The purpose of this photography guide is to present information for photographers visiting Mt. Rainier NP and want to have some ideas and information about the area to better plan their trip and photo locations. Each of the five areas have specific information and locations for that area along with some general information and resources applicable to the whole NP.
The sections will be updated routinely as appropriate for the conditions in the NP or as additional information is found to incorporate into the section.
In addition the Carbon River and Mowich Lake areas will be described separately where appropriate as they have different entrances after the road spilts after the bridge over the Carbon River southeast of Wilkerson, highway 165 going to the Mowich Lake campground (no entrance) and the Carbon River Road to the Carbon River entrance.
These areas offer two distinct environments and experiences for visitors and photographers to be presented as unique areas within the northwest quadrant. The only connections between the two areas are two trails, the Wonderland trail from the Carbon River valley at the Ipsut campground over Ipsut Pass to Mowich Lake and the Cataract Canyon trail from the Carbon Glacier north of the Wonderland trail through Spray Park to Eagle Cliff and Mowich Lake.
September and October are the transition months from late summer into fall in the NP, with respect to the weather of both warm sunny days to the cooler fall days and cool to cold nights with periods of rain, and, in some years, the possiblity of snow in October, which has occurred 23 of the last 32 years.
It's also for the NPS to transition the vistor facilities, camgrounds and roads for the upcoming winter as well as preparation for possible extreme rain events with floods or snowstorms. This requires establishing and following a schedule to close all but one road and almost all the facilities through September and October, the rest closing in November.
September and October are the transition months from summer to fall (September) and fall into early winter (October). September transitions from the warm, usually clear but occasional cloudy or overcast days and cool nights early in the month to cooler evening and overnight weather and cooler daytime weather with varying from clear and sunny to overcast with rain later in the month.
October is the continuation of that weather to consistently cool to cold weather with more rainstorms with rain and early snow in some years with periods of clear, sunny weather, often called indian summers or just good, nice weather to visit the NP. These months can be dynamic months for weather so it is best if you plan and prepare for the extreme weather.
September is the month the NPS reduces days or hours of and closes some facilities, campgrounds, entrances and roads in preparation for the winter. The winter preparation continues through October the where by early November all of them are ready for winter with only the year-around facilities open through the winter with reduced days and hours.
Roads & Highways
The same applies for the highways and roads in the NP and the state highways through the NP as for the facilities, etc., see above description. You can get more from the NPS Website on the status of roads with links to the NP's Twitter account, as well as the WSDOT Websites for highway 410 and 123 over Cayuse Pass and Chinook Pass.
Through this spring and summer the NPS has been repairing and repaving the highway between the Nisqually entrance and Paradise. This work was suspended for August and September to resume in October, so there will be altered traffic patterns in September but no delays. The delays will return in October until the end of the work for the season.
Trails & Trailheads
All of the trails will be snowfree into October and accessible through these months when and where the roads are open, see above description and links to information on road closures, especially the White River Road to the campground and Sunrise and Stevens Canyon Road between highway 123 and highway 706 to Paradise.
The trails will have far fewer hikers through both months especially the backcountry trails and the Wonderland trail. Most hikers will be found on the popular trails and within a few miles of the trailheads at the visitors' areas of Longmire and Paradise.
Visitors and hikers should check the weather for their visit and the NPS Website for hiking information and backcountry camping.
Planning & Preparation
For the most part, September and October shouldn't change your planning and preparation for visiting, hiking and photographing in Mt. Rainier NP except to be cognizant of the schedule to reduce hours or close facilities, campground and roads and the weather reports and forecasts.
However, into mid-late October, the chances for significant rainstorms and possible snow in the mid-upper elevations become likely as the weather transitions into late fall and early winter into November when and where some of the earliest seasonal snow and some of worst rain storms with flooding have occurred.
Both areas in the northwest area have different conditions, as noted below.
Carbon River Entrance, is open at the NP Boundary to hikers, and to bikers, only on the Carbon River trail, to the Ipsut Campground. A backcountry permit is required for overnight stays.
