Day 50 (September 17)
Mount Rainier National Park – Sunrise Region
Still feeling chilled from the cold and rainy night, we do not rouse ourselves early enough this morning. We quickly dress, crawl out of the tent, brush our teeth, then hop in the car and head up Highway 410 toward Sunrise.
Nearing the top of the mountain we reach a switchback, and the road opens up to a parking lot at Sunrise Point. We arrive to find the Point happily uncrowded. We grab a few film cameras and practically run to the southern overlook to take in the expansive alpine views.
Skies are brilliant blue, with 100+ mile visibility range. Although we do not reach Sunrise Point in time to watch the sunrise (a true treat for the early birds!), even at 8am it is apparent that Mother Nature has provided us the perfect weather for venturing into these mountains today.
From Sunrise Point, on a clear day one can see five volcanoes: Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Adams and Mount Hood.
With the charming chatter of Pikas (Eep!Eep!) as our soundtrack, we continue our short walk around the Sunrise Point area. Sunrise Lake and Marcus Peak are just to the north of Sunrise Point. The lake is accessed by a short (2 mile) out-and-back trail. I have a different hike in mind for today, though I do venture a short distance down this trail, fruitlessly peering into the woods trying to spot Pikas.
At 6400 feet, Sunrise is the highest point that can be reached by car in Mount Rainier National Park. There is no overnight lodging of any kind in the Sunrise region of the park, however there is a “Day Lodge” with a snack bar & shop. I believe the rest of this pretty building is used for administrative purposes or employee housing.
Mt. Rainier peeks out from behind the 30’s era Sunrise Visitor Center, warmly reminiscent of the Lincoln Log houses I built as a kid.
We arrive just as the visitor center is opening, so we have the place to ourselves. Informational plaques educate the visitor and viewfinders allow us to get a better look at the mountain. We pick up a trail map and chat with the ranger about area trails.
We had delayed our breakfast under the (correct) assumption that it would feel much warmer up here in the sunshine at 9am than in the deep shade of the campground at 7:30. So we set out on foot to find the picnic area.
See the snow poles that flank the road to the picnic area? Those line every road and parking lot in this part of the park, and act as directionals for the snow plows in the spring.
We find the picnic area about a tenth of a mile from the main parking lot. The unusual layout of the large picnic area can be attributed to its original development as a CCC-built campground (later closed to protect this area’s fragile eco-system). Many of the picnic tables have views of Rainier, and/or are surrounded by evergreens.
It is blissfully quiet here, and we enjoy our pot of coffee, peanut butter sandwiches and oranges with a view.
We have the picnic area all to ourselves for a while, until a lovely black-tail doe wanders near. She comes ever closer to feed on anything green in sight, seemingly with no preference in vegetation, and no fear or real interest in us.
We stand silently and sip our coffee for 20 minutes as we watch her. She is within feet of us for quite some time before moving down the hill to forage.
Goodbye deer friend. I enjoyed having breakfast with you. We shan’t meet again but I will remember you always.
We return our cooking gear to the car, and grab our packs, jackets, and trekking poles. From the meadows of Yakima Park we pause to take one long look at the majestic mountain before starting up the trail to 2nd Burroughs.
I cannot wait to get a closer look at that ice-capped beauty. Today’s hike will be epic! (And will be shared in my next post).
If you plan on visiting the Sunrise area, here are a few things to know:
- This part of the park has a short visiting season due to heavy snowfall. The road to Sunrise is typically plowed in late June and open through the end of October (but can close earlier due to snow). It is not uncommon for deep snow to be on the ground on the ground into July, which may be a challenge for hikers.
- The closest proximity camping to Sunrise is the park’s White River Campground, which is located about 10 miles away, elevation a little more than 2,000 feet below Sunrise’s elevation, situated on a ledge above the White River. You can read a bit more about the White River campground in my last post.
- Even in the summer it can get cold at these elevations. Wear/carry plenty of layers. Mount Rainier makes its own weather, so it can go from bright and sunny to cloudy and damp in a hurry.
- The incredible drive up to Sunrise area to take in the views from Sunrise Point and the Visitor center are well-worth the visit, even if one is not able to hike.