Washingtonians Love To Hike
If you live in Washington, you eventually go hiking. We haven’t met anyone in this state who doesn’t hike and it’s easy to see why. You can get out of the city, enjoy nature, and find the most stunning sights. Hiking here has a lot to offer for people of just about every fitness level. Although, it’s usually true that you get the best views from the most difficult hikes.
We’re currently getting ready for a big trip to Norway in a few weeks and we want to be in good shape so we can enjoy the Norwegian landscape without any limitations. The easiest and most rewarding way to do that in Washington is to hike. We usually start by completing a couple of long, but relatively flat hikes. Then, we’ll work up to hiking trails with more elevation gain.
An Easy Hike With Great Views?
This past weekend, we decided to checkout Mount Fremont Lookout Trail. At 5.6 miles roundtrip, this is a medium length hike for us. For a relatively fit person, the total elevation gain of 800 ft isn’t much of a challenge. Some trip reports of this hike online mentioned that you can get great views of Mount Rainier from the Fremont Lookout. That peaked our interest. On a flatter hike like this, we wouldn’t normally expect to summit a mountain or get great views. As well, in the years we’ve lived in Washington, neither of us have ever visited Mount Rainier National Park. We usually hike up north or to the east in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest since it’s located just an hour or so from Seattle.
Heading Out For The Day
We woke up on Sunday morning and attempted to head out early. With no rain in the weather forecast, we wanted to beat any potential crowds. Usually trailhead parking is limited. Off to a slow start after waking up a little later than originally planned, we packed our daypacks and headed out around 8 am. We made a quick stop to fill up on gas and grab some Clif Bars. Then we made the 2 hour drive to the trail head.
What was in our daypacks?
- Packable Blanket
- Small First-Aid Kit
- Wool Buff/Scarf
What we later wished was in our packs?
- Thin gloves
- Sunscreen (we both got burnt… we know, rookie mistake)
Mount Rainier National Park
Upon arrival to Mount Rainier National Park, we were required to pay $30 for a 1 day passenger car entry. Washington Trails Association, our favorite source for researching hikes, had incorrectly reported that we just needed our National Forest Pass to park at the trailhead. It turned out that we didn’t need the National Forest Pass at all. We were given a map when we paid, which would have been useful if we hadn’t come prepared with the preloaded map on our phones or if we hadn’t remembered the way back out.
The winding mountain roads up to the Sunrise Visitor Center where the trailhead is located provided some nice views. However, this drive would not be fun for anyone who is afraid of heights. There were a few points during the drive where it felt as though we were driving along the edge of a cliff with some trees as the only guardrails. We did stop once during the drive to get out and take pictures. If you choose to do this, do not stop along the road. There are plenty of designated areas to pull off and park for great photo opportunities.
When we arrived at the trailhead around 10 am, we were happy to find a large parking lot with plenty of available spaces. There was also the visitor center, a snack lodge, and public restrooms. According to the National Park Service, at 6,400 feet in elevation, this is the highest point in Mount Rainier National Park that can be reached by car. Sunrise Road and Visitor Center close each year around late September to early October for the winter. The area reopens again in late June or early July. We didn’t know this at the time, but now consider ourselves lucky to have caught this hike just before it closes for the season.
It was sunny, but a cool 38°F, so we didn’t waste any time before hitting the trail. It wasn’t overcrowded, but there were definitely more people there than we would have liked. One of the great things about hiking is that you can escape the sounds of the city and just enjoy being in nature. Although we always hike together, we usually spend a lot of that time enjoying the peace and quiet. Shrieking children and tourists asking for help taking pictures isn’t really our idea of peace and quiet. There are a few trails that depart from the Sunrise trailhead, so luckily we weren’t all headed to the same place.
A Nice Hike
The first half of the trail offered beautiful views in almost every direction. Unlike many of the hikes we’re used to, this hike starts in a meadow with scattered trees, rather than densely wooded forest. Considering the wind and the chilly temperature, we appreciated having the sun at our backs. There were just a few clouds, so we were able to see a misty Mount Rainier for most of the hike.
About halfway to the Fremont Lookout, the trail split off. Most of the people with children went the other direction, which was a good choice on their part considering that the second half of this hike is rocky and along a steep cliffside. Along the way, we walked through meadows, rock fields, and valleys. The trail itself is well-kept and mostly easy on the feet. We enjoyed seeing lots of wildlife as well: chipmunks, marmots, birds, and mountain goats. The chipmunks were especially fun because they chirp back if you make sounds or talk to them.
The Fremont Lookout
The end of the trail is the Fremont Lookout itself at 7,200 ft, which is a two-story cabin that was built in 1934 as a fire-lookout. While all the doors to the inside were locked, we did climb the exterior stairs to the second story. From there, we looked inside and walked all the way around on the balcony. The lookout is a great place to get some pictures and enjoy the remarkable 360° views. We found a nice sunny boulder close to the cabin on which to sit, eat our snacks, and take in Mount Rainier.
Once we started to feel the wind chill again, we made our descent. We were happy that we had such amazing views of Mount Rainier on the way out because the clouds rolled in and completely hid the mountain around noon. Many of the people we passed who were on their way up seemed a little disappointed. Since this wasn’t a steep hike, the walk back wasn’t difficult at all.
Burgers & Final Thoughts
Back at Sunrise Visitor Center, we went into the lodge to get some burgers because every hike should end with a good burger, but the line was too long. However, while we were inside, we did notice that the lodge sells some useful products. If you do make the trip and happen to forget bug spray, blister pads, tissues, or lip balm, the lodge has you covered (at a premium price, of course). We headed out and stopped for burgers at Wally’s Drive-In on the way home instead. After discussing our day over burgers, here are our conclusions:
Would we hike this again for fun? No. There were just too many people and we missed the usual evergreen forests of most other hikes in the area.
Would we hike this again if friends or family came to visit? Yes, if the weather is great, they want to get a good look at Mount Rainier, and they’re moderately fit.