There is a new Ranger Station at the Carbon River entrance. It's now located on the new land acquistion northwest of the NP boundary, see map. This station offers information and has some visitor necessities (restroom) along with parking for hiking the Carbon River trail. This adds the distance from the station and parking to the NP boundary to any trail distance.
Mowich Lake Entrance, The road closes in October or first heavy snowfall. The campground will be open with a permit through the fall and the winter.
Note.-- The highway (165) from Wilkerson splits about a mile ast the Fairfax bridge over the Carbon River where the highway continues to the Mowich Lake entrance to the NP and on to Mowich Lake. The secondary road goes to the Carbon River ranger station and NP entrance. These roads are not cleared during winter rain and snow storms until the weather has cleared so they may be blocked or have significant snow.
Carbon River Road
During the winters of 2006 and 2008, the northwest suffered severe flooding. This also resulted in sufficient damage to the Carbon River road to close it at the NP entrance. Every winter since has brought additional floods and damage to the Carbon River and road, see NPS Report (PDF).
In response to these floods the NPS began to look at the alternatives for the Carbon River road and some of the damage to trails above the Ipsut campground, see NPS plan. To date, the NPS has selected the work, has the initial funds and has started the process to plan and conduct the work. This will take into 2010 and maybe longer, depending on additional storm damaged to the (now) trail.
It's why the Carbon River road will never reopen and will be converted to a hike and bike trail. In several places on the five mile length to the Ipsut campground the river channel, which was alongside the trail, has risen from the sediment deposited from years of floods, to be higher than the adjacent floodplain and the trail. The floods of 2006 and now 2007 and 2008, moved or incorporated the river channel into the old trail, which now is gone in some sections. It has since been rebuilt with temporary trails through these sections.
This is a normal process with glacier fed rivers as the mountain sheds debris into the river channel where snowmelt and storms transport the sediment downstream into the lower elevation river channel. The lower slope causes the sediment to settle and build the channel where new floods will create new channels outside the old channel, common with braided rivers channel.
The Carbon River is no exception, as a braided river channel in some sections and as are all the rivers draining Mt. Rainier. All of the rivers are excellent examples of the transport of glacial debris on the lower elevation channels, the aggradation of those river channels, and the movement of current channels to new channels during and after flood events, as seen in the November 2006 storms and floods and the subsequent ones in 2007 and 2008.
After decades of repairing the road, originally built in the early 1900's to the Carbon Glacier, the floods of November 2006 and 2008 major floods, made the repairs impossible or too expensive. It was easier to close the road and look at building a new trail in the damaged sections away from the river. While it will inhibit visitors who need or want to drive the old road, it's helped return the Carbon River to a natural channel.
Area.-- The northwest area is the least visited area in the NP, but very popular with many hikers for the unique landscape and features as well as different winter activites from the other four areas. While the Mowich Lake area closes every fall with the first significant snow, the Carbon River area is almost always open for hiking. This is due to the lower elevation of the river valley being snow free except for a few winter months.
Carbon River area.-- This area is a five-plus mile low elevation rain forest. The trail, now closed to vehicles at the entrance, is open to hikers and bikers to Ipsut campground. Bikes are restricted to this trail to the Ipsut campground, and not allowed on other trails or past the Ipsut campground. You can get more information about mountain bikes in the NP.
In addition there are trails off the Carbon River trail on the way to Ipsut camground besides the continuation of the trail to the junction with the Wonderland trail and Carbon Glacier, south over Ipsut Pass to Mowich Lake or east across the north side of Mt. Rainier to Sunrise. For photographers the extra distance since the closure to vehicles necessitates an overnight stay at one of the backcountry campgrounds (and the permit) to photograph the features of these areas.
Mowich Lake area.-- This area is the opposite of the Carbon River valley. While surrounded by forest, this area is open with magnificant view of Mt. Rainier and many short trails to excellent different photo locations and opportunities. In addition the area has easy access with the campground at the lake making everything easier and closer to remote areas (no established entrance, access and camping permits checked by rangers at the road end).
After the Sunrise area, this area has the shortest season, usually opening late June to early July and closing early October (first permanent seasonal snow as the roads are not cleared and entrance closed to vehicles). But unlike Sunrise, this area is open through the winter for skiers and winter camping. The only problem is highway 165 is not always kept clear of snow and ice outside the NP from the bridge over the Carbon River, so this requires 4-wheel driver vehicles and chains and a longer snowshoe or skiing into the area.
Access.-- The northwest area is accessed from Tacoma or Seattle, highways 162 or 410 from Tacoma or areas south of Tacoma and highways 164 and 169 to highway 410 from Seattle. Highways 162 and 410 turns into 165 with goes south through Wilkerson to the bridge over the Carbon River. Just past the bridge the road splits.
Carbon River area.-- Just past the bridge over the Carbon River, the Carbon River road leaves Highway 165 for the 8 miles road to the NP entrance. This road isn't always maintained during the winter or immediately repaired from storm damage, so you have to check the reports.
Mowich Lake area.-- Highway 165 continues from the split to the NP entrance and to the Mowich Lake campground. The 11.5 mile mile road, which turns to gravel near the USFS boundary, isn't always maintained during the winter, and is closed at the entrance after the first permanent seasonal snow, so you have to check the reports the condition and where the clearing ends.
Area.-- The northwest area is indentified by several distinct landscapes and features, the Carbon River valley, the Mowich Lake area and the alpine environment and features of the northwest face of Mt. Rainier. Each of these will be described separately.
Carbon River area.-- This area has the lowest elevation in the NP, just under 2,000 feet at the entrance. From there for the eight miles of the Carbon River the valley is a a lowland rain forest rising just over a 1,000 feet in elevation from the entrance in the glaciated valley to the terminus of the Carbon Glacier, the glacier with the lowest elevation terminus of all the glaciers in the NP.
And for the entire distance the river and valley floor are the same as the river changes channels every year from floods, snowmelt and glacial meltwater. In effect the river is conveyer of the mountain debris from the highest elevations and farthest reaches of the upper river basin through its movement with the glacier into the river and down into the lower river valley.
It is the transporation of this debris which has raised the lower river channel where in some reaches the bed of the river channel is higher than the surrounding floodplain and valley floor, and where the trail is, or was before the November 2006 floods. It was that flood where the river overflowed its banks and created new river channels, and in places replaced the trail with the river.
Mowich Lake area.-- This area is almost the opposite of the Carbon River area. The entrance is at 3,600 foot elevation, almost twice that of the Carbon River entrance. This difference is seen when it closes six-plus months a year while the other only closes a few weeks to maybe a month or two, if that.
The road (Highway 165) follows the south facing side of southwest to northeast string of peaks from Martin Peak in the south, past Virginia and Berry Peaks to Tolmie Peak and Eunice Lake. The road then follows the curvature of the former cirque of the upper Meadow Creek before crossing the divide into the Mowich Lake and Crater Creek basin.
It is interesting to note while driving the road that it follows the general route of the old Grindstone trail, and in parts is the old trail itself established in the 1870's used to explore the area into Mowich Lake and Spray Park. This old trail connected with the Bailey Willis trail up the Carbon River valley via Spray Park and connected west of the present NP boundary south to Busywild (gone) and Ashford.
It is also interesting to note Mowich Lake was originally named Crater Lake (creek still bears the name). The geologists who did the first scientific expeditions identified Mowich Lake as of volcanic origin, and occupied the crater of a old volcano.
Alpine Environment.-- The northwest area is really known for one other feature beyond either the Carbon River or Mowich Lake, and that is Spray Park and the wildflower meadows in July and August. The Spray Park area is probably the most popular and visited place and most photographed feature in the the northwest area, both for the wildflowers when in season and the scenic view of the area and Mt. Rainier.
The Spray Park area overlies the old lava flows from the Echo Rock conduit, an offshoott vent underlying Mt. Rainier. The former landscapes below Flett and Russell glaciers were scoured away by periods of glacial advances to leave the development of Spray, Mist and Seattle Parks. The retreating glaciers also left small glacial lakes, some above terminal moraines as well as draining into Spray and Cataract Creeks, each flowing into separate river basins, the Mowich and Carbon Rivers, respectively.
