Tolmie Peak: ‘Haagen Dazs’ of Day Hikes

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Rating: Strenuous

Distance: 6.2 miles round trip

High Point: 5,939 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,120 feet

A challenging climb to a jaw-dropping view of Mount Rainier, the trail to Tolmie Peak is the Haagen Dazs of day hikes.

You can break this hike down into about three one-mile chunks: 1) The first mile from the trail head at Mowich Lake to Ipsut Pass; 2) Ipsut Pass to Eunice Lake; 3) Eunice Lake to the Tolmie lookout.

The trail begins at Mowich Lake, at the terminus of one of the worst unpaved roads in the park. Plan on about 45 minutes to cover the 17 rough, rutted miles to Mowich Lake. The trail head is on the left just before you reach the dirt parking lot/campground. It’s clearly marked with an obvious sign (look back over your shoulder).

Begin with a brief downhill as the trail hugs Mowich Lake. Wind through a splendid mixed forest with plenty of shade. Turn around to catch Mount Rainier peeking through the trees above the lake.

About a mile in, you’ll find a spur trail to Ipsut Pass. Take it. You’ll be rewarded with commanding views of the Carbon River and Ipsut Creek valleys.  The spur trail is 200 feet and clearly marked. Well worth the extra few minutes.

The trail starts climbing shortly after Ipsut Pass. Watch out for tree roots, rocks and boulders and tangle foot. About 2.2 miles from the trail head you’ll crest a rise blanketed with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers. Top the rise and Eunice Lake marches into view. This beautiful turquoise lake offers postcard perfect mirror images of Tolmie Peak. It also has plenty of lakeshore boulders to sit on and soak your tired feet or eat lunch.

The final .9 mile from Eunice Lake to the lookout is steep, rocky, and switchbacky. On a clear day, portions of three switchbacks offer some of the best views of Mount Rainier this side of forever.

It’s not the mileage that kicks you on this hike. It’s the switchbacks. And the altitude. Especially if you’re starting from sea level. Plan on a pace of about 1.5 to 2 miles an hour. Most of the return trip is downhill, but save some fuel for the one mile-ish stretch between Eunice Lake and Ipsut Pass. This portion of trail is mostly uphill on the way back.

The Tolmie Peak hike is not recommended for children under age 10 unless they’re strong hikers.

Figure on about 4 hours round trip for this hike, without stops. But on a fine, clear day when the sky pours out an infinite bowl of blue and the Mountain is holding court, the Tolmie Peak trail is worth a whole day. Maybe more.

Getting there:

From Buckley, head south on Highway 165 through Burnett, Wilkeson, and Carbonado. Cross the one-lane Fairfax Bridge. Continue until you hit a “Y” in the road. Veer right. The route to Mowich Lake is clearly marked. About 17 miles.

After leaving the “Y,” the road is unpaved at about 1.8 miles. It’s rough and rutted. Make sure your suspension is in good shape.