A Bluebird Weekend Hiking in Seattle

Mount Rainier behind a spray of magenta paintbrush

This past weekend I visited my friend and hiking buddy, Grace, in Seattle. Last year, Grace came to the Bay Area and we had planned to hike Mount Whitney together, but a fire closed the trailhead on the day of our permit. Instead, we had a memorable, Milky Way-filled trip to the Trinity Alps. So this year, I came to Grace and we did two breathtaking hikes: an epic 8-hour, 17-mile day in Mount Rainier National Park, and then an 8-miler to North Cascades National Park. Here is a bit about our hikes and our favorite scenery. Happy Friday :)

Hike #1: Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground & Mirror Lakes

Mount Rainier National Park

17 miles round-trip, 3750 feet elevation gain

One of joys of seeing Grace again was falling back into our regular rhythms. When I lived in the Seattle area, our hiking rhythm was meeting at a park-and-ride near 5:00 a.m., sometimes earlier for a long drive. We are both early birds, so we fell easily into that pattern again. As Grace drove south on I-5, I turned to mush seeing Mount Rainier lit up in the sunrise. After a couple hours, we arrived to Longmire and set off on the Wonderland Trail towards Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

We began climbing northwest under the shade of familiar hemlock and Douglas fir. It was a relief to hike in a cool forest once again—about 45 degrees at the start. The shade went on for miles as we ascended Rampart Ridge. The following descent to Kautz Creek gave us our first big picture view of Mount Rainier and cool breeze from the ice-cold water. Pyramid Creek was next, with a footbridge across it.

View of Mount Rainier from the overlook above Kautz Creek. I used the PeakFinder app for this view.

Footbridge over Pyramid Creek. This is a “live photo” converted to a long exposure.

We climbed steeply through more small creeks and rooted, uneven paths. At Devil’s Dream Camp, we ran into a ranger and asked him about the mosquitoes up at Indian Henry’s. He confirmed that they were ferocious and there wasn’t really a place to sit down and have lunch where we wouldn’t be inundated. Thankfully, we had packed our bug nets, and we put them on soon after passing the camp. It turned out to be exactly as the ranger described—almost like a snow of mosquitoes ready to land on camera-holding fingers at every stop and pause.

Grace crossing one of several creeks on the way to Devil’s Dream Camp

After climbing above Devil’s Dream Camp, the trail leveled off. We passed many shallow pools and with them, the mosquitoes. Thankfully we had our bug nets on over our hats and we had both hiked these kinds of crazy, mosquito-infested areas before. We knew the drill. :) What made it tolerable was the fact that the trail was new to both of us, so it was exciting to discover, and just being able to hike and catch up. For sure, we suffered when we sat down and refueled. Dozens of mosquitoes landed on our hands and bit through our clothes, so we didn’t stay long.

Mount Rainier reflected in a tarn in front of the ranger patrol cabin

I’ll never forget when we turned a corner and saw the ranger patrol cabin with a backdrop of Mount Rainier. We continued on to Mirror Lakes, which added about another 2.0 miles rt. It was worth it—the Mount Rainier views opened up even more.

The main “Mirror Lake” with avalanche lilies on the border

The main “Mirror Lake” with avalanche lilies on the border

Mirror Lakes are really just one big pond surrounded by smaller ponds. It was similarly infested with mosquitoes, but beautifully ringed with avalanche lilies. The views combined with the wildflowers—avalanche lilies, pasqueflower, lupine, bear grass, and magenta paintbrush—were so quintessentially “Mount Rainier.” We marveled at how many boxes this hike ticked: the creek crossings, the cool, shady forest, the ranger patrol cabin, and the reflections of Mount Rainier along the way.

Avalanche lily

Lupine

Pasqueflower

Bear grass

After a brief break, we began the trek back to Longmire. For me, this was the longest hike I had attempted in a while, so I was ready to be done with it after the first couple miles on the way back :D Thankfully, the shade helped with the warm temperatures we were descending to. We paused at Pyramid Creek to refuel near a shady shrub that had zero mosquitoes, and returned to the car at about 4:00 p.m. After picking up Arnold Palmers and a Mount Rainier shirt for Onur, we headed back towards Seattle, capping off our day with dinner at Naan-N-Curry in Renton.

Hike #2: Shannon Ridge

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest & North Cascades National Park

8.0 miles round-trip, 2500 feet elevation gain

The next day we headed to Mount Baker, again on a trail that neither of us had done before. Grace had spotted it in one of her hiking books, and it seemed like it had spectacular views and would be less mileage and elevation than the day before. The only question mark was the condition of the trail—a couple sources mentioned that scrambling was necessary and that the trail was deeply eroded and rooty in some sections. It made me kind of nervous because we had done a hard hike the day before, but I felt it could be doable if we took our time, so that’s exactly what we did.

The drive was quite long from Seattle, about 2.5 hours one-way, and the last 5 miles were a slow drive on a gravelly and deeply potholed road. We arrived a little after 9:00 a.m. and were surprised to find a privy and clearly marked trailhead with maps and camping information. It turns out the trail is a popular route for climbers doing the Sulphide Glacier Route to Mount Shuksan, and we passed several groups coming up and returning from their climbs. Ultimately, no scrambling was needed. The trail ended up being a combination of Mount Si’s grade with some heavily eroded and rooted sections like the old trail to Mailbox Peak. Not difficult, just a little slow-going in those sections. I was glad I had on pants versus shorts for the brushy stretches.

shannon ridge trail

At one point we met a climb leader from Rye, New York. After making introductions all around and then going on our separate ways, Grace and I laughed when overheard him say, “Just four New Yorkers on the trail.” :D

When I think about the things I miss about hiking in Seattle (the shade, the wilderness, the dynamic mountain views), this chit-chatting and information exchange and general camaraderie is high on the list. I think it’s like this because the wilderness demands it—trails are generally more remote, more wild, and less regulated than the immediate Bay Area (excluding the Sierra Nevada of course). Exchanging information is as much a safety tactic as it is a kind gesture.

In any case, we reached a tree-filled view of Mount Baker as we arrived on Shannon Ridge. We kept hiking north to the signed boundary of North Cascades National Park where we saw several flattened campsites on either side of the boundary. We picked one with a clear view and took what felt like a million pictures :) Thankfully, fewer bugs bothered us here, so we could really take our time and take it in.

Looking west to Mount Baker, with mountain heather in the foreground

View from our lunch spot. Dirty girl gaiters :)

I think that neither Grace nor I expected the hikes to be as beautiful as they were, and it was just a wonderful long weekend catching up with a dear friend and seeing Mount Rainier and Mount Baker again. We got so lucky with two bluebird days too! Back in the Golden State, I’m pretty sore from our adventuresome hikes, but freshly inspired to seek out more mountains :)

Have a fantastic weekend :)

Mount Rainier on the way to Mirror Lakes