The Carbon Glacier, along the eastern edge of this area is one of the glaciers which has its head at the summit of Mt. Rainier at Willis Wall between Liberty Cap and Russell Cliff. It has the largest mass and longest distance of all the glaciers on Mt. Rainier besides the lowest elevation terminus at about 3,600 feet.
Also, the Carbon Glacier seems to defy the trends of the other glaciers. Where the other glaciers have been in recession with short advancement periods, the Carbon Glacier has barely retreated and has had more and longer periods of advancement over the same period of the other glaciers.
Notes.-- You can get a topo map of the southwest area, or as a PDF (8 Mbytes) along with more maps from the map resources. You can learn about the geology of the NP from the geology guide along with a map guide for the highways approaching the NP and in the NP.
Early (pre-NP) years.-- The Carbon River and Mowich Lake areas were one of the earliest areas explored around Mt. Rainier. It was the closest area to Tacoma and Seattle so trails were established into the areas, initially for timber, wildlife and coal and mineral mines, and later for the investigation of extending the railroad from Wilkerson, partly for the transporation of timber and coal and partly for recreation potential of Mt. Rainier.
During the 1880's engineer Bailey Willis was hired by the Northern Pacific Railroad to explore the area and develop a route into the area as a recreation destination and across the north side of Mt. Rainier and past the mountain and into and over the Cascade Mountains to eastern Washington. The plan was dropped in 1883, but Bailey Willis continued his interest in the area and trail before joining the USGS.
He established many of the trails up the Carbon River valley, across Spray Park into the Mowich Lake area and south to Ashford just outside the western boundary of the present day NP. His name appeared on maps of the trails or identified with trails well into the 1900's before new trails were developed or roads replaced the trails. Only short stretches of those trails still exist as present day trails or parts of roads.
Not much else was done in this area beyond the people who lived and worked there until after the NP designation and really not until the National Park Service came into being in 1916 and took over management and operations of the NP. The USGS had long demonstrated a scientific interest in the area with USGS geologists (Willis and others) conducting explorations in the area as part of the whole geologic and glacier exploration of the Cascade Mountain Range.
In July 1896 the USGS team followed the Carbon River trail to the Carbon Glacier and did the first traverse of the north side of Mt. Rainier to establish a base camp along Winthrop Glacier, see 1896 expedition. From there some of the members did a summit climb and an overnight stay before descending to the Paradise area and traversing the eastern side of Mt. Rainier to the base camp. They did return traverse on the north side before splitting into two teams, one along the Carbon River trail and another through the Mowich Lake area before meeting and returning to Wilkerson and Tacoma.
Their work and the subsequent 1898 USGS report on the expedition and scientific findings was instrumental with the efforts of the mountaineering and recreaction community and the civic and commercial interests for the final passage of the law for the designation of Mt. Rainier NP. It was the weight of the USGS and the scientific community for the unique importance and scientific resource of Mt. Rainier which won the day for President Cleveland to support and sign the bill into law.
Early NP years.-- For the lack of funds and direction the early years in the life of Mt. Rainier NP was mostly spent just barely managing the resources and lands and preventing abuses and damage in the NP. Almost all of the work was focused on the public access through the Nisqually (southwest) entrance to the Paradise area. The northwest area finally got attention after the NPS was created in 1916 as part of goal to make Mt. Rainier NP a visitors experience via the automobile.
The NPS at the time had the idea to encircle Mt. Rainier inside the NP with roads so visitors could easily circumnavigate the mountain and visit all the areas easily, including developing lodging facilities in each area, somewhere in the upper Carbon River valley in the nothwest area. The existing Carbon River trail was key to this plan as it was planned to be developed into a road along with roads south to the Mowich Lake area and east to the Yakima Park (now Sunrise area).
