For those seeking a peaceful, uncrowded hike, the Palisades Lakes trail will not disappoint. The trailhead hidden below the main Sunrise parking lot in Mount Rainier National Park just above the last hairpin turn below the lodge provides a wealth of opportunity and a fabulous chain of lakes.
While this trail does not have a view of Mount Rainier, it provides its own series of stunning views of mountains, meadows, rock formations, beautiful lakes, and a wealth of wildlife-watching and photographic opportunities.
The entire trail, round trip to the farthest lake and back, is a little over seven miles, but you can take an easy walk across the relatively flat ridge to view Sunrise Lake and return to your car.
The trail soon drops steeply down and around a ridge, so this is a good place to turn back if you are not willing to make the steep climb back up. As you enter a series of switchbacks, you may hear the sound of pikas, small, round-eared rodents that resemble marmots or ground squirrels but are actually more closely related to rabbits, which live in burrows on the slope. The pikas are shy, but if you pay attention, you may catch a glimpse of one. In the late fall, the pikas are busily carrying large pieces of greenery with which to line their burrows for the upcoming winter. Keep your camera ready, as they will often sprint across the trail right in front of you.
Turning left at the trail junction before the bottom of the hill takes you down to Sunrise Lake. This makes for a good workout and a shorter day for those who have limited time.
Staying to the right will put you on the trail to Palisades and other lakes.
The first lake you will come to, at approximately 11/2 miles, is Clover Lake. In the late summer and early fall, it will be surrounded by wildflowers. This lake is a popular destination on this lightly used trail, and once you get past it, you will more often than not find solitude. It is not normally crowded and is a wonderful place to stop for lunch.
In addition to wildflowers in the summer, later in the year there are tasty huckleberries, and it is not uncommon to see or at least hear elk.
At approximately 3.5 miles on the trail, you will come to Upper Palisades Lake. There are backcountry camps here, and it is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or a weekend.
Continuing about ¼ mile down the trail, you will find a sharp drop-off overlooking lower Palisades Lake and a vast expanse of wilderness.
The maintained trail stops here, and only the most experienced and fit backcountry travelers should attempt to venture beyond this point.