July is the unofficial start of wildflower season at Mount Rainier National Park, when the spring thaw finally hits the higher elevations. If you’re looking for that perfect photo opportunity, there is nothing quite like the spectacular wildflower-filled meadows with Mount Rainier in the background. It may be summer in the lower elevations of the Puget Sound region, but “spring” is just beginning in the high country.
Delicate white avalanche lilies and cheery yellow glacier lilies begin emerging from beneath the melting snow to be followed by Indian paintbrush in fiery shades of oranges, reds, and pinks. Blue and purple lupine, orchids, violets, and hundreds of other species of wildflowers explode with colors and sweet smells. Here are five trails to experience the beauty:
At 6,450 feet in elevation, Sunrise is the highest area in the park you can drive to. You’ll find flowers here later in the season than areas of the park at lower elevations. Over a dozen trails range in length and difficulty, from the 1.5-mile Sunrise Nature Trail with a modest elevation gain, to 14-mile round-trips with thousands of feet of elevation gain. There are short trials to overlooks that are wheelchair-accessible, so the entire family can join in.
Paradise sits at 5,420 feet in elevation. If you’re weary of summer heat, snowfields are easily accessible at any time of year. Make a snow angel in July? Yes, please! The Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls is a 1-mile round-trip with 100 feet elevation gain suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, providing access for almost everyone. For the more adventurous, there are Panorama Point and the High Skyline trail. Like Sunrise, there are many trails to choose from, and you can combine them to create the perfect hike.
Mowich Lake-area trails
For those with a thirst for adventure and a vehicle with good suspension and clearance, the drive on 14 miles of unpaved road on the Carbon River side of the park ends at the stunning Mowich Lake picnic area and campground, which is a perfect base camp for any number of adventures. The 6-mile round-trip trek to Spray Park provides an excellent workout as you climb 1,300 feet. There is a cooling waterfall just off of a side trail before you begin the final ascent to some of the most stunning wildflower-filled meadows in the country.
Around and Near the Park
Naches Peak Loop and Tipsoo Lake
At the very top of Chinook Pass on Highway 410 are two parking lots that lead to a stunning 3.2-mile round-trip hike on the Naches Peak Loop. You’ll first come to the Tipsoo Lake parking lot, which is a popular place to catch the Naches Peak Loop trail. The north side of the loop is on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the south side of the loop is in Mount Rainier National Park, so your furry companions will need to turn back at the park boundary or continue down the Pacific Crest Trail to visit Dewey Lake. This trail provides lakes, meadows, and stunning mountain views. Those who have less time or don’t want to stray too far from their vehicle can park at Tipsoo Lake, which is in the park, and view one of the most famous views of Mount Rainier reflected in a wildflower-ringed lake. Get there early in the morning before the wind picks up, when the lake water is like glass, for the best reflections.
Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap
If you pass the Tipsoo Lake parking area, just around the corner, past a foot bridge, is another parking area for the Pacific Crest Trail managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Heading south from this parking area will take you to Tipsoo Lake; north will take you along the Pacific Crest Trail to Sheep Lake, Sourdough Gap, and beyond. Sheep Lake is a 3.6-mile round trip with a modest 400-foot elevation gain. The trail to and beyond Sheep Lake is lined with wildflowers. You can cool off in the lake and continue up Sourdough Gap. There are Forest Service campsites around Sheep Lake available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can cool off in the lake and continue up Sourdough Gap for more adventure. This is the Pacific Crest Trail; you can hike all the way to Canada.