Although supported by many groups, the plan quietly died within the NPS when the funds to investigate, engineer and build a circumnavigation road wasn't realistic. The Carbon River road from the NP entrance to the Carbon Glacier terminus became a reality when it was finished in 1924. This road provided the closest route from Tacoma and Seattle to Mt. Rainier and a glacier, but from the first years of the engineering and building it was apparent that the road would be damaged by the normal winter floods and would need frequent and likely annual maintenance.
The Mowich Lake road, the continuation of highway 165 from Wilkeson, had to wait just over a decade after the Carbon River road, until the highway projects of the 1930's. The road was completed to the current Mowich Lake campground in 1935. In some places the road followed the old Bailey Willis trail established fifty years earlier. The original plan for a popular destination didn't occur despite the short distance, beautiful setting and easy access to some great recreation, hiking trails and photo locations.
Recent NP years.-- The history of the Carbon River road is well known in the hiking and recreation community. The Mowich Lake road has pretty much faded from attention for the lack of major work outside of routine or annual maintenance. This wasn't the case in 1972 when the NPS updated the master plan for the NP to close both roads at the NP entrance.
The purpose was to minimize the seasonal and emergency maintenance with the Carbon River road and improve the experience with the Mowich Lake road, making people hike into the area with the vehicle campgrounds and facilities converted to easier maintenance backcountry campgrounds. The ideas were dropped in both cases, the Carbon River road which continued to be a problem and the Mowich Lake road to become a mainstay destination campground and trailhead.
By the early 2000's it was more than evident to the NPS the annual repairs and maintenance, and the associated costs, of the Carbon River road was daunting in the face of the conditions in the lower river channel, especially the braided sections in the last mile or so east of the NP entrance. The floods of November 2006 put the final statement to any future plans with the road, and the only solution was to close it and develop the entire length into a hike and bike trail.
In response to these floods in 2008 the NPS began to look at the alternatives for the Carbon River road and some of the damage to trails above the Ipsut campground, see NPS plan. To date, the NPS has selected the work, has the initial funds and has started the process to plan and conduct the work. This will take into 2010 and maybe longer, depending on additional storm damaged to the (now) trail.
Area.-- The descriptions of trails is divided between the two entrances but only the Wonderland and Spray Park trails connect the two areas, the former at the Ipsut campground across Ipsut Pass into the Mowich Lake basin, and the latter at the Carbon River campground following the Cataract Creek to Cataract Valley across Spray Park to Eagle Cliff and Mowich Lake.
Carbon River area.-- There are a few trails off the Carbon River trail from the entrance to Ipsut campground, such as Ranger Falls - Green Lake trail and the Chenius Falls trail. After the Ipsut campground there is the Wonderland trail trail, south to Ipsut Fall and over Ipsut Pass to Mowich Lake and east to the Carbon Glacier. Also the northern loop trailhead of the Wonderland trail, two miles east of the Ipsut campground.
Mowich Lake area.-- Beside the Paul Peak trail, near the park entrance,there are several trails originating at Mowich Lake, the main one being the continuation of the Wonderland trail, from Ipsut campground in the north to South Mowich River and Golden Lakes campgrounds in the south. In addition there are the trails to Eunice Lake and Tolmie Lookout and Peak and to Eagle Cliff and Spray Park.
Resources.-- You can additional information on day hikes and locate them on a map of day hikes, and locate or download maps of the NP. You can also get information on the rules, permits, current conditions, etc. for backcountry hiking and camping along with information about the Wonderland Trail and climbing information.
Notes.-- This winter all the trails have snow to some depth depending on the seasonal and daily weather with rain/snow storms and the existing snowpack. There will be less snow in some areas of the NP, such as the Carbon River valley and the Longmire area. For any trail you should check the most recent trail conditions for the trails you're interested during your visit but still be ready for unexpected weather and trail conditions.
The winter season in this area is different from the other four areas. The Mowich Lake area offers excellent trips for winter travellers to the lake and campground on the snow covered road from the NP entrance (or before depending on the snow since it's not plowed). The Carbon River entrance offers excellent trips in the lowland forest, from just under 2,000 feet elevation) at the entrance to 2,400 feet at Ipsut campground, and except for occasional periods of snow it's usually snow free for some to most of that distance.
