Your luggage is packed. You’ve got enough camping gear to choke a mule. Your feet can’t wait to hit those Mount Rainier trails. But you haven’t quite decided on where you want to set up camp. Which Rainier campground is best?
That depends. Mount Rainier National Park offers three auto campgrounds – Ohanapecosh, White River, and Cougar Rock. So “best” is pretty subjective. But if you prefer rustic, peace and quiet, a beautiful setting on a rushing river surrounded by an incredible old-growth forest, check out Ohanapecosh. Been camping there for years. In fact, Ohanapecosh is our favorite campground at Mount Rainier National Park. Hands down.
Perched on the southeast flank of the park, Ohanapecosh is roughly twenty minutes and eleven miles up the road from the quaint mountain burgh of Packwood. It’s about three 3 miles north of the park boundary on highway 123. The campground inclues several loops, though only a few are open during the off-season. (A Loop is our favorite.)
The Ohanapecosh campground is rustic. It has flush toilets but no hot water. No showers. The road through the campground has been recently re-paved. A nice place for bicycling or walking with the fam. Each camp site has a picnic table and a fire grate.
The sprawling, 188-site Ohanapecosh campground at Mount Rainer often gives first-time visitors the impression that they’ve fallen into a vast vat of verdure. Lichen leaks from boughs and bower. Giant conifers litter the forest floor like fallen behemoths. Sunshine skips across so many shades of emerald that the landscape looks like Oz, especially near Silver Falls.
One of the park’s most popular trails, the Silver Falls Loop is a pleasant three-mile walk from the Ohanapecosh campground to a thundering gusher. It’s one of the first trails to melt out in the spring and is a favorite for families, seniors, youngsters, and pretty much anyone who’s vertical and breathing. It’s an easy hike to and from Ohanapecosh and a great introduction to the treasures and timelessness of an old-growth forest.
Tip: If you’re tent camping, be sure to select a campsite that’s fairly level rather than one in a divot or a downhill slant. If you don’t, you’re liable to wind up in a floating mattress if it rains during the night.
Ohanapecosh is usually open from late May to late September/early October, depending on weather. $20 a night. Reservations required during peak season. Otherwise, it’s first come, first-served.
Other tip: Avoid peak season (late summer through Labor Day) if you can, especially if you’re allergic to uber crowds. Every site in the campground will be packed during this time frame. Ditto any summer weekend when the forecast is for clear skies and sunshine. If you want to avoid crowds and soak up some solitude while decent weather is still likely, the best time visit Ohana is after Labor Day or during the week (don’t tell anyone).
For more information, click on Mount Rainier Campgrounds or call: (360) 569-2211.
Are you hiking or walking? Are the terms interchangeable? If not, what’s the difference?
That depends on who you ask. Here’s my short list of 10+ differences between a walk and a hike:
It’s a Walk IF:
- The trail is paved. Asphalt, cement, sidewalk, boardwalk.
- The trail is two miles or less. This distance is a good leg-stretcher. A nice warm-up. But it’s not quite a “hike.”
- Covering the round trip mileage takes an hour or less.
- It’s in the city. Part of the “concrete jungle.”
- The trail is all or mostly level.
It’s a Hike IF:
- It’s at least two miles.
- It’s an unpaved trail.
- The round-trip takes a couple hours or more.
- It’s out in the boonies. The wilderness. Lots of fresh air. Plenty of flora and fauna, solitude and minimal crowds.
- You have to expend some serious effort to get there and back.
- The terrain may be rough and includes both uphill and downhill.
Both walking and hiking have their attractions. Walks are typically easier. Shorter. More laid back. A walk is synonymous with a stroll. Meander. Amble. Saunter. A walk generally requires little to no specialized gear or equipment. A sturdy pair of shoes, a broad-brimmed hat, a map and a water bottle and you’re good to go.
A hike, on the other hand, is typically longer, more rigorous and more challenging. A hike requires a little more preparation. Like an early start. Carrying the Ten Essentials. Investing in a good pair or trekking poles. Being prepared for an overnight stay in the elements if you have to. First Aid basics. Knowing what to do and what not to do if you meet a bear or a cougar on the trail.
