Mount Rainier National Park: Epic Hike to Third Burroughs

Happy Earth Day!

While my timing is purely coincidental, today is the perfect day to share our favorite hike!

Day 50 (September 17)
Mount Rainier National Park – Sunrise Region

After our tour of the visitor center and breakfast with an unexpected friend, we depart Sunrise (6400 ft elevation) via the Sourdough Ridge trail.

Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

About a mile into our hike, we pass Frozen Lake on our right, and come to a five-way trail intersection. Here we continue on Burroughs Mountain trail.

Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

Several different times on today’s hike, I am delighted to hear the “Eep-eep” of Pikas, but again am not able to catch sight of one. We are, however, entertained by a half dozen active marmots in a boulder field. The largest marmot moves directly toward me and “poses” about five feet from me, where he patiently watches me fumble with phone and cameras for a minute before scurrying across the trail behind me and up the hill.

Marmots along Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

Golden Grasses peeking out from under the snow along Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

Hiking through Talus slope on Trail to First Burroughs Mount Rainier National Park

I turn and take a look back down toward Frozen Lake before continuing on the trail up through more talus slope.

Looking back toward Frozen Lake Mount Rainier National Park

Continuing up through talus slope on Burroughs trail toward Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier view from First Burroughs

The views from First Burroughs (7160 ft elevation) are stunning in every direction. From here, one may decide to continue on to Second Burroughs, or loop back to the visitor center via the Sunrise Rim trail or by retracing one’s footsteps on the Burroughs and Sourdough Ridge trails.

We keep moving forward, inching closer and closer to the mighty mountain, every step bringing the texture of the glacier’s surface into clearer focus.

Mount Rainier view from First Burroughs

Clouds move in as Mount Rainier makes its own weather - 2nd Burroughs trail in Mt. Rainier National Park

Views from Second Burroughs Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Looking back at the Ridgeline trail we've been hiking - Second Burroughs trail Mount Rainier National Park

Closing in on Second Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

We reach Second Burroughs (elevation 7402 ft), take some pictures, and share our lunch spot with 40-50 other hikers. While this seems like a lot of people, it isn’t off-putting, though no doubt this popular trail can get super-crowded on weekends or in peak summer season.

View of Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier, Emmons Morraine and the White River from Second Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

From Second Burroughs we can see a single-track trail winding down through a tundra meadow and then up and over another peak. What’s this!? We can get even higher and closer to Mt. Rainier!?

A few fellow hikers share our curiosity about this path, but no one seems to know how long it is, or the additional elevation gain. We chat with a solo hiker who decides to go for it. We have been careful with our water consumption and still have snacks, and so 15 minutes later we too head down the mystery path with these words in mind:

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Elliot

Trail between Second and Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

Trail between Second and Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

Trail between Second and Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

We will later find out that the trail we are hiking is to Third BurroughsAnd it is definitely more strenuous than the trail to Second Burroughs.

As we get ever closer, closer to Mount Rainier, the sky turns steely blue and the clouds begin to radiate straight out from the mountain in all directions.

Clouds radiating from Mount Rainier views from trail between Second and Third Burroughs

Clouds radiating from Mount Rainier views from trail between Second and Third Burroughs

Clouds radiating from Mount Rainier views from trail between Second and Third Burroughs

The final half mile up to Third Burroughs is tough! The trail gets steeper, and the exact path isn’t always easy to follow through the slippery snow. That said, because a few hikers have gone ahead of us today, we can tell the general direction, so we have no fear of getting too far off-trail. This would not be the case if the snow were deeper.

Clouds radiating from Mount Rainier views from trail between Second and Third Burroughs

Fresh tracks! Mountain Lion? Wolf? Coyote?

Mountain Lion tracks in the snow intersecting the trail to Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

We are now so close to Mount Rainier that we hear rock falls and the the moans and cracks of the glaciers. We are listening to geological change in real time.

The final push up Third Burroughs (7828 ft elevation) is a steep hike/climb through small jagged boulders, which also cover the narrow 100-yard long peak.

Maneuvering through the boulders and snow atop Third Burroughs

Mount Rainier making its own weather - view from Third Burroughs

If no clouds are present, one can see straight down into the deep crevasses of the Winthrop glacier on the Northeastern side of Mount Rainier. We are twenty minutes too late for this, and the building clouds are obscuring the glacial valley 1500 feet below. Still, we know how fortunate we are that the mighty mountain is showing herself at all today.

Boulder field atop Third Burroughs, Mount Rainier clouds in the glacial valley below

Little Tahoma Peak & Frying Pan Glacier viewed from Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

Solitude is another reward for one’s hard work to reach Third Burroughs. We spend about 20 minutes up here and share the peak with only four other hikers.

Two people sitting on Third Burroughs Peak in front of Mount Rainier

My new hiking boots not yet broken in, I chose my worn-out Merrills for today’s hike. I’m glad the snow isn’t any deeper.

Snow on Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

More views from Third Burroughs…

More views from Third Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park

That’s Little Tahoma Peak in the right side of the image below. Robert does his best mountain climber pose for the shot, then we start back toward Second Burroughs.

Atop Third Burroughs with Little Tahoma Peak and Frying Pan Glacier in the background, Mount Rainier National Park

View while hiking Burroughs trail back to Sunrise trail intersection in Mount Rainier National Park

Snowfield between Third and Second Burroughs

Retracing our steps through the Tundra to Second Burroughs in Mount Rainier National Park


Marsi taking a break in front of Mount Rainier

Per a ranger’s suggestion this morning, after passing First Burroughs we leave Burroughs trail, and make this a loop hike via the lesser-used Sunrise Rim trail. The Sunrise Rim trail offers views of Emmons Glacier and Emmons Moraine, the White River and an alpine lake. This is a higher vantage point of the same glacial valley that we saw on yesterday’s hike two thousand feet below.

Views of the White River, Emmons Moraine, Frying Pan Glacier, and Goat Island Mountain from the Sunrise Rim trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Views of a glacial lake, the White River, Emmons Moraine, Emmons and Frying Pan Glaciers, Little Tahoma Peak, and Goat Island Mountain from the Sunrise Rim trail in Mount Rainier National Park

A short length of the Sunrise Rim trail runs along the side of the steep mountain through talus slope. While not really difficult to traverse, this is the sketchiest portion of our hike today.

Hiking mountainside through Talus slope on the Sunrise Rim trail in Mount Rainier National Park

We leave the tundra and talus slopes behind and reach the subalpine forest, where the autumn color of the shrubbery is coming along nicely. Soon after, we come to the Sunrise campground. Between the campground and the visitor center, late-season wildflowers bloom and we see lots of bear fur and scat right on the trail for the next half mile.

Autumn color in the subalpine forest on the Sunrise Rim trail in Mount Rainier National Park

The clouds are rolling in now, chilling the air and obscuring mountain views. We arrive back at the visitor center elated from our perfect day of hiking, realizing how fortunate we are for this opportunity to experience one of mother nature’s perfect masterpieces.

Clouds roll in behind the Day Lodge at Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park

After our challenging yet exhilarating hike, we return to camp, eat a hearty macaroni dinner, and celebrate the day. Robert declares he will “drink the mountain that I hiked today” and enjoys a Rainier beer, while I treat myself to a Deschutes Pacific Wonderland. Does he look cold here? Because it’s getting quite cold tonight.

Enjoying a Rainier Beer and Macaroni dinner at the campground after a long day of hiking

A few notes and tips for hiking to First, Second, or Third Burroughs:

Every website seems to have different distances listed for this hike. Perhaps that’s because there are different loop options. These are the approximate round trip distances of the Sourdough Ridge –> Burroughs –> Sunrise Rim loop trail route that we took:

  • First Burroughs 5.2 miles (moderate)
  • Second Burroughs 6.4 miles (moderate)
  • Third Burroughs 9.4 miles (strenuous)

Note: The National Park’s trail maintenance ends at Second Burroughs, which is why Third Burroughs trail is not on their trail map. 

  • Wear sunscreen and a hat. With the exception of the last mile or so of this route, you will be hiking in full sun without a tree in sight.
  • Take a lot of water. There is no access to water along the trail.
  • Be sure to use the restroom before you set out. There are no facilities or privacy on this trail until one arrives at the Sunrise backcountry campground (at this point you are only a mile away from the visitor center).
  • Trekking poles are helpful, and highly recommended if one is hiking all the way to Third Burroughs.
  • Wear layers. Take a rain/wind blocking jacket and gloves. The weather can change quickly up here, so be prepared for cold, wind, and snow anytime.
  • Set aside plenty of time for the hike so you won’t have to hurry. You will want to stop a lot to take pictures and enjoy the views. We were on the trail for about 6 hours.
  • Mind your backpack at Second Burroughs. The chipmunks here are super-aggressive and will steal food out of your pack. They will also beg, which is pretty darn cute. But please don’t feed them, no matter how temping it is! Try to keep this area crumb-clean.

Clouds forming over Mount Rainier - viewed from Burroughs trail

You can catch up on all of our Washington State travels here.

See the complete list of parks we’ve visited  here.

30 Replies to “Mount Rainier National Park: Epic Hike to Third Burroughs”

  1. Absolutely marvelous post, Marsi. Your images are enthralling along with your narrative. What a gorgeous adventure–thank you for taking me on it. I appreciate you following my photography blog and I will surely enjoy following yours. Happy Earth Day! 🌏

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Marsi, I’m so glad I followed you back from your post on my book blog and happened upon this post with such amazing pictures! The hike on Earth Day also happens to be my birthday so I feel like you hiked for me too lol, as I”m disabled by pain and no way could do it any longer. I just loved all of the great views of all I would have loved to see of Mt. Ranier. Your hike was just amazing and seemed to go so perfectly. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry that you are unable to hike anymore, but am happy that you enjoyed coming along on my journey virtually. Part of the reason I’m trying to do more big hikes is that both of my parents couldn’t, so I hike for them too. Thank you for following! I hope my future posts will bring a little joy to your days.

      A friend of mine shares your Earth Day birthday, and was actually born on the first Earth Day. My Mount Rainier hike was actually last fall, I’m just way behind on blogging. I’m trying do posts of my 2018 four-month road trip in order, and this Rainier hike (my favorite ever!) just happened to fall on Earth Day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know what it is about Mount Rainier National Park but ever since I came across images of it, mostly on Instagram, I can’t get it out of my head. Your hike looks and sounds amazing and your photos are nothing short of stunning. I would love to visit the park during the summer month to see the wildflowers

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for stopping by at our blog and leaving a comment.
    Your hike and wonderful photos of Mt Rainier is top notch. We hiked at Mt Rainier one beautiful autumn day and boy the colors were amazing. So it is interesting to see your photos of your hike covered in white. It is a different perspective from fall colors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pat! I’m so glad you enjoyed our pictures.

      A major reason we took a mid career break to make our 4-month National Parks road trip last year is that we wanted to see places that we probably won’t be able to hike 20+ years from now when we are (hopefully) retired. That said, when I started our trip I wasn’t the fittest. The elevation and longer hikes (than I take at home) gradually made me stronger. But it was still a challenging and exhausting hike 🙂


  5. Wow, absolutely stunning photos! When we went back in May/June, many of the roads were still closed off. I would love to go and explore the park again in a more reasonable month for day hikes! Thanks for sharing this, it really inspires me to get back out west.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! We were lucky to have such good weather and light for photography. Those clouds radiating from the mountain were just incredible. I imagine there was still a ton of snow there in May/June. September was an ideal time to go – before rainy (snowy) season began but after peak crowds. I hope you are able to get back out west soon!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Raquel! Although I’ve only spent a couple of months in the PNW, my love of region runs deep. It’s therapeutic to (virtually) revisit the incredible places I’ve been so fortunate to see, and helps to subdue the wanderlust a bit. Once I wrap up a couple of house projects, I plan to start blogging again. I should have made that a “personal goal” in January!


    1. We got to see just the perfect amount of snow, and had really lucky timing that the mountain was “out” that day. September is a great time to go!


    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Geri! The hikes are closer to home these days, but I do have a huge backlog of adventure photos to post once I find a little free time (or get better at my time management, haha).

      Liked by 1 person

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