Photo Ops.-- The photo opportunities in the northwest area are plentiful and diverse. The view of Mt. Rainier is dependent upon the specific locations in the area, as noted with each area (below), but mostly the opportunities are limited to the local peaks and the higher elevation open meadows and alpine areas.
Carbon River area.-- The lack of view of Mt. Rainier is especially true for the Carbon River valley due to the trail having little elevation gain from the entrance to Ipsut campround and to the Carbon Glacier and surrounded by forest the length of the trail. This, however, affords many opportunities for photos of the temperate rain forest.
Along the Carbon River trail there are several named waterfalls, such as Cenius Falls and Ranger Falls, and more smaller, unnamed waterfalls on short hikes off the trail to Ipsut campground and past Ipsut campground, such as Alice Falls and Cataract Falls. The lower waterfalls are on dead-end trails, except Ranger Falls which continues to Green Lake. The upper waterfalls are on parts of the Wonderland trail or the trail to Spray Park, each of which have additional photo locations and opportunities.
If you want to extend your trip into the backcountry, there are a number of photo locations and opportunities located near backcountry campgrounds beyond Ipsut campground in the Carbon River area. These include the Carbon Glacier near the Carbon River and Dick Creek campgrounds and Seattle Park near the Cataract Valley campground.
There are more locations and opportunities to and near more distant backcountry campground, many on the Wonderland trail, such as Yellowstone Cliff, Redstone and Mystic campgrounds. These are in the upper elevation forest or open alpine areas with nearby lakes and scenic views and vista of Mt. Rainier. These, however, are usually 2-3 day (one-way) hikes with the necessary backcountry permits.
Mowich Lake area.-- This area is the far better for views of Mt. Rainier, from the immediate area of Mowich Lake and especially the trails from Mowich Lake, such as Tolmie Lookout and Peak and Spray Park, both being moderate day hikes. In July and August Spray Park is excellent for wildflowers.
In addition the Mowich Lake is the campground for both drive-in and backcountry camping as it is the trailhead for the Wonderland trail. Within short hikes are two more backcountry campgrounds, South Mowich River on the Wonderland trail and Eagle's Roost on the Spray Park trail. The Wonderland trail to the South Mowich River connects back to the Paul Peak trail south of Mowich Lake.
While there aren't any named waterfalls in the Mowich Lake area, there are a number of smaller, unnamed waterfalls along or just off the trails originating at Mowich Lake. The other photo destination in the Mowich Lake area is Tolmie Lookout and Peak, a moderate to hard hike from Mowich Lake past Eunice Lake, which also is a good photo opportunity.
Photo locations.-- Listed below and located on the Map of places offer a variety of places and locations in the four catagories listed.
Vista offer panoramic views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding area, which includes trails to
View offer views of the natural environment, such as forests, creeks, lakes, glaciers, etc., which includes
Watefalls offer views of commonly known or easily accessible waterfalls, such as
Open Area offer views of alpine meadows and open alpine and glacier environments, such as
There are other photo opportunities listed in the different types of environment listed in the resources.
Photo tips.-- Photo tips are hard due to the diversity of photographic interests and range of cameras. But for the most part, it's the old adage, it's about the light. This is one area in the NP where you can get some interesting photos any time of the day and almost any place you are, go or hike. The key is to be flexible for the range of light you'll get and the exposure you'll need, from deep inside forests to panorama and scenic views of Mt. Rainier.
My experience in this quadrant is with the Mowich Lake area. This area affords the widest number of photography opportunities either at the Lake or from moderate day hikes. The Carbon River trail now a one 5-plus mile hike in the temperature rain forest to the Ipsut campground and longer for trails to higher elevations. These trails are a multi-day hike with wilderness camp permits required for Ipsut campground.
Advisories.-- There isn't much I can say about advisories except pay attention to the NPS reports and the rangers. The backcountry rangers are the most experienced and helpful folks there. Ask, listen and heed their advise, and you won't go wrong. And keep up with the latest NPS information as you can.