Both walking and hiking are fun, with significant health and mental benefits. What would you add?
You’re not into snow shoeing. Hip-dip snow makes you break out in hives. But you’re still rarin’ to hit the trails at Mount Rainier National Park.
Given the amount of snow that’s been dumped on the Mountain this winter, you may have to wait awhile if you’re waiting for Panorama Point or Dege Peak to melt out.
Not to fret. If your favorite trails at Paradise or Sunrise are still frozen solid, there are other possibilities.* Provided you check on current trail and weather conditions and are properly prepared, you have two early season options: Longmire or Ohanapecosh.
Here are five great lower elevation trails that melt out a little sooner than the rest. Again, be sure to check road, trail and weather conditions before you head out.
- Trail of the Shadows
This interpretive trail of about .7 miles starts right across the street from National Park Inn. Mostly level, with a net elevation gain of about 55 feet. The trail head elevation is at 2,760 feet. You can hike the entire loop in about 30 minutes. This interpretive trail is a great introduction to Mount Rainier’s rich history as well as a nice option for families with young children.
Best season is June to November, but this trail is accessible much of the year except when snow levels drop below 2,750 feet. The Rampart Ridge Trail connects on the west side of this loop.
Take Highway 706 to the park’s Nisqually entrance. Continue about six miles to Longmire. Park in the lot at Longmire’s National Park Inn. You can’t miss it. The trail begins directly across the street from the Inn.
2. Rampart Ridge
The Rampart Ridge trail is relatively short but steep, particularly if you hike clockwise. It begins at the Trail of the Shadows, across the street from National Park Inn.
At 4.6 miles RT, this “moderate” trail isn’t for the faint-hearted. But the scenery includes waterfalls, a thick forest and wildflowers in season. You can take a short spur trail just below the ridge to the Longmire Viewpoint for a jaw-dropping look at Longmire and park headquarters. Keep going to the top of the ridge. The views here are also tremendous.
If hiking counter-clockwise, the Mountain is at your back. The trail is steeper in this direction, but the climb is shorter than the clockwise option. When you near the ridge, there’s an option for heading down to Pyramid Creek Camp. Part of the Wonderland Trail, this section takes you dowwwwwn to Pyramid Creek and a rocky canyon with show-stopping views of Mount Rainier. If you have the time, it’s worth the extra effort. (Pyramid Peak is one of the highest free-standing points on the south side of the park.) Just be advised that the hike out is all uphill – about 500 feet up.
The Rampart Ridge hike has an elevation gain of 1,339 feet. It’s high point is 5,870 feet. The trail usually melts out in June. RT hiking time is about 2.5 – 3.0 hours. We take our time and take longer.
You may want to pass on this one if you have creaky knees or are allergic to switchbacks. But it’s a great option if Panorama Point or Dege Peak are still snowed under or otherwise inaccessible.
If you find your way to National Park Inn at Longmire, you’re halfway home. The trail begins on the Trail of the Shadows (see above), directly across from the Inn. You can walk that loop clockwise one-fourth of a mile to the Rampart Ridge trailhead. Or you can continue past the Inn to a paved turnout/lot on the Longmire-Paradise Road. It’s on the right. Cross the street and you’ll find a signed trail head. This is the best option if you want to hike counter-clockwise (recommended).
3. Carter Falls
Mazama Ridge and the Alta Vista Trails at Paradise are still buried under snow. Stevens Canyon Road is still closed. Where can you hike on the park’s southwest side? If a few weeks of warm weather have put in an appearance, check out Carter and Madcap Falls.
Cross the chocolate-milk Nisqually River. Follow an old service road until it ends at about .4 miles. The path dips slightly and then starts climbing as Eagle Peak parades into view. The jagged peaks of the Tatoosh Mountains loom over your shoulder like the giant teeth of a primordial dinosaur.
You can hear Carter Falls before you see it, at about 3.3 miles. This sudsing 55-foot falls is the last of the multitude of waterfalls cascading along the river. It’s named for Henry Carter, a guide who reportedly built the first trail to Paradise Valley.
