Mount Rainier may be a technical, world-class peak, but you don’t have to be a mountaineer to experience it. This challenging, 8.4-mile out-and-back climbs to a high-altitude basecamp above the Muir Snowfield and comes within two miles of the mountain’s 14,410-foot crown. Start at the upper parking area, next to the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, and follow the wide paved path northeast to the signed Skyline Trail, a well-worn dirt trail directly across from the ranger station.
Turn left off the main footpath and climb northwest through Paradise Park. A spider web of trails crisscrosses the meadows—and violet patches of lupine and bright red Indian paintbrush drown out the grass in July and August. Keep straight at the next two four-way intersections, following signs for Camp Muir and Skyline Trail. Resident marmots may track your progress from the tops of armchair-size boulders.
Less than a mile in, crest a grassy ridgeline separating calf-deep Dead Horse and Edith Creeks, and continue on Skyline Trail. At the junction near mile 1.1, pick your preferred route: 1) Bear left to crest Glacier Vista, a 6,336-foot ridgetop high above a valley scored by the Nisqually Glacier to the west (across the chasm of ice, thinly braided waterfalls flow out of the Wilson Glacier and over the adjacent cliffs); 2) Bypass the ridgetop by veering right. The trails reconnect just ahead. At mile 1.6, turn left at a signed junction toward Pebble Creek and Camp Muir. Rock hop across Pebble Creek at mile 2.1, then keep climbing north past 7,385-foot McClure Rock, which resembles a pyramid-shaped pile of plywood-sized rock slabs.
The official trail ends near 7,300 feet. The remaining, upward trudge to Camp Muir crosses permanent snowfields interspersed with rock, sand, and piles of pumice and volcanic ash that turn the snow a muddy red in places. At 8,640 feet, round a rock promontory, which forms the leading edge of a ridge that connects to the aptly-named 9,584-foot Anvil Rock (half a mile to the north-northeast). Keep this ridge to your right as you climb up the Muir Snowfield. In late summer, the exposed ice of the Muir Glacier melts into small rivulets of water; crampons or mountaineering boots required.
Up next: Ascend 1,440 feet in the next mile. Take your time: Crevasses (roughly two to four feet wide) become more prevalent the higher you climb. Follow the most obvious path across the snowfield (look for wire wands with florescent tape that mark the best route; give a wide berth to small holes in the snow). As you near Camp Muir, the blue tints of the Nisqually Glacier become apparent. Listen for the loud cracking sounds of massive, jumbled blocks of ice calving off the glacier.
After 4.2 miles, drop your pack at Camp Muir. Perched between the Muir Snowfield and the Cowlitz Glacier, this 10,080-foot basecamp consists of a ranger station and a rock warming hut. In summer, the camp can be bustling with climbers and dayhikers. Stake out a little patch of rock and savor hard-earned views of 12,281-foot Mt. Adams’s flat-topped summit, the Tatoosh spires to the south, the Cowlitz Glacier, and Cathedral Rock. Descend the same route back to the trailhead.
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.
CONTACT Mt. Rainier National Park, (360) 569-2211; nps.gov/mora
-Mapped by David Tate