Scenic hikes in Olympic and Rainier National Parks

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 30 — August 6, 1998
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Scenic hikes in Olympic and Rainier National Parks

Scenic hikes in Olympic and Rainier National Parks
Question: I’m going with my fiancee for a week-long vacation to the Olympic and Rainier National Parks. We’d like to do some camping, but we don’t have lots of time for more than single night trips. Can you suggest the some spots for us to see? What about reservations? Thanks!

Mark Kirk
Belmont, Massachusetts

Olympic National Park's magnificent Hurricane Ridge
Adventure Adviser: Even in a week, you can fit in some mighty fine hikes. Let’s start with Rainier. For stellar wildflowers, head up the Spray Park Trail (8.7 miles). Beginning from Mowich Lake, you’ll start down through subalpine forests before climbing up to a 400-foot stream of falls and spectacular blooms. Since you’ll have a couple of days, you might want to tackle part of the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile loop that encircles Rainier and climbs up to high meadows and alpine lakes and down to river canyons carved out of Rainier’s slopes. The breathtaking scenery includes views of Rainier from every angle. Since there are multiple access points, you can piece together a two-day loop. For instance, you could start at the Wonderland’s Longmire Trailhead, hike in to Rampart Ridge (2 miles), on to Indian Henrys Hunting Ground (5.1 miles) and out via the Mirror Lakes or Kautz Creek trails. I’m assuming summiting Rainier isn’t in your game-plan which, unless you’re experienced mountaineers, is a good thing.

Rainier National Park has five different organized campgrounds, ranging from the cozy, 18-site Sunshine Point to the large Ohanapecosh, with 205 sites. You can make reservations up to three months in advance through the National Park Reservation Service (1-800-365-CAMP). For overnight stays in the backcountry, you’ll have to get a wilderness permit ($10/party, for stays of one to 14 nights). Call 360-569-2211 for permit information. If you’d rather stay in a lodge, the two park-run options are the National Park Inn at Longmire and Paradise Inn at Paradise (360-569-2275 for reservations).

As for Olympic National Park, try to hit both the trails along the coast as well as some through the mountains. If you can arrange a shuttle, you could spend two days doing the 18.5-mile coastal hike from Rialto Beach to Cape Alava, departing from the Mora Campground. You could also experience the seaside on a shorter walk, like hiking out to North Sand Point and on to Cape Alava, or the pretty stretch from Ruby Beach to Kalaloch Beach (about 7 miles). Once you’ve had your fill of beach-walking, head inland to the park’s magnificent interior. There are numerous access points, including the peaceful Lake Quinault area, Lake Crescent/Soleduck River, the Hoh Rainforest, and Hurricaine Ridge. The hike up to Deer Lake via Soleduck is a popular day trip, and a cool, misty warm-up. I would say the not-to-miss hike in this area is the 18.9-mile Enchanted Valley Trail, leaving from Quinault Road. You can camp for the night in the gorgeous valley, which is accessed by a suspension bridge. Or from the Hoh, try the Hoh Trail (also 18 miles), which leads up to the high camps for Mount Olympus and by the Blue Glacier. Other scenic choices include the shorter Soleduck Trail (8.4 miles) and the 25.6-mile long Elwha Trail. Olympic National park has eight rustic camping sites to choose from, and wilderness permits are required for backcountry. Call park headquarters for more information at 360-956-2400. For your non-camping nights, the park operates three incredibly scenic hotels, on Lakes Quinault and Crescent and at the Kalaloch Beach.

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