Madcap Falls is a short walk – about .3 miles – up the trail. Paradise River Camp is just beyond.
From the park’s Nisqually entrance on Highway SR 706, continue six miles to Longmire and another 2.25 miles up the Longmire-Paradise road to the wide shoulder on the right-hand side. It’s just below Cougar Rock Campground. Park on the right side of the road near the river. The trail begins after you cross a foot log across the Nisqually River.
Also see: Longmire Winter Trails and Activities
4. Silver Falls Loop Trail
One of the park’s easier trails, the Silver Falls Loop is a pleasant three mile walk to one of the park’s most impressive gushers. It’s one of the first trails to melt out in the spring and is probably “the” quintessential “Mount Rainier hike.” It’s certainly one of the most well-known. In fact, this trail is one of the first Northwest hiking memories still accessible in the cluttered hard drive of this author’s brain. I vaguely recall chugging over Ohana’s red earth as a preschooler, marching to the Falls with Mom and my brothers. Tired feet notwithstanding, I remember returning with a proud sense of accomplishment tinged with awe. More than five decades later, not much has changed.
Located on the southeast side of the park, Silver Falls is also a favorite for families, seniors, youngsters, and pretty much anyone who’s vertical and breathing. It’s an easy hike to and from Ohanapecosh and a great introduction to the treasures and timelessness of an old-growth forest. You can start either behind the Ohana Visitor Center or near the Amphitheatre across the Ohana Campground bridge.
You can’t see the Mountain from here. But if you continue north to the Eastside Trail junction, you’ll cross sudsing Laughingwater Creek and trek toward the Grove of the Patriarchs and some Really Big Trees.
Getting there: Drive US 12 about 8 miles east of Packwood to the junction with SR 123. Turn north onto SR 123 and continue to the park gate. You’ll have to park outside the gate during the winter season, November 1 – May 1. Hoof it up SR 123 until you get to Ohanapecosh. You can either chug through the Ohana Campground and pick up the trail behind the visitor center, or continue up SR 123 until you reach a trail head sign. It’ll be on the left. Keep a sharp eye out.
5. Grove of the Patriarchs
They say there’s no such thing as a boring trail at Mount Rainier National Park. Take the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, a 1.3 mile loop with a 100-foot elevation gain. With a high point at about 2,200 feet, this easy walk winds along the aquamarine waters of the Ohanapecosh River, ending in a splendid loop of soaring conifers that unhinge any jaw. Think Emerald City. Times ten.
You cross the Ohanapecosh over a suspension bridge just prior to entering the grove, which is on an island. Go one at a time. If you have an aversion to crossing a rickety, swaying suspension bridge, then dash across lickety-split. On second thought, belay that. Running will just make the bridge bounce more. So take deep breaths, hold tight and take your time. I’ve crossed that sucker like a zillion times. So far, so good.
The Grove of the Patriarchs is one of the easiest and most crowded trails in the entire park. You can complete the loop in under an hour, but a hike through this “green cathedral” is worth much more. You can combine this hike with the Silver Falls hike mentioned earlier.
While bathrooms, a drinking fountain and a picnic table or two are located at the parking lot, water isn’t turned on during the off-season. That’s sometimes good to know. You’re welcome.
The trail is located just past the Stevens Canyon Entrance on SR 123. But SR 123 is closed to vehicular traffic this time of year. You have to walk up the road from the gate, as noted previously. If you opt for this trail as a solo jaunt rather than an extension of the Silver Falls Trail, you can walk up the road to the entrance and continue east to a parking area on the right side of the road. The trail head is on your right. It’s well signed.
Plan Your Visit to Mount Rainier:
All vehicles are required to carry tire chains when traveling in the park. All vehicles, including 4WD and AWD vehicles, must carry tire chains in the park during the winter season (November 1 – May 1) and be prepared to use them when tire chain requirements are posted. Note that weather conditions can change quickly.
The gate at Longmire on the road to Paradise closes nightly. The road may close at any time, or may not open during the day, depending on conditions. Check Twitter for gate status and other updates (account not required to view).
