On the lip of Chinook Pass, the Naches Peak Loop trail is one of the most popular hikes at Mount Rainier National Park, and for good reason. This relatively easy 3.5 loop trail has it all: pristine mountain tarns, kaleidoscopic wildflower carpets in season, beautiful sub-alpine meadows, a towering peak, and oh, yeah, jaw-dropping views of that snowy colossus in the distance.
To begin, park in the lot at Tipsoo Lake, about half a mile west of Chinook Pass on SR 410. Enjoy a picnic lunch at a table near the lot or head out on the trail to your left to Chinook Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail. (Dogs are allowed on the PCT. They are prohibited on trails inside the park.)
The trail starts with a gentle climb along a hillside above the lake. Keep going. You’ll cross Chinook Pass by pedestrian bridge. You won’t know which way to look during this initial portion of the hike, which includes a steady but reasonably mild climb. To the east, the magnificent American River Valley opens to the horizon. In season, wildflowers hug the hillside on your right, splashing Renoir pastels everywhere.
You can take a breather or swig from your water bottle at about a mile or so in when the trail rounds a lovely little tarn. Continue on. You have an option of hoofing it down to Dewey Lake – a worthwhile endeavor if you don’t mind the uphill haul on the return. Or you can continue on the Peak trail.
The Mountain will canter into view in the west as you round the next bend. There are several flat rocky outcroppings near another tarn at this point, roughly three miles in. They make for a nice lunch or rest stop with killer views of the Mountain.
Have your camera ready.
You can tackle this trail hiking either clockwise or counter-clockwise. We’ve done both. Repeatedly. For the best views of the Mountain, hike clockwise. The Mountain is at your back if you hike counter-clockwise.
At an elevation of more than 5,400 feet, the Naches Peak Loop is one of the first to close when the snow flies. It’s also one of the last to melt out in the spring. We’ve been to Tipsoo Lake when snow is still hip-deep – in late June. Best season to tackle this don’t miss trail is in the fall. Our favorite time frame is mid or late September, after school starts. Summer crowds thin. The rush of visitors has slowed to a trickle. If the weather holds into early or late October, the fall finery is world class.
Don’t forget to stroll around Tipsoo Lake after you circumnavigate Naches Peak. The lake is pristine. Blue as Delft china, Tipsoo Lake is perched in a bowl below SR 410. In season it’s ringed with mountain paintbrush, lupine and beargrass. The summer blooms are incredible and sometimes linger into early fall.
In any season, the Naches Peak trail is definitely worth the wait.
A “rookie” trail:
- Offers a choice introduction to the park’s beauty and stunning scenery.
- Doesn’t require specialized gear like crampons or triathlete status, although being in decent physical shape is a definite plus when tackling any trail at Mount Rainier National Park.
- Is family-friendly, easily accessible and features exceptional landscapes like jaw-dropping vistas, thundering waterfalls, outrageous wildflower meadows, or crystal-clear lakes.
- Is at least one mile but is five miles or less round trip.