|Distance:||7 miles, RT|
|Hiking Time:||5 hrs|
|Elevation Gain:||3,048 ft|
|High Point:||6,600 ft|
|Snow Free:||Mid-June - October|
|Trailhead Pass:||Northwest Forest Pass Required|
Trailhead:N 46° 55' 19", W 121° 32' 02"
This trail has just about everything a hiker could ask for; views of Mount Rainier, a Monet palette of flower gardens and a workout with a degree of solitude. The steep trail leads to the site of a lookout built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) several decades ago. Get an early start on a hot day. While the trail is demanding, the scenery is so rewarding that you just might not notice the steep rate at which you're ascending.
After immediately crossing Crystal Creek on a footbridge, the trail begins to climb. The first stretch passes through shady forest that gives little hint of the splendor ahead. Watch for a spur (right) that leads to a view of Mount Rainier; given recent forest fires, Mount Rainier could be hazy. Your best chance for a haze-free view is in the morning. Other spurs lead to overlooks of Crystal Creek tucked away in a gorge.
At 1.3 miles you'll come to a signed junction (N 46 55 '10", W 121 31' 18", elevation 5,027 feet) - the Crystal Peak trail is to the right. You'll soon cross Crystal Creek again - the bridge that used to span Crystal Creek is missing but the jerry built bridge makes the crossing easy. From the crossing the trail contours across a boulder field before it dips back into the forest. Here the forest is cool and pleasant with Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock and alpine fir. As the trail gains elevation shrubs and wildflowers gradually replace the forest.
In July we spotted coralroot, Canadian dogwood and wild strawberry at lower-elevations where the forest allowed peek-a-boo views of Mount Rainier. Later in summer look for pearly everlasting and fireweed beside the trail.
The switchbacks are long and lazy as forest gives way to colorful meadows with occasional groves of sub-alpine trees. Here Mount Rainier and Little Tahoma come into view; you'll also see the bread loaf-shaped form of Burroughs Mountain. Once out of the forest the trail is a walk through hanging meadows where white snags are prosaically scattered across the grassy slopes; each a work of art.
The trail continues to the site of the lookout at the end of the last switchback where the trail meets a rocky ridge. Little remains of the lookout - we saw a few rusty nails and an ancient, weather-beaten board.
For a view of Crystal Lakes you'll need to climb about 100 feet higher. A path continues along the ridge to the high point (about 6,600 feet). Here there is a stunning view of Crystal Lakes below, the upper lake nestled within a rocky cirque. From the high point you can also see Mount Adams and on a clear day, Mount Saint Helens. Bring the map (Green Trails No. 270 Mount Rainier East) to help identify the multitude of ridges and peaks that stretch to the horizon.
The elevation gain is about 3,100 feet to the lookout site and 3,200 feet to the high point.
From Enumclaw drive State Route 410 and in about 4.5 miles past the turn-off to the National park boundary; find the trailhead (left). There is parking on both sides of the highway. No pets allowed. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
- Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert