|Distance:||3 miles, RT|
|Hiking Time:||2.5 hrs|
|Elevation Gain:||1,000 ft|
|High Point:||6,392 ft|
|Snow Free:||August - September|
|Trailhead Pass:||National Park Pass Required|
|GPS Waypoints:||Trailhead: N 46° 47' 09", W 121° 44' 06"|
Golden Gate: N 46° 47' 56", W 121° 43' 22"
The summertime displays along the Golden Gate Trail at Paradise can only be described as splendor. This trail changes with the seasons, offering brilliant fall color, colorful, majestic meadows and eventually, deep snow. As we trekked along the trail, the flowers were at their peak and in a hurry to proliferate before the snows come again. Spring flowers were still blooming next to late-summer flowers. A partial list of flowers we saw on this summer day included Veronica (Cusicks speedwell), Indian paintbrush (red and magenta), false hellebore, cow parsley, louseworts, monkey flowers, lupine, yarrow, valerian, bistort, rosy spirea, cinquefoil, western pasqueflower - even sprinkles of early-season glacier lilies and avalanche lilies.
Get an early start on this trail and go on a weekday if you can - the parking lot fills quickly with hikers, sight-seers and tourists. The network of trails at Paradise is captivating but be sure to pick up a handout of the trail system at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center if you are not already familiar with the trail system.
The Golden Gate trail starts from the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and is well signed with directional arrows and mileage. In .2 miles from the visitor center turn right onto the Golden Gate trail (signed). You can also get onto the trail system from Paradise Inn (also well-signed). The Golden Gate trail contours below Alta Vista before climbing to cross Myrtle Creek at Myrtle Falls. A viewpoint to the right leads to an overlook of the waterfall. If the skies are clear and The Mountain is "out" you'll want to stop for view of Myrtle Creek with Mount Rainier rising above.
Expect company at Myrtle Falls - it is a stunning viewpoint and visitors come from afar to experience this magical setting where the waterfall, the emerald-green meadows and the picture-book view of Mount Rainier come together in a climax of color.
We were pleased that so many visitors were enjoying the beauty of Mount Rainier National Park - we met many different nationalities on the trail and hikers ranging from the aged to the very young. We've noticed that no one ever seems "grumpy" on the mountain; it seems to bring out that wonderful feeling of "we're all one family." We believe there are good spirits on the mountain.
The trail makes a long, rising traverse, then switchbacks through more meadows as it continues toward Golden Gate. If you can tear your eyes away from Mount Rainier, there are also dramatic views of the Tatoosh Peaks and on a clear day, look further south to Mount Adams. Look above to catch the sparkles of a small waterfall bordered with colorful clumps of wildflowers and moss. You may also spot climbing clients practicing ice axe arrest techniques on snowy slopes above the trail as we did. You may be inspired to take a climbing class or sign up for a guided climb - we could hear the clients shouts of glee or terror as they slid down the snow practicing the technique of digging the head of the ice axe into the snow to break their fall and assuming the "self arrest" position (ice axe arrest takes practice).
As we continued climbing we spotted more and more Western pasqueflower, some fresh and young, others had bloomed earlier in the season where snow had melted and had already gone into "towhead" mode. As summer winds down these flowers form heads of seeds that look like swirls of white cotton candy. The flower is sometimes called "Old Man of the Mountain" or "Towhead Babies."
The topography transitions as the trail approaches the crossing of Edith Creek - there are fewer flowers on this edge of this moraine. Where there is water you may spot shooting stars or monkey flowers, especially along Edith Creek. Plants grow smaller here; clumps of lime-green moss line the creek, some of it colored red from minerals in the soil.
After crossing Edith Creek on a bridge, the Golden Gate trail ends at a junction with the Skyline Trail (6,392 feet), our high point. This junction makes a scenic turnaround; stronger hikers can explore beyond or make a longer loop back to Paradise via the Lakes Trail or continue on the Skyline Trail.
To get there: From the Nisqually Entrance of the park drive to Paradise via the Nisqually-Paradise road to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and parking at 5,383 feet.
For additional information on fees, rules and regulations, conditions, reserving campsites call Mount Rainier National Park at 360-569-2211 or visit their website at www.nps.gov/mora/ . The recommended map for Mount Rainier National Park is Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S).
- Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert