Days 51-52 (September 18-19)
Mount Rainier National Park – Naches Peak Loop / Ohanapecosh Campground
This will be our last Mt. Rainier post for a while, as we wind down our time in this special park. If my dear readers are getting a wee bit bored with this scenery, I assure you it will be changing soon. (Be forewarned though: there are a lot more mountain vistas coming as we move south into Oregon and California.)
I am sleep deprived and out of sorts. I incorrectly assume that we have somehow missed my alarm for the pre-dawn wakeup we have planned in order to can catch the sunrise from Sunrise Point. The lack of sleep finds me exhausted when my alarm actually does go off at 5:40, and Robert’s mumbly response of “we can go if you want to” encourages me to kill the alarm, fall into a deep sleep, and awake at 9am. Insert curse word here.
Several factors played a part in my sleepless night: the cold & damp weather, tightening muscles from the prior day’s Third Burroughs hike, and obnoxious campground neighbors. One loud neighbor with a cheap Walmart tent and $90,000 Mercedes didn’t go to bed until the wee morning hours, then a different couple packed up to leave at 4:30am, making dozens of unnecessary car door openings and closings and shining their headlights directly into our tent for half an hour. Why???
There is a silver lining to our sleepless night. The unexpected change in our schedule prompts a surprise addition to our itinerary. A tip from some super-nice campground neighbors leads us up to Naches Peak.
However geographically close we are to Sunrise and White River, we are entering a strikingly different ecosystem within Mount Rainier National Park.
On our 3.3 mile Naches Peak loop hike, we will wind our way through beautiful subalpine meadows dotted with evergreen trees and waves of autumn color. We will gaze at glacial ponds and lakes. We will get a taste of the Pacific Crest Trail. And last but certainly not least, we will take in more stunning views of “that” mountain we’ve fallen so hard for.
Our trail begins at Tipsoo Lake. We hike clockwise, with a 50/50 chance this is the most rewarding route for views. It turns out to be the right choice, although the light isn’t the best for picture-taking.
As we cross SR 410 at Chinook Pass via the historic footbridge, we leave Mount Rainier National Park and enter the William O. Douglas Wilderness within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. It is here that the loop trail joins the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). There is a parking area here, so one may access the PCT without actually having to enter the national park.
The northern half of the loop trail offers beautiful vistas of mountain meadows. In the summertime these are filled with wildflowers, however we are here late in season and see only a few blooms.
A mile into our hike, we come upon a tranquil unnamed pond, just .1 mile off the trail. This seems like a popular resting spot for PCT through hikers.
Mesmerized by our surroundings, we stop here for a snack and to watch this happy doggo fetching sticks in the lake. (Because we are on National Forest land and not in the National Park, dogs are allowed on this section of the trail).
We return to the main trail, and stop a couple of times to look back the direction from whence we came. Every inch of this trail is just pretty, pretty, pretty.
We continue to climb in elevation as we traverse the northeastern side of Naches Peak, walking through subalpine meadows filled with autumn color. We are nearing our highest elevation along the trail, which will be around 5900 feet.
Views of alpine lakes and glacial ponds are numerous from the trail. In the first image below we see Large Dewey Lake. If one looks closely at the second image, one can see a smaller lake to its right. I assume this is Small Dewey Lake , although it is not named on the Topo map.
Just after this viewpoint, the PCT splits off to our left (southward) and winds down the mountain toward the Dewey Lakes. The Naches Peak loop continues along the side of the mountain.
Oh look, there is a tiny glacier in that peak to the left! (I didn’t even notice this until composing this post).
We have missed the huckleberries by a week or so, however the huckleberry bushes are putting on a nice display of fall color.
As we round the eastern side of Naches Peak and begin walking westward, we come to an area with several nice viewpoints.
I hope we are like this sweet couple in twenty years, still working hard to seek out the best views and never taking the grandeur of this place for granted.
A hiker traveling counter-clockwise had seen a black bear grazing in a large field of low red huckleberry bushes. When we come to this point on the trail, we do not see the bear, but we do hear it rustling in the trees above.
A hundred yards down the trail I can smell the bear’s skunk-like odor, and we see both bear and deer prints along the trail. But still we see no bear. Sigh. Our encounter with Sonny the bear at Black Canyon of the Gunnison has us a little bear obsessed.
It is now early afternoon and I remember that Mount St. Helens was on today’s itinerary. Well that’s not happening now. There are currently water issues at the Forest Service campgrounds on the east side of Mount St. Helens, so we opt to overnight at nearby Ohanapecosh campground, where we had camped for a night a few weeks ago among the tall trees. This will give us some time to just relax at camp, which is always a treat when the campground is so pretty and the weather is nice.
Ohanapecosh campground is 3,000 feet lower and a balmy 15 degrees warmer than the White River campground in which we spent the past two nights. The campground is far less crowded this time of year than our summertime visit, in fact a couple of the loops have already been closed for the season. We have no trouble finding a spacious yet interesting campsite.
The sound of the rushing Ohanapecosh River on the opposite side of our loop is calming, but obscures the sound of the lovely babbling brook just behind our campsite.
After pitching our tent, we drive into the small town of Packwood, where we buy a few groceries and some firewood. Back at camp we build our first campfire of the trip (6 weeks in!) and celebrate/lament our last night in Mount Ranier National Park with steaks, Washington wine (me), Rainier beer (him), roasted zucchini, and campfire potatoes.
After a good night of sleep we take one last walk around the campground to look at the clear blue Ohanapecosh River and the changing leaves.
We are sad to leave this spectacular park but psyched to see Mount St. Helens tomorrow, as the eruption was such an impactful event of our childhoods.
You can catch up on all of our Washington State travels here.
See the complete list of parks we’ve visited here.