Mount Rainier National Park: Tatoosh Range

This 8-mile backcountry trek serves up two mountain lakes, intimate views of Mount Rainier, and some off-trail scrambles in the Tatoosh Range.
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This 8-mile backcountry trek serves up two mountain lakes, intimate views of Mount Rainier, and some off-trail scrambles in the Tatoosh Range.

The mileage is minimal on this route—only about 8 clicks roundtrip—but they’re steep miles with huge vistas of Mt. Rainier to the north and neck-craning views of the Tatoosh Range’s jagged spires all around you. The best time to visit is from mid-August through September when the huckleberries are ripe and the weather is most stable. The best way to experience this country is to keep hiking past the designated campsites at Snow Lake (they're beautiful, but lack Rainier views) and camp high in the backcountry zone below Unicorn Peak or The Castle.
These are two of the major summits in the eastern half of the Tatoosh Range, and their ridges and drainages offer plenty of exploring on faint climbers' paths and through sparse forest pocked with wildflower meadows. With solid navigation and scrambling skills, you can also complete a full traverse of the Tatoosh Range; usually done east to west, it's a high, spectacular, and very arduous hike that's worthwhile (and safe) only with a good forecast. Note: Use caution when climbing the talus-filled gulley that leads from Snow Lake into the Unicorn Creek bowl; the footing is steep and loose, and it's easy to dislodge rocks onto hikers below you.
INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping-and-hiking.htm.

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations requests accepted by fax or mail, starting on March 15th of each year ($20/reservation). Download form at nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-reservation-information.htm.

ROAD CONDITIONS Go to nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/road-status.htm, or call (360) 569-2211, then press 1.

CONTACT Mt. Rainier National Park, (360) 569-2211; nps.gov/mora

Multiday Gear List
Wear
Waterproof/breathable jacket and pants
Fleece and down jackets
Synthetic pants
Midweight baselayers
Synthetic T-shirt (2)
Hat and gloves
Hiking boots
Camp footwear
Wool/synthetic socks (3)

Pack
32 oz. water bottle (2)
Water treatment
Multitool/knife
Bear-bagging rope
Headlamp and batteries
Three-season tent
Down bag (15° to 40°F) and sleeping pad
Compass, map, GPS unit
Gas stove and fuel bottles
Lighter and matches
Cookset, bowl, insulated mug, eating utensils
Trekking poles
Stuff sacks
Toilet paper and trowel
First-aid kit

Local Links

GROCERIES
SAFEWAY
611 S. Meridian Ave.
Puyallup, WA
(253) 845-2010

PLAZA MARKET
203 Center St. E
Eatonville, WA
(360) 832-6151

RESTAURANT
SCALE BURGERS
54109 Mountain Hwy. E
Elbe, WA
(360) 569-2247

GEAR
WHITTAKER MOUNTAINEERING
30027 SR 706 E
Ashford, WA
(800) 238-5756
whittakermountaineering.com

GAS
BARNEY’S CORNER MINI MART
40512 Meridian Ave. E
Eatonville, WA
(360) 832-8822

-Mapped by Jonathan Dorn

TO TRAILHEAD: From the Longmire entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park near Ashford, Washington, follow signs to the Longmire Visitor Center. Follow signs to Paradise, but stay straight at the final left-hand turn to Paradise on Stevens Canyon Road. You'll soon pass Reflection Lakes, a spot that rivals Rainier's summit as the most-photographed scenic point in the park. Just beyond, turn right in the parking area for Bench and Snow Lakes.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.9

Waypoints

TAT001

Location: 46.767617, -121.707981

Begin hiking SE from Snow Lake trailhead

TAT002

Location: 46.762013, -121.699604

Veer R @ Y. Going a few yards L leads to the first views of Rainier. Farther on, Snow Lake sits in a forested bowl below the trail.

TAT003

Location: 46.758664, -121.698715

Stay R @ T where trail reaches Snow Lake. Trail leads to 2 designated campsites that must be reserved at Longmire, plus a toilet with a million-dollar view of the mountain. In about 100 yds., great views of Unicorn Peak and a series of immense talus bowls beneath it open up. In early summer, the bowl is filled with snow. By autumn, there's just a stream trickling from a few remnant snow patches and a small hanging glacier. Route continues straight up toward first talus field beyond Snow Lake; a narrow climbers' path picks up where official maintained trail ends. Follow it along L edge of talus until directly below obvious chute leading up to the second bowl.

TAT004

Location: 46.754665, -121.702386

Climbers' path ends. Use caution crossing the rocks to the bottom of the chute, as many are precariously balanced and big enough to do some damage to a fallen hiker.

TAT005

Location: 46.751774, -121.705685

Bottom of chute. Stay R for the first half of the 200-ft. climb up, then pick side that looks most promising for the top half. The chute is only a 3rd class walk-up, but be careful not to climb directly below other hikers to avoid falling rocks.

TAT006

Location: 46.751581, -121.705812

Top of chute. Be prepared for a blast of wind, which can either feel great (after a stiff ascent on a hot day) or chilling (any other time). This is a good photo, lunch, and water spot. From here, get the best views yet of Rainier's snowy dome. Scout for the climbers' path leading up steep switchbacks of L wall. After reaching the first plateau, continue either straight up toward Unicorn Peak and numerous campsites, or veer L and contour around the base of the small, steep hill.

TAT007

Location: 46.750748, -121.704549

This location could well be one of the best campsites in the park. Ground may be wet early in the summer because of poor drainage, but there's room for 2-3 tents and plenty of flat rocks for lounging. Best of all, there are unobstructed views of Rainier looming heavenly on the horizon. If camping here, keep a strict LNT camp. From this camp, there are several options for exploring the E part of the Tatoosh Range. If indecisive, try going W first.

TAT008

Location: 46.74839, -121.706189

After climbing a few hundred feet above camp on the steep hillside behind it, turn R and traverse down the talus bowl through which Unicorn Creek flows. Then pick a route and tiptoe up and across boulders through the main draw.

TAT009

Location: 46.746885, -121.709145

Saddle. There are a couple good tent spots here and in lower, sheltered spots off the ridge. All are scenic but waterless; remember to tote full bottles from below if camping here. From saddle, head due N on thin, dirt trail that follows the crest of a knife-edge ridge, enjoying vocabulary-defeating views of Rainier along the way.

TAT010

Location: 46.755178, -121.712783

Summit of unnamed peak. From here, enjoy insane views of Rainier and the entire Tatoosh Range, plus Snow and Bench Lakes. Descend the peak's W slope, carpeted with huckleberry bushes, to a broad saddle with a snowmelt pond that was dry in early September. More camping options here, too. Climb opposite slope, rising steeply through grass and rock toward The Castle.

TAT011

Location: 46.757747, -121.728449

Reach obvious notch in The Castle's crenellated summit ridge and exquisite views of the Pinnacle. A short 4th class scramble to the R around the backside of The Castle's upper ridge leads to its airy summit. Return to WPT 12 the same way.

TAT012

Location: 46.749314, -121.70512

Bear right at this point on the descent back to camp for an out-and-back toward Unicorn Peak. A climbers' path appears now and again while threading through rock and huckleberry bushes, and past marmot holes.

TAT013

Location: 46.747889, -121.704054

Continue following climber's trail, heading straight up hill and avoiding band of talus to R.

TAT014

Location: 46.74708, -121.703968

Reach a firmly packed trail through talus that lies above the hillside's last vegetation. Turn R and follow path as it contours beneath the W face of Unicorn Peak toward the saddle.

TAT015

Location: 46.744866, -121.703302

Farthest point to proceed safely without climbing gear.
L wall, although featuring easy 5th class climbing, could be a death fall and would be very difficult to downclimb. Retrace steps along Snow Lake Trail to car. Caution: Rockslide danger.

Tatoosh Ridgeline

Location: 46.747977, -121.710835

©Jonathan Dorn

Trailhead

Location: 46.767646, -121.70768

Nick and Susan talk trash at the trailhead. They were soon sucking wind into their sea-level lungs as the trail climbed sharply.
©Jonathan Dorn

Unicorn Peak

Location: 46.765677, -121.705792

Near the end of the official maintained trail, with Unicorn Peak in the distance.
©Jonathan Dorn

Talus Field

Location: 46.753402, -121.704891

Climbing the talus field towards the chute. Notice how the trash-talkers are starting to fall behind.
©Jonathan Dorn

The Chute

Location: 46.751767, -121.70561

©Jonathan Dorn

4th Class Climbing

Location: 46.751587, -121.705674

There's a little bit of 4th class climbing in the chute, but the main challenge is not dislodging rocks onto your companions.
©Jonathan Dorn

Campsite

Location: 46.75078, -121.704273

Now that's a campsite! This is the view we woke up to after a misty night.
©Jonathan Dorn

Huckleberries

Location: 46.750654, -121.704198

Some huckleberries with your oatmeal?
©Jonathan Dorn

Climbing toward the saddle

Location: 46.747727, -121.707959

Climbing toward the saddle and ridge to the southwest of camp.
©Jonathan Dorn

Nearing the saddle

Location: 46.747492, -121.708603

Nearing the saddle. The clouds will soon part.
©Jonathan Dorn

Tatoosh Ridgeline

Location: 46.747683, -121.710448

©Jonathan Dorn

Undulating Ridge

Location: 46.749712, -121.711349

The route from the saddle threads along this undulating ridge to the unnamed peak in front of Rainier.
©Jonathan Dorn

Views of Mt. Rainier

Location: 46.750293, -121.711349

The views just keep getting better.
©Jonathan Dorn

Looking down onto camp

Location: 46.752373, -121.711972

Looking back at camp from the ridge.
©Jonathan Dorn

Ridgeline Views

Location: 46.752954, -121.712294

Bring lots of film - this is one of those places where you keep shooting and shooting as, astonishingly, the views get better and better.
©Jonathan Dorn

Tatoosh Ridgeline

Location: 46.75316, -121.712433

©Jonathan Dorn

Tatoosh Ridgeline

Location: 46.753322, -121.712497

©Jonathan Dorn

Tatoosh Ridgeline

Location: 46.753469, -121.712637

©Jonathan Dorn

Tatoosh Ridgeline

Location: 46.753755, -121.712809

©Jonathan Dorn

Unnamed Summit

Location: 46.755181, -121.712637

Unnamed summit. There's enough room for three to sit comfortably, but just barely.
©Jonathan Dorn

Huckleberry-stained hands

Location: 46.756269, -121.714847

Huckleberry-stained hands.
©Jonathan Dorn

Huckleberry-stained tongue

Location: 46.756254, -121.715083

Huckleberry-stained tongue.
©Jonathan Dorn

Short Gulley

Location: 46.757489, -121.722293

One of several short gulleys along the ridge to The Castle.
©Jonathan Dorn

Views near The Castle

Location: 46.757607, -121.723666

The view of where we came from.
©Jonathan Dorn

Rainier

Location: 46.757622, -121.725082

By mid-afternoon, a beautiful lenticular cap had formed over Rainier.
©Jonathan Dorn

Looking down towards Reflection Lakes

Location: 46.757618, -121.726181

Looking down towards Reflection Lakes from a few steps below the summit of The Castle. Note the dark, craggy typical of the Tatoosh Range.
©Jonathan Dorn

Self Portrait

Location: 46.757629, -121.728237

The obligatory author self-portrait just below the summit. Note the slings on the right. Below was a beautiful 2 or 3-pitch face that made me wish I'd brought climbing gear.
©Jonathan Dorn

The Pinnacle

Location: 46.757724, -121.728312

The Pinnacle. Note the two hikers on the summit.
©Jonathan Dorn

The Pinnacle

Location: 46.757791, -121.728365

The Pinnacle. Note the two hikers on the summit.
©Jonathan Dorn

The Castle

Location: 46.757313, -121.726992

Susan descending briefly with The Castle behind.
©Jonathan Dorn

Descending Ridgeline

Location: 46.752594, -121.712079

©Jonathan Dorn

Climbing toward Unicorn Glacier

Location: 46.746594, -121.704002

Climbing toward the scree path that leads to the hanging glacier.
©Jonathan Dorn

Below Unicorn Peak

Location: 46.745772, -121.703668

The end is near. In about 30 yards, we found we could go no further without climbing gear due to rockslide that obliterated the trail ahead. To the right of that spot was a nasty fall into a moat beneath the bottom lip of the glacier.
©Jonathan Dorn

Mt. Rainier

Location: 46.755431, -121.701436

Parting views of the mountain on our dawn walk out.
©Jonathan Dorn

Mt. Rainier

Location: 46.755475, -121.701179

©Jonathan Dorn