*The Mount Rainier National Park web site says, “Check back for summer 2017 trail reports. See above for Winter Trail Reports.” Check the Northwest Avalanche Center Report and the Mount Rainier Recreational Weather Report before heading out. Avalanche assessment and route-finding skills are needed for many winter activities in the park. Call and speak to a ranger for more information between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm at 360-569-6575.
If the snow’s still too deep, return to these trails during the summer if you’re able. They’re all worth the effort.
Looking for a quiet trail that’s one of southwest Washington’s best kept secrets? Have I got a deal for you!
Lace up those boots and explore an old pioneer cemetery atop a lonely, green-garbed hillside hugging the Johns River Wildlife Area in Grays Harbor.
Hiker Dude and I take Hiker Dog on this trail frequently. But it’s kind of a secret. We rarely meet another sole (that’s not a typo). The site is quiet and almost always deserted. It winds around a slough and through thick forest for about 1.6 miles. You eventually reach a pioneer cemetery, the old Markham Cemetery, at the crest of a knoll.
Starting out from the gravel parking lot off of Highway 105, the trail is lined with alders and evergreens. The river is on your right. The trail is wide and well-shaded. You’ll find a weather-beaten bench on the left side of the trail at roughly a mile in.
There’s a greenish truck bridge just past the bench. Cross it and start climbing. The trail levels out as you approach a clear cut area. It winds past this area and loops around to the right. The trail then straightens out and is fringed with soaring evergreens. Head downhill for about 250 meters. Cross a culvert with an expansive view of the Ocean Spray plant. Continue uphill.
You’ll soon reach a barely discernible sign. It used to have “Cemetery” etched on the board. That’s gone now. It’s been replaced by an orange right arrow.
Follow the arrow. The entrance to the cemetery trail looks like something out of the Amazonian rain forest. If you’re over four feet tall, you’ll have to stoop. The trail opens up a few steps later. Watch for downed logs. The cemetery’s secluded setting is peaceful and restive. If you visit during winter, when the surrounding foliage isn’t as thick, the sights above the river are terrific.
Some sources indicate that the cemetery was once part of the Fry Family homestead. Because the cemetery itself is unmarked, it’s easy to get lost. Pay attention to where you’ve been and how you’ll get back. A casual hiker can reach the site in under an hour.
Leaving the cemetery, the trail continues uphill briefly. Depending on the season, you may find evidence of bear in the area. So keep a sharp eye and a clear head.
Tip: Wear sturdy footwear and a hat. If it’s sunny, apply sunscreen and bring plenty of water. There isn’t any on the trail and you’ll need it.
Located near the Ocean Spray cranberry plant, the Johns River Wilderness Area includes two access sites nestled between Markham and Ocosta. About four miles RT, the cemetery trail is located on the east side of the river, just before the Ocean Spray plant.
The Johns River Wildlife Area is managed by The Department of Fish and Wildlife. The area covers more than 6,700 acres, managed in 15 units located near the Pacific Coast. The local portion is 12 miles southwest of Aberdeen off Highway 105.
Access to the cemetery trail is unmarked and easy to miss. To access the site, head out of Aberdeen toward Westport on Highway 105. The undeveloped parking area at the trail head is on the left, near the sign for Markham. It’s the next driveway past Dave’s Harbor Guns, about 10 miles from Westport. If you hit the Ocean Spray plant, you’ve gone too far. You’ll need a Discover Pass.
If you plan to spend any real time on the trail, you’ll need quick and healthy snacks to keep your body going. You can also burn a serious hole in your wallet purchasing fancy, pre-packaged snack products. Cut your costs significantly by making your own snacks at home, on the cheap. It’s not that difficult and the possibilities are as endless as your creativity and ingenuity!
By “cheap,” I don’t mean “junk food” or brainless empty calories. The recipes/options here use healthy ingredients. We make them ourselves as alternatives to pricey commercial versions.
Hiker Babe’s rule of thumb for trail munchies: Snacks should be high quality, lightweight, easily stored and tasty. They should also be simple. That is, easily eaten while you’re on the go. (Hiker Dude and I rarely come to a “full stop” for lunch.)
Our favorite trail snacks include homemade trail mix, beef jerky, and chewy granola bars. Check out:
TRAIL MIX. Try for a balance of salty, sweet and sour. Some of our favorite ingredients:
- Dried apricots (chopped)
- Banana chips
- Dried pineapple chunks
- Raisins, craisins, and/or dried cherries
- Peanuts and/or almonds
- Mini chocolate chips or M&Ms
- Goldfish cheddar crackers
- Mini pretzel sticks
Put ingredients in a large bowl and stir. Pack into individual Ziploc bags, using about one cup of nuts and pretzels/crackers to about half a cup each of chocolate and fruit. Save even more by purchasing your own dehydrator and dehydrating fruit ingredients yourself.
HIKER DUDE’S BEEF JERKY
1-1/2 pounds thinly sliced round steak
1 bottle honey teriyaki marinade
Slice round steak into strips 3 to 4 inches long and about an inch wide. Put in large Ziploc with half a bottle of marinade. Soak at least overnight. Remove from fridge. Lay steak strips out on paper towels. Pat dry. Transfer to a dehydrator. Let dry for 4 to 6 hours depending on how thick the strips are, or to taste. Vacuum seal. Place in freezer. Remove from freezer and toss into your backpack before heading out on your next hike. We’ve tried several different types and flavors of marinade. Honey teriyaki is our favorite. Note: You’ll need a pocketknife or small scissors to open the vacuum-sealed package. Be sure to pack one.
HIKER BABE’S HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS:
- 2 cups oats
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp. cinnamon
- Dash of ground cloves
- 2½ cups mix-ins (see below)
- ⅓ cup peanut butter
- 6 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
- ¼ cup honey or maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp. water
Dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, apricots, figs, dates, etc.), sunflower seeds, peanuts or other nuts, wheat germ or flax seed, chocolate chips, etc.
- Line an 8×8 square pan or a 9×13 rectangular dish with aluminum foil. Spray with Pam.
- If desired, process ⅓ cup of the oats in a blender until finely ground.
- Stir dry ingredients together (oats, ground oats, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, fruits/nuts/seeds).
- Whisk wet ingredients together – oil, honey, peanut butter, and water.
- Mix wet and dry ingredients. Spread in pan. Press firmly into the corners and edges.
- Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, until the top starts to brown and edges are golden brown. DO NOT OVERBAKE.
- Cut into desire sized bars when cool.
- Wrap each bar separately in plastic wrap. Store in a Ziploc bag or air-tight container.
Tip 1: Microwave honey for about 20 seconds on high so it’s not stiff.
Tip #2: Spray spoon/spatula with Pam or similar product so honey or maple syrup don’t stick to utensil.
Tip 3: This is NOT an exact recipe. Feel free to adjust to taste. You can also adjust moistness. If using old-fashioned oats, for example, you’ll need more moisteners. If you use chips, they melt and hold things together a little better. If you used dried fruits like raisins, you may want to “plump” them first by soaking in boiling water for a few minutes, or they’ll become rock-hard during baking.
OTHER TRAIL SNACK OPTIONS:
- Cheese sticks
- Beef jerky/Slim Jims
- Packaged cheese and crackers and/or packaged peanut butter and jelly crackers
- Oreo, Chocolate Chip, or Nutter Butter cookies (nobody’s perfect)
These options are lightweight, easily stashed in a backpack, and provide your body with both protein and carbs to help you reach that peak, waterfall, or backcountry camp site.
What are your favorite trail snacks?
Snow is coming down in dollops. Or it’s raining so hard you’re scouting supplies of gopherwood. What’s a hiker with “itchy feet” to do when weather conditions would give a Yeti cause for pause?
