Hiking from Sunrise on Mt. Rainier

by Melanie and Jim

Earlier this month we visited our son in Washington. (See posts here and here. Please, wear your helmet. Really.) People who live there enjoy outdoor adventures all year long. The mild weather, ocean and other waterways, and the Cascade Mountain range provide lots of opportunities to get out.

We were out a lot, too. One of our primary goals was to hike at Mt. Rainier National Park.
mtn across meadow

On a day with forecast for clear, mild weather, we headed for the park, entering from the northeast side. This is the entry that goes to the Sunrise Visitor Center. According to the National Park Service, “At an elevation of 6,400 feet, Sunrise is the highest point that can be reached by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park.”

After checking with a ranger and a very early lunch (might as well carry it in us as on us,) we headed out on a 4-mile loop to Shadow Lake. The first part of the trail heads up a pretty steep incline. To the right of the trail below was a valley with a small lake. Below to the left was the visitor center. The truth is, the first part of the trail was rough. Most of the 900 foot rise in elevation was in the first mile. Going from sea level to over 7,000 feet took its toll in fun. Fortunately once we were at the higher elevation, we had no more problems.

upward trail

Soon the trail leveled out. You can see in the photo below as we look backward on the trail. In the distance to the right is the visitor center. Click to embiggen the next two for better views.



And this was the payoff. We’re looking to the south and slightly west. You can see the peak of Mt. Rainier on the right, as well as the glacier fields. In the center of the picture you can see the reflection of the small Shadow Lake, which we rounded on the way back out.


And from farther along looking back along the trail:

sourdough ridge trail scree

It seems every time we go out, Jim finds a big tree to stand by and Melanie finds a big rock. Before we turned the “corner” of the loop, Melanie found her rock. We were impressed by the sharpness. (Yes, she always wears a hat outside.)

melanie and rock

The marmot seemed to not care about our being nearby. There were several impressive rock strata standing vertically instead of horizontally.



Once we reached Shadow Lake, we encountered a family of casual hikers. They asked if the way we’d come from was the way to the parking lot. (It was much closer to go back the way they came from!) Jim said, “It is. If you just head that way more than a couple of miles, and mostly uphill, you’ll get there.”

20150812_133014Happy hikers — what a beautiful day! We’ll go back again someday. When we do, we may stay overnight a little closer to the park entrance so we have more time to hike and less for driving. If you get the chance to hike there, or in any of our amazing national parks, enjoy!


15 thoughts on “Hiking from Sunrise on Mt. Rainier

  1. KerryCan

    The views you took in are spectacular! A four-mile hike doesn’t sound like that much . . . until you see photos of that incline! These aren’t “sidewalk miles.” Love the selfie!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      No indeed, not sidewalk miles. We walk a lot at home, but it’s at about 700 feet elevation, not 7,000. And the inclines aren’t as rough! All that sidewalk walking helps get us ready for some of these more difficult outings, though.

  2. shoreacres

    What glorious photos. And didn’t I smile at that line about “once we got to 7,000 feet…” The selfie and Melanie with the big rock are great, but I really like the cloud at the top of the mountain in the first photo. It could be an illusion, but it looks like it might be an orographic cloud.

    Thanks for sharing the great hike. It looks like it was wonderful fun.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      We’re both pretty fortunate that the elevation really doesn’t bother us much. It was only in combination with the incline that there was any issue. And yes, it is an active volcano, but that’s not volcanic steam at the peak! Son says that cloud is often there, so your words “orographic” is probably the right description.

  3. jimfetig

    Those pics make me jealous. I dearly love hiking in the west. Marmots (ground hogs) are cute trail candy. Picas (chipmunks) will eat your boots, packs or anything else infused with salt. You two looked relaxed and content. A walk in the mountains will do that for you.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Most of our trip was pretty relaxed, no pressures and no demands. But yes, we had a good day on the mountain. If we go back before end of year, I doubt we’ll get to hike there then, as the weather is turning already. But there will be more chances.

      1. jimfetig

        Wherever and whenever ya’ll turn eastward, I’d love to show you our molehills as compared to those awesome western mountains. And then there’s Iowa!


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