And above all, please follow the rules and your permit. The rules are there for everyone's safety and protection of the resources. And the permit is to minimize the impact of your trip on the NP and for others.
A note about glaciers.
Do not go on a glacier without experienced hikers or climbers and the proper equipment.
Glaciers are inviting to hike and explore. But they are dangerous for the inexperienced and ill-prepared hikers. Glaciers are very dynamic and constantly changing environments, so it's best to view and photograph them, but don't go on them without guides and equipment.
There is one note about the wildflower meadows that is important.
Stay on the designated paths and trails in the meadows, especially when snow covered.
You may not leave a trace, but others may not be so cautious and careful about their footprint in environmentally sensitive areas. This is especially important in the late snowmelt season where hiking on the thin snowpack can damage the fragile meadows underneath. In addition you will run the risk of being given a ticket by a Park Ranger for violating the rules (which all visitors accept when entering the NP).
Resources.-- Don't forget to look at the wealth of books and Websites (using Google image search) by photographers who have images of Mt. Rainier and write down the locations of where the photographer took the image(s). Some will provide this information, but as I have found in my discussions with photographers, some won't. If you have questions about some photos, you can contact me with the the book or link and I'll do my best to determine where the image was taken.
I don't have many personal notes on this area as it's my least visited area, but some general comments from my experience and that of others I've heard or read.
Carbon River area.-- This is a great area for winter hikes if you don't mind cool and rainy weather. Since it's almost always snow-free due to the lower elevation at the entrance and for most of the trail to the Ipsut campground, it's a good winter hike.
Mowich Lake area.-- While a lot of hikers recommend the trails from the south end of Mowich Lake to the Wonderland trail or Eagle Cliff and Spray Park - obvious excellent hikes, my personal favorite is the one to Eunice Lake and the Tolmie Lookout, which provides opportunities for the lakes, for views of Mt. Rainier, and vista of the west side of the NP.
During the winter the road is closed at the NP boundary (just a gate) and not normally open until July. The road is open to hikers, skiers, and snowshoers to the campground, which is open for winter campground with a backcountry permit. This is a wonderful hike through the forest with occasional views, and photo locations and opportunities, of Mt. Rainier and scenice Mowich Lake.
West Boundary trail.-- This trail is an interesting one for the experienced hikers which offers interesting locations and opportunities is the West Boundary trail. It's been improved in recent years but is still for experienced hikers only. It's 6.1 miles from either entrance to the other entrance with serious gains and losses (+2,600 feet, -1,200 feet, +1,400 feet and -1,000 feet north to south) and crosses two creeks.
This trail has not been on NPS or commercial trail maps since around 1970 as parts of the trail are in the adjacent USFS (clearcut or reforested) lands (2.5 of the 6.1 miles of trail). It is not marked or maintained although in recent years the Washington Trail Association has worked on it to improve some sections. If you can't hike the whole trail, then the parts from either NP entrance or the USFS road trailhead are pretty good too.
NRCS Snotel Site.-- A worthwhile site if you're interested in meteorology is the National Resources Conservation Service's Snotel site just outside the NP, see the Webpage for the site information and data. It's 1.5 miles west of the NP Boundary, just off the highway. It's where the weather real-time data (see map for the Mowich Lake area originates.
Advisory about Guns.-- Beginning February 22, 2010, openly carrying guns in the NP is legal and concealed with a legal permit. However, there are a number of conditions, which you can find here with links to additional information.
It is illegal to carry a gun indoors and it is illegal to use or fire a gun anywhere in the NP.
This is especially important in the visitors areas, the campgrounds, on the trails, and in the backcountry. You can only openly carry a gun or concealed with the proper (state) permit) and nothing else. You can not unholster, use or discharge the weapon anytime or anywhere in the NP. The NPS has trained and instructed the park and backcountry rangers to treat all visitors as if they are carrying a gun unless it is clear the visitor is not carrying a gun.
Resources.--Below are sources for additional information about Mt. Rainier and the NP.
Please use the contact link to send e-mail.
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