First off, don’t venture out on any hiking endeavor without checking the weather report and preparing properly. If you’re not into snowshoeing or other winter trail options, there are some things you can do now to make the most of your “down time” while you’re waiting for better hiking weather. Here are eight suggestions:
- Invest in a good quality trail guide. The single page maps provided by the nice National Park Service rangers at Mount Rainier National Park are okay. They offer basic, brief overviews of area trails at Ohanapecosh, Longmire, Paradise and Sunrise. If you’re looking for something meatier, however, I recommend Ron Judd’s: Day Hike Mount Rainier: The Best Trails You Can Hike in a Day. For the Olympic Peninsula region, check out Day Hike Olympic Peninsula: The Best Trails You Can Hike in a Day, by Seabury Blair. Both include trail descriptions, topo maps, and trail ratings and photos. Hiker Dude recommends The Creaky Knees Guide: The 100 Best Easy Hikes in Washington, also by Seabury Blair. (Guides for other states are available).
- Unless you’re planning to hike to your hike, now would be a good time to get your vehicle tuned up. Check the oil, fluid levels, rotate the tires, check your spare, etc.
- Take stock of your emergency stash. Are your batteries fresh? What about extra food and water? Blankets? An emergency shelter? Tire chains? (Required for all vehicles inside Mount Rainier National Park during the winter season, November 1 – May 1. 4WD and AWD not exempted.) What do you need to replace or update?
- Make reservations. Don’t wait until the week before your planned hiking excursion to snag a campsite or a room at the inn. You’re likely to be left out. Plan ahead. Book your room or site now. You can book a room at National Park Inn at Longmire or at Paradise Inn via Mount Rainier Guest Services. National Park Inn is open year-round. The adjacent general store offers cross-country ski equipment and snowshoe rentals during the winter months. Paradise Inn typically operates from late May through September-ish, depending on weather.
- Make your own trail snacks. Whether you dehydrate your own beef jerky – I recommend thin-sliced round steak marinated in honey teriyaki sauce – or mix up your own unique brand of trail mix, now’s the time. The DIY route can save you money, too!
- Check your hiking gear. Do your boots need new laces? Another coat of Max Shield? How are your trekking poles? Backpack? Is your, “in case of emergency, notify…” contact info. current? What needs weather proofing? Are your socks, Under Armor, gloves and gaiters in good shape? What about your water filter? If any of these or other items need repair or replacement, you can often scoop them up at bargain prices during the off-season.
- Does your hiking site require an entrance fee? Many state and national parks charge entrance fees. If you plan ahead, you can save money with an annual pass at some venues. For more information.
- Stay in shape. This may include power walking in an indoor venue like a mall, working out at the gym, developing your own strength-training/calisthenic regimen, or hitting the treadmill. Whatever works. Just don’t use foul weather as an excuse to couch potatoes. If you work at staying in shape now, your body will thank you later when the trails melt out and you’re ready to tackle that next hiking adventure!
A little advance planning and preparation now can save you money, time and effort later. Get busy now so when the weather warms up and sunshine is pouring out of the sky by the truckload, your itchy feet can get out and go!
What would you add?
There’s just something about exploring the great outdoors with Hiker Dog that makes the great outdoors extra great. Everything is new to her. She loves everyone and never met a trail she didn’t take to immediately. But I learned a long time ago that when it comes to hiking with my dog, not all trails are created equal.
In fact, Hiker Dude has noted more than once that if we’re planning to hike inside national park boundaries, we can get into big trouble if we’re not observing park rules regarding where and how we can take Hiker Dog.
Most national parks have pretty strict rules about how and where you can take your dog. Trail options are usually pretty limited. Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park are no exceptions.
Bag your pet’s poop
Always wear a leash
Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
Pets can harass or harm wildlife by making noise or scaring wildlife away.
Know where you can go
Pets are allowed on these trails inside Olympic National Park:
Peabody Creek Trail
Rialto Beach parking lot to Ellen Creek (1/2 mile)
The beaches between the Hoh and Quinault Reservations
Madison Falls Trail
Spruce Railroad Trail
Pets are also welcome in campgrounds and picnic areas in Olympic National Park. But they aren’t allowed in public buildings, on interpretive walks, or in the wilderness. Certified guide animals excepted.
Mount Rainier National Park welcomes pets as long as they and their owners adhere to the following:
- Pets must be on a leash at all times or in a crate. Leashes may not exceed six feet in length.
- Pets must be with and under the control of their owners at all times.
- Owners must pick up and dispose of all fecal matter.
With the exception of service animals, pets are NOT allowed in the following areas at Mount Rainier:
- On trails (The Pacific Crest Trail is an exception. Make sure your dog is on a leash no longer than 6 feet.)
- In wilderness and/or off-trail areas
- Inside buildings
- In amphitheaters
- On snow covered roads closed for winter, except designated snowmobile routes
Pets are permitted in parking lots, campgrounds, and on paved roads. While in these areas, pets must be leashed or crated and with their owners.
Incidentally, if you’re a dog owner and think these rules don’t apply to you, think again. If you’re think you can sneak Lassie or Marmaduke onto a verboten trail and no one’ll notice, think again, again (that’s not a typo.). This is especially true if the trails are muddy or Lassie has just had breakfast. You’re not fooling anyone, and you make the rest of us look bad. So kindly knock it off.
Bottom Line: Fido, Fifi or Fluffy can’t join you on most trails in these parks. And you’re not allowed to leave them in a vehicle or anywhere else unattended. So either plan your visit around picnicking or hanging out at the campground, or make sure your furry friends are well looked after at home.
And not to restate the obvious here or anything, but when selecting your next hiking adventure to share with your canine, remember to factor in your dog’s age and physical agility and ability. Also the weather, altitude, and terrain. As always, be sure to carry extra food and water for your dog. Ditto protection from ticks and chiggers and the like.
My top recommendation for a great dog-friendly hike near Mount Rainier National Park? Sheep Lake, hands down. Just outside park boundaries at Chinook Pass, near Naches Peak.
A little over 4 miles RT, the trail to Sheep Lake has it all: stunning vistas, a dense forest, gentle uphill grade, and a beautiful, clear-as-glass lake ringed by towering mountains. In season, the wildflowers at the lake are outrageous! There are also camping spaces at the lake.
Part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Sheep Lake Trail is one of the most popular in the area. Get an early start if you prefer solitude.
Hiking is a great way to explore and enjoy the Great Outdoors. But it’s also a great way to get hurt. Or worse.
In fact, I’ve seen boatloads of “hikers” who qualify as “Exhibit A” on how NOT to hike. These folks seem to forget or willfully ignore the fact that national parks, my favorite hiking sites, are often wilderness areas. As in, if you break your leg here bub, don’t come running to me! These peeps could star in any one of the following:
- How to Become Backcountry Bear Bait in Three Easy Steps
- Five Sure-Fire Ways to Induce Hypothermia and Not Live to Tell About It
- What to Wear on the Trail to Ensure Utter Misery and Certain Injury
Some of these folks give more thought to ordering Chinese take-out than they do a six or eight hour hike over terra incognita in uncertain weather, at altitude.
They never fail to renew my faith in a merciful God.
Courting disaster in open-toed shoes over loose shale fields, rocky terrain or bramble thickets the size of Montana, “short-cutting” through unknown terrain so treacherous it’d give Sasquatch cause for pause, these people keep mothers everywhere on their knees in fervent prayer. They also give rangers conniption fits.
While we’re on the subject, here’s my Top Tip for dramatically increasing your chances of becoming headline news or an avoidable trail tragedy: Hike alone. Yep, hiking solo is just about the dumbest thing you can do most anywhere.
There are those towering intellects among us who insist they like the “solitude” and “peace and quiet” of hitting the trail alone. They may feel differently after twisting an ankle. Having no one else slower behind them when an angry bear charges. Or getting bit by whatever, twenty miles from the nearest valley in a valley that eats cell phone signals for breakfast.
Remember: Lewis had Clark. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Donner had… well. Let’s not go there. Even if you have to haul Aunt Matilda away from her pinochle party or Cousin Elmer out of the hoosegow, never, ever, ever hike alone. And never hit the trails without the 10 Essentials.
