like — the trail continues to Grand Park, a long hike with significant elevation gain.
Bring a field guide and look for Western pasque flower, Indian paintbrush, heather, Veronica, Sitka valerian, lupine and many more. Blazing-white avalanche and golden glacier lilies vie for space in the emerald-green meadows of Berkeley Park. Near Lodi Creek clumps of moss mingle with pink and yellow monkey flowers. If there aren’t many hikers on the trail you may spot pikas and marmots darting about boulder-studded meadows. Higher up, you may spot mountain goats.
• For views, Skyscraper Peak is an incredible hike. From the junction at Frozen Lake follow the Wonderland Trail toward Mystic Lake, and hike to an obvious saddle, Skyscraper Pass, below the peak or climb to the summit (7,078 feet) on an airy path — sturdy boots a must!
• Visitors come from afar to see Mount Rainier and the Emmons Glacier. For an easy walk, follow the Emmons Vista Nature Trail to an overlook (less than a half-mile). The trail begins just below the Sunrise parking lot. From the overlook watch climbers on Rainier or look down to the squiggle of the White River as it flows from the snout of the glacier, carrying snowmelt and sediments to the lowlands.
You can hike a little farther on the nature trail to the Silver Forest, where white snags give mute testimony to long-ago forest fires.
On summer weekends, ranger-led hikes on the nature trail start at 1 and 3 p.m. Guided hikes to Skyscraper Pass begin at 10 a.m. Ranger-led hikes meet at the flagpole just outside the Sunrise Visitor Center.
Karen Sykes is a Seattle-based freelance writer and longtime leader of hikes with