|Distance:||7 miles, RT|
|Hiking Time:||3.5 hrs|
|Elevation Gain:||1,350 ft|
|High Point:||5,185 ft|
|Snow Free:||Mid-July - Mid-October|
|Trailhead Pass:||Northwest Forest Pass Required|
Trailhead:N 46° 53' 27", W 121° 35' 49"
If it's not critical that you view Mt. Rainier, but just want to enjoy a reasonable hike to shallow lakes and tranquil alpine meadows while in the shadow of ragged high ridges, then choose Owyhigh Lakes.
From Highway 410 on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park, take the White River entrance road and drive 2.1 miles to a parking lot on the right side of the road, about one mile beyond Shaw Creek. The trailhead is across the road. The elevation is about 3,750 ft.
The trail ascends gradually through the woods. The path is wide and smooth with long switchbacks. At 0.3 miles you're high enough to get a good look down on the polished boulders of Shaw Creek. The trail assumes its upward route through deep forest up the ridge. Along the way, you're getting occasional glimpses through the trees of the road that climbs to Sunrise across the White River valley.
The pace remains steady for more than two miles as you wind through the woods but it's never so steep that you think you'll never make it. At 3.0 miles, you'll cross a footlog over Tamanos Creek, which is normally dry by mid-August. After making your way across the footlog, follow the trail back into the forest (and not a way trail leading up through a green meadow). Proceed to a junction. Veer right and follow the path as it levels off and the timber thins out as you wind through alpine meadowland above Owyhigh Lakes. Had you taken the other trail at the junction, you would have ended up at Tamanos Wilderness Camp, the only camp on this hike.
The lakes are approximately a hundred ft below the trail. Many hikers make a beeline for the shore however they can, despite there being no maintained trail, per se, accessing the lakes and no signage. Instead, if you patiently stay on the trail, to the south end of the lakes, you'll find a tiny way trail leading down to the water's edge.
Enjoy the view around you -- Governor's Ridge to the east and Tamanos Mountain to the west. Take time for a snack or lunch and spend time exploring the area before you return the way you came to your car.
If, however, you've planned the trip with two vehicles or can be dropped off and picked up, you can make a one-way trip by continuing on toward Highway 123 near Ohanapecosh. Another option would be to meet other hikers you know who have come the other way and exchange vehicle keys at the 5,400-foot pass about 1/2 mile south of the lakes.
From the pass, where you have a view of the Cowlitz Chimneys, you head south through alpine meadows and forests. The trail drops steadily into Kotsuck Creek valley and down to the junction with the East Side Trail. At about two miles from the pass, you reach a waterfall. In three miles, you cross Boundary Creek. Take time to walk up the creek bed to another waterfall. Rest a bit because the last 1/2 mile will sap some of your energy as you climb in steep switchbacks and gain 300 ft, crossing Chinook and Deer Creeks to Highway 123 and the Deer Creek trailhead.
Head home feeling refreshed by the alpine solitude gained from an outstanding hike, one not so popular among hikers but certainly well worth the time and effort. You've taken the path less traveled and gained its rewards.