Hiking safe and sane starts with preparation. There’s a reason the National Park Service calls its list of must-haves for the trail the 10 Essentials. Not the 10 Suggestions. Not the 10 Maybes. It’s the 10 Essentials. Here, according to the NPS, are the 10 Essentials you should take on every trail, every time:
- Map of the area
- Extra food and water
- Extra clothing (warm) and rain gear
- Emergency shelter
- First aid kit
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Sun glasses and sun screen
- Pocket knife
- Matches (waterproof)
Also, be realistic about your hiking abilities/physical shape. Hike within your ability. If your idea of “exercise” is doing 12 ounce curls of Bud or Pepsi, a first-time hike of 10 miles through mountain goat terrain probably isn’t a great idea.
Also, let someone know where you’re going and about when you plan to be back. And be prepared to spend the night outdoors if an emergency situation arises.
- Water: Carry at least one liter per person. Resist the temptation to refill in what looks like benign lakes or streams unless you’ve brought a water purification system or have cast-iron innards.
- Walking stick/trekking poles. Unless your nickname is Old Iron Knees, consider investing in a stout walking stick or trekking poles to save wear and tear on your knees, especially on the downhill.
- A hat. I’m not talking chic here. No one cares how cute you are when you look like a sun-dried prune or a vine-ripened tomato. Make sure your hat has a 180 degree, broad brim. A lanyard is helpful on windy days.
- A compass. Know how to use it. Techno-gadgetry may be fine for city slickers or amateurs. But don’t count on it in the backwoods. When it comes to navigation, rely on a good ‘ole fashioned compass and map.
- Flashlight. To reduce weight, we carry three or four pen lights. They’re smaller and lighter, attach to a belt loop, and while not exactly able to light your way to Mars, they’ll still do the trick.
- Matches (waterproof). Fires aren’t allowed in most wilderness areas except for emergencies. If you find yourself in an emergency, you’d also be wise to carry a simple “fire-starter” material such as a few cotton balls soaked in Vaseline. Put these in your standard plastic film canister with a snap-on lid and you’re good to go.
- First aid kit. You can purchase a well-stocked, pre-manufactured kit as well as the twenty-mule wagon team needed to haul the item, but why bother? We make our own. Use due care and consideration in so doing. Augment a six by nine-inch “compact size” kit by Johnson & Johnson with tweezers, Q-tips, matches in a waterproof container, antiseptic, bandages, sterile gauze, tape and scissors, StingEze, alcohol pads, Bayer, Blistex, lens towelettes, Kleenex, a deluxe Swiss Army knife, and all the tea in China.
The point is, don’t skimp on your first aid kit. You may also want to include a whistle. Why a whistle? This is in case you forgot Items #1 and #2 – a map of the area and compass. You can blow a whistle a lot louder and longer than you can holler “Help!”
Not on the Official 10 Essentials List, but also consider bringing toilet paper and wearing long pants, preferably Gore-Tex, which both breathes and sheds water well. I know, I know. It’s a balmy eighty-two degrees and your legs are begging for shorts. Don’t listen to them puppies. Reasons more seasoned hikers avoid shorts: sunburn, insect bites, turning into lunch on legs for ticks and chiggers, brambles and scratches and other nasty trail souvenirs. Avoid these by protecting your legs with long pants, even if the weather is a bit toasty.
Repeat After Me
Got ’em? Good. Now, raise your right hand and repeat after me:
“I will not be a hiking moron. I will dress in layers. I will carry the 10 Essentials. I will thoroughly familiarize myself with trail and weather conditions before I strike out into the wild blue yonder so as not to become yet another sad statistic.”
Also, please don’t hit the trail without sturdy footwear. Please. Leave the sandals and flip-flops at home. Nothing screams “novice” or “clueless rookie” like tennis shoes. If you’re able, invest in a good pair of sturdy hiking boots. Do not get cheapies. You may spend more for a pair of high quality, waterproof boots but your feet, ankles, arches, heels, back, hips and joints will thank you.
Of course, the most important items to bring with you on the trail are a level head and common sense.
You may crawl home footsore, exhausted, grimy, reeking of Eau de Deet, with enough dirty laundry to open your own chain of laundromats after a week on the trails. But you’ll also bring home a mother lode of memories that are as priceless as they are eternal.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Last one to the trail head is a rotten chocolate eclair!