Wednesday, July 15, 2009
A great hike from Chinook Pass, with early season wildflowers.
It was just a few weeks ago that this trail was covered in snow, but it’s now melted out and the wildflowers are gorgeous!
The trail itself starts from Chinook Pass in Mt. Rainier National Park. Actually, you’ll follow Highway 410 under the overpass that signifies you’re leaving the Park,. and then park in the lot on the left side of the road. At the far end of the parking lot (past the toilets), there’s a small sign that says PCNST (for Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) which marks the start of the trail. In the middle of the parking lot, there’s also a really nice map and interpretive sign that explains the area.
The Sheep Lake trail parallels the highway for the first 1/2 mile or so. The slopes are very exposed, so the early season wildflowers are wonderful. We saw phlox, Indian paintbrush, bear grass and tons of lupines, just to name a few. After a while, you’ll head into the forest, where you’ll find snow patches and beautiful meadows filled with flowers. It really is gorgeous. Your reward for hiking 1.5 miles from the parking lot is Sheep Lake, where you can swim, fish, picnic or just relax.
Yesterday, on our hike, we ran into several fishermen on their way back down. All had caught brook trout! We also ran into a couple of other dogs along the way (ours were with us) and this is an extraordinarily dog-friendly trail since it’s actually in the national forest, not the National Park. In fact, our dogs remembered the lake from previous visits and took off for the lake while we were still about 1/4 mile away. By the time we got there, they were soaking wet and happy.
As we were leaving, two families arrived and their kids were planning to swim in the lake. There are a couple of small “beach” areas that are perfect spots to get in and out. The water is cold—so really refreshing on a warm day.
You can actually hike much further than Sheep Lake if you have time and go up to Bear Gap and then all the way over to Crystal Mountain! The hike up to Bear Gap is steep, but the views at the top are incredible. Go a little further, and you can look down at Crystal Lakes, two of the prettiest lakes in the Park. If you’re going to keep going all the way to Crystal, it’s nice to have two cars so you can park one at Chinook Pass and one at Crystal.
There are still more wildflowers that haven’t bloomed yet, so we’re guessing the flowers will still be good for another 3 weeks or so. Even after that, it’s a great hike especially if you’re looking for a mountain lake. (Of course, if you’re staying with us, you have the swimming pool also!)
We always have lots of hiking suggestions at Alta Crystal Resort, so come up and stay so we can tell you more! Hope to see you soon.