Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but there is a “secret” trail you can take to see Grand Park, and you don’t have to take the 14-mile steep round-trip hike from Sunrise to get there.
Instead, drive 10 miles up a windy (and sometimes bumpy) Forest Service dirt road to the Lake Eleanor trailhead to start your grand adventure.
Grand Park boasts one of the most stunning views of Mount Rainier that can be seen from Skyline Peak, the Fremont Lookout, and other high-elevation areas around Sunrise, beckoning hikers with the promise of glorious panoramas and spectacular wildflower blooms.
Since the long and steep 14-mile round-trip hike from Sunrise is more than most people want to take on for a day hike, the area goes largely unvisited by anyone other than Wonderland Trail backpackers. But now you know an easier way to get there.
The trail starts on Forest Service land, but almost immediately crosses the boundary into Mount Rainier National Park, where all National Park rules and regulations apply. So leave your canine companion at home.
Ascend a sometimes-muddy trail about a mile and a half to Lake Eleanor, where you can stop and admire the beauty. The campground at Lake Eleanor remains closed due to hazardous trees, but there is a pit toilet available for use.
Once you’ve rested up, begin the steeper climb up through the forested switchbacks. The trail will gently roll through forest along creeks and will open up into a small beautiful meadow. But keep going. After passing through more forests and meadows, you’ll come to stairs embedded in the trail. Keep climbing, and soon you will find yourself on top of a plateau, where every step you take brings you closer to the mountain — and farther away from civilization.
Once you reach the Grand Park junction, take the trail to the right an additional half-mile or so to see some lovely viewpoints where you can have lunch and gaze upon the mountain, river, and valley. This uncrowded view of the other side of Sunrise is one that most people will never see, due to the difficulty of getting here from the Sunrise area, but can be yours by venturing those 10 miles up that Forest Service road and taking the Lake Eleanor Trail. Because now you know.
This area often can be accessed late in the season after the park closes the road to Sunrise, if weather conditions permit. But, like always, you’ll want to check with the Forest Service as to the status and condition of the roads.
Good to Know
Where there are wildflowers, there are bugs. Don’t forget the bug spray.
Mileage: 10 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
Highest Point: 5,630 feet
How to Get There:
Drive State Route 410 about 24 miles east of Enumclaw and past the viewpoint for Mount Rainier. Turn right on Forest Service Road 73. Pass trailheads for Skookum Flats and Sun Top, and continue over the Huckleberry Creek bridge (at about 6 miles). Continue on Forest Service Road 73 as it goes to the right (past the winter gate). Keep to the right at the junction at 81/2, miles and at about 10 miles, reach the trailhead to Eleanor Creek, elevation 4,520 feet. The sign on the road identifies the creek. Trailhead signs are up the trail a bit. The trailhead is on your left, and parking on the right side of the road will accommodate about six cars.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest alerts and road conditions:
Trail and Camp Conditions at Mount Rainier National Park:
Green Trails 270 Mount Rainier East and Green Trails 280 Greenwater.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in Mount Rainer National Park.
A Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.