About two hours from Bellevue, you can experience one of the most scenic and easily accessible huckleberry hikes in the state: The Naches Peak Loop trial off Highway 410 near the top of Chinook Pass. The roughly 3-mile round-trip hike, with a modest 600 feet of elevation gain, is perfect for just about everyone, even those who are not hard-core hikers.
Resembling a blueberry, but considered much more flavorful, these wonderful treats ripen in the Cascades anytime from late summer to early fall, when the summer crowds are gone and before snow closes the passes and higher-elevation trails. This is the perfect time for those of us who are fortunate enough to live here to take advantage of it.
The popular hike starts out at scenic Tipsoo Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. You’ll want to hike it in a clockwise direction from the parking lot for the best views of Mount Rainier. As you round Tipsoo Lake, you might recognize the familiar sight of the mountain reflected in its deep-blue waters, a popular image seen on calendars, books, and postcards. If you go early enough on a calm day, you might find the water like glass and the reflection even more stunning.
After you round the lake, you will cross a scenic meadow, then hike up a small rise that takes you to a sturdy bridge, which you will cross to follow the Pacific Crest Trail into the William O. Douglas Wilderness.
If it is early enough in the season, or if there was a very late snowmelt, you might still be treated to a display of wildflowers, including lupine, paintbrush, and more.
To your left, you will see a small lake; if you take the side trail, you can enjoy the view from atop a small rock outcropping shaded by pine trees. Stop and breathe in the fresh clean air and enjoy the heady scent of fall.
The views only get better. Continue to the right around Naches Peak, and prepare to be wowed as Mount Rainier appears in all her glory, framed by stunning meadows and rock formations. There will be another opportunity to photograph her reflection in a small unnamed lake.
Don’t forget to tear yourself away from the view and look down to see the huckleberries lining both sides of the trail, as they will be the most plentiful from this point forward. Stop and enjoy the taste of fall and wind around the remainder of the trail, which will lead you back to Highway 410 across from the Tipsoo Lake trailhead.
After your hike (especially if you missed the huckleberries on the trail, since it’s the very end of their season), you can stop in the town of Greenwater for huckleberry ice cream at Wapiti Woolies (always available) or a burger and a beer at the Naches Tavern just across the highway.
The joy of sitting alongside the trail eating fresh-picked fall berries (or licking ice cream) with a stunning scenic backdrop is something everyone should experience at least once. Of course, you’ll want to go back again every year once you’ve had a “taste” of the experience.