|Distance:||9.6 miles, RT|
|Hiking Time:||5-7 hrs|
|Elevation Gain:||2,530 ft|
|High Point:||6,250 ft|
|Snow Free:||July - October|
|Trailhead Pass:||National Park Pass Required|
|GPS Waypoints:||Trail Parking Lot in White River Campground:|
N 46° 54' 07", W 121° 38' 32"
Junction for Emmons Moraine Trail:
N 46° 54' 00", W 121° 39' 55"
Glacier Basin Camp: N 46° 53' 17", W 121° 42' 18"
Last hiked: August 7, 2012
This is one trail you'll want to save for a clear day as you'll miss the Emmons Glacier, and its sharply defined crevasses, if the mountain is hiding behind clouds.
And in summer, the wildflower displays along the trail are most spectacular set in front of a beautiful blue sky. From moraine to meadows filled with wildflowers, you'll want to see it all. To get the most bang for your buck, include the side trail to the Emmons Moraine for even closer views of the glacier, the moraine and jade-green ponds formed by the glacier.
Glacier Basin is not only one of the most spectacular settings inside Mount Rainier National Park, the Glacier Basin trail is also the beginning of the climbing route to Camp Schurman. Camp Schurman is where mountain climbers on the east side of the mountain camp before heading to or returning from the summit of Mount Rainier.
On this trail expect to mingle with history buffs, wildflower enthusiasts, mountain climbers, hikers of all ages and sizes - perhaps even a bear or two. On our recent hike we met a hiker wearing bear-bells (these are frequently used in Glacier National Park to alert grizzly bears to your presence); some hikers opt to carry bear spray.
The trail is in excellent condition thanks to volunteer trail crews from Washington Trails Association (WTA) and their work rerouting lower sections of the trail where storms had destroyed parts of the trail. Today you'll see where downed trees were removed, where the trail was shored up with rock walls and footbridges placed where needed. The edges of the "new" stretch still look a little raw though they are already filling in with new vegetation and it won't be long before this refurbished stretch of trail will look like it's been there forever. Nature may be hard on the land but she is also forgiving.
The trail begins at the end of the White River Campground loop and is well-signed. In about a mile you'll come to the junction with the Emmons Moraine trail - a short trail well-worth including as part of the Glacier Basin experience. Though the trail is short it packs a geological punch - here you'll gaze down on glacial ponds created by the Emmons glacier. You might envision "snow and ice" when thinking about glaciers but a glacier doesn't end where snow and ice stop. A moraine is a ridge of till (unsorted sediments) deposited by a glacier. As you gaze down to the deep cut made by the Emmons Glacier you'll see how the glacier shaped the valley. That trickle from the snout of the Emmons glacier you see from the Emmons Moraine trail is the headwaters of the roaring White River.
If you do hike the Emmons Moraine trail, don't get too close to the edge of the moraine as the trail is undercut in places and don't venture beyond the end of the official path (designated by a sign). If you venture beyond you travel at your own risk and besides, the views are about as good as views get. Save your energy for the climb to Glacier Basin and return to the Glacier Basin Trail.
Back on the Glacier Basin trail you'll be climbing at a fairly steady grade, so pace yourself and enjoy the journey. En route you'll be stopping to ponder rusty mining artifacts and if you time it right, wildflowers in just about every shade of the color spectrum.
At about three miles, the trail enters Glacier Basin with designated campsites and a toilet nearby. Glacier Basin is the site of a bygone mining camp (Camp Starbo). By the late 1890s copper fever struck and over 40 claims were filed in the basin. Eventually the Mount Rainier Mining Company bought all the mining claims and merged with the Starbo Mine. It is hard to envision today, but by the early 1900s several structures stood on the grounds including a hotel, a blacksmith shop, even a power plant. Today visitors will find views and campsites rather than minerals. There are several suitable spots for lunch - find a log in the sun or shade or continue on the trail into the big meadow where you'll find furniture-sized boulders ideal for sitting upon for better views. Here you may spot a marmot or hear their sharp, warning whistles if you venture too close.
The trail continues along the top of the moraine paralleling the serpentine path of the White River; the views along the moraine are staggering not only for wildflower enthusiasts but those who relish mountain scenery. Straight ahead (above) is the white gleam of icy Mount Ruth, below the rubble of the moraine bracketing the river with braided streams wending their way through the glacial debris. Rising above it all is Mount Rainier in all its glory and a shark's teeth row of pinnacles (right) that may entice experienced hikers to venture a little further. As if that isn't enough to dazzle your senses there are the flowers everywhere you look.
We continued hiking along the top of the moraine as the path narrowed, at other times on a more user-friendly boot-beaten path made by climbers over the years. The trail continues up to Saint Elmos Pass along the climber's trail to Camp Schurman.
My companions stopped for a snack while I explored a little further though the wildflower displays were so amazing I didn't need to venture far - in August the magenta paintbrush was at its peak as were lupine, valerian and bistort. Pink and yellow Monkey flowers were also prevalent here and at lower elevations of the trail. Here's a partial list of the flowers we saw in August - lupine, cinqueflower, valerian, monkey flowers, Indian paintbrush (red and magenta), bistort, columbine, partridge foot, asters, penstemon, avalanche lilies, phlox and western pasqueflowers. This year with the late snow-melt many of the flowers we saw in August will last into September.
On our way back to the trailhead we ran into the brown bear the park has warned hikers about who hike/camp in Glacier Basin. Apparently the bear is getting a little too comfortable around humans though as of this writing there haven't been any "close calls." Hence, some hikers carry bear spray (we do) and some wear bear-bells. Other safety measure hikers can take when hiking through bear country is to sing or talk loudly to let the bear know of your presence. Should you encounter one - back up slowly and remember that some black bears are brown (not all black bears are black) and black bears can climb unlike grizzlies. If you encounter a bear with cubs be extra vigilant. Warnings will be posted at the trailhead if anything changes or if the bear becomes dangerous; meanwhile don't let the bear detract from experiencing the splendor of this place. Besides, we considered it a gift to spot this bear munching in a meadow as we silently passed by.
No matter your religious or spiritual views, Glacier Basin is probably about as close as one can get to heaven on earth. Here, one can truly come to believe that there is a Grand Design of sorts and that anything Man dreams up can't come close to such perfection as that found in this mountain setting. Just ask a marmot or an Indian paintbrush or even that bear we passed on our way back to the trailhead.
Getting there: From Enumclaw head east on State Route 410 to the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park (White River Entrance), turn right at the road junction (Sunrise) and continue 5 miles and after crossing the White River turn left onto the White River Road, continue to road end at the White River Campground. Find trailhead parking on the left-hand side of the road (near the upper end of the campground).
Additional Information: Map: Green Trails No. The recommended map is Green Trails map No. 269S (Mount Rainier Wonderland). You can also visit their website: www.nps.gov/mora/
- Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert