This week, Lisa and I paid a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park. Our target hike was the Bench and Snow Lakes Trail, an easy 2.5 mile round trip on the south side of Mt. Rainier near Unicorn Peak, in the Tatoosh Range.
We drove to Paradise Visitor Center first, stopping at a few magnificent view points along the way, which afforded great views of the Nisqually River-- though the Nisqually Glacier that feeds it has retreated far up the mountain.
We stopped briefly at the Paradise Visitor Center to grab lunch at the overpriced snack bar there and to check out the exhibits; the area is more built up than the companion visitor center at Sunrise, however, the hiking immediately around Paradise isn't as good. It is the most common starting point for climbing to the summit, however, the upper reaches of the Mountain were definitely not on our agenda today.
Instead, we hopped back in the car and continued down the road a few more miles to the trailhead, stopping briefly at the aptly-named Reflection Lake along the way.
The trail itself was relatively easy, although it still had plenty of ups and downs as it wound it way toward Unicorn Peak, through mountain meadows where Indian Paintbrushes were already starting to bloom. We passed an overlook which afforded views of a small pond and the valley and peaks beyond, then made our way to Bench Lake, which was offset from the trail a ways and down a steep path.
So we decided to continue on, and before long had climbed over the last hill before Snow Lake. We could hear the rushing of the outflow creek as we drew closer, and soon we could see the water through the trees. We walked along the path to the far edge of the lake, where a small creek flowed down into the lake from the glacial cirque that loomed high all around us, with Unicorn Peak towering far above. The creek was full of tadpoles, and we watched them darting around in the water for several minutes before the mosquitos started to get to us before we headed on our way.
We circled back along the trail, following the turnoff to where the Snow Lake campsite is located, and stopped there briefly to dip our feet in the water and admire the view before heading home. We were already thinking about returning with backpacks and a tent.
To get home, we continued driving west-to-east around the south side of the mountain, eventually doing a loop around the whole of Mt. Rainier. This allowed us to stop at Box Canyon on the way home, in the southeast corner of the park, where a glacial creek has carved a narrow, 120 foot deep canyon with sheer walls. From the wayside overlook we could actually see Mt. Adams in the distance; then we followed a trail a short ways to a bridge over the canyon, from which we could look straight down into the narrow drop.
By that point, it was getting late, and we embarked on the long drive home, circling the rest of the way around the mountain and heading north back to Seattle.