8 Mount Rainier Hikes for Solitude Seekers

It’s a hiking fact: the most beautiful hikes are usually the most crowded. This can present a conundrum for hikers who want gorgeous scenery as well as solitude. But you can score both with a little homework and some advance planning on these eight trails at Mount Rainier National Park.

Here, in no particular order, are my picks for the 8 Best ‘Lonely’ Trails at Mount Rainier for hikers seeking solitude. Some require serious effort, which is why they tend to be “lonely”:

  1. Paul Peak – Mowich River area (NW side)

Unlike most trails at Mount Rainier, this one starts with a steep downhill of about 1,100 feet to the Mowich River Valley. You don’t get any Big Views of the Mountain from this trail. But you do get lush ferns and wildflowers, and a front row seat at the crashing Mowich River. A great picnic or turnaround spot.

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: About 6.2 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 900 ft
  • High Point: 3700 ft.

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2. Mildred Point – Longmire (SW side)

Mount Rainier from Mildred Point.
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: About 9.0 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft
  • High Point: 5,935 ft

A tough climb topped with big views of the Mountain, the Mildred Point hike begins on the southwest side of Mount Rainier National Park off the trail to Rampart Ridge.

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3. Forest Lake – Sunrise (NE side)

Forest Lake may be one of the best kept secrets in the park.
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 5.0 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 1000 ft.
  • High Point: 6,800 ft.

Peering into Huckleberry Basin from Sourdough Ridge, you’d never guess that a world-class wildflower meadow, gurgling creek and glassy tarn are tucked into the conifer-clad valley below.  Indeed, the Huckleberry Creek Trail to Forest Lake Camp may be one of the best kept secrets in the park. 

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4. Palisades Lakes – Sunrise Point (NE side)

The Palisades escarpment reflected in the cool waters of Palisades Lake.
  • Distance: 7.5 miles RT
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet

A popular trail that skirts seven lakes, this trail is named for a rocky escarpment which towers over the lake near the end of this hike. A good alternative to Sunrise’s more crowded trails.

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5. Stevens Creek to Maple Creek Camp – Stevens Canyon (SE side)

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: About 3.5 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 557 feet

Part of The Wonderland Trail, this little-known connector hike begins with a descent through every imaginable shade of green. The 1.7 mile walk to Maple Creek Camp includes several small waterfalls and a fern forest. It’s quiet and secluded. The fall colors are outrageous! The “cardiac climb” out is steep, but short.

Kid-friendly. Buggy during the summer, esp. near the water.

From the Stevens Canyon Entrance on Highway 123, continue west 10.8 miles on Stevens Canyon Road to the Box Canyon Picnic Area. It’s on the left. The trail starts at the east side of the parking lot.

6. Owyhigh Lakes (SE side)

Governors Ridge and Owyhigh Lakes.
Wikipedia.
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 7 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 1350 feet

Legend has it that the lakes on this hike were named after Yakima Chief “Owhi.” He loaned horses to Theodore Winthrop (after whom the Winthrop Glacier was named), when Winthrop trekked across the Cascades in the mid-1850s. 

This trail doesn’t offer views of the Mountain. But you’ll find secluded lakes and meadows marinated in wildflowers. Jagged Governors Ridge and Tamanos Mountain rise above the lakes to the east and west, respectively.  Like Paul Peak, it also starts with a sharp downhill.

7. Green LakeCarbon River Entrance (NW corner)

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 10.8 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 1000 feet

A winding, uphill hike through a magnificent old-growth forest to one of the most serene lakes in the park. In the northwest corner, beginning at the Carbon River entrance.

We hiked this trail in late September. It was so quiet, you could practically hear moss grow.

8. Packwood Lake Trail

  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 9.2 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 600 ft.
  • Highest Point: 3,200 ft.

Although outside park boundaries, this hike through deep forest to a calm lake is close enough to make the list. This gentle path winds through a splendid old-growth forest inside the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The lake hops into view through the trees at about 4.5 miles, as does Wizard Island.

A nice lower-elevation hike that melts out early in the spring. Leashed dogs okay.

From Packwood follow US 12 to Forest Service Road No. 1260 (Snyder Road) and continue 6 miles on paved road to the parking area at the trailhead. Start on Trail 78. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

We’ve hiked all of these trails. I can’t guarantee you’ll have these trails all to yourself, particularly during peak season. But they’re more likely to be less crowded than some of their better-known, well-worn counter-parts, especially at Paradise

As ever, the best way to avoid jam-packed trails at the park is to hike during the off-season, typically before July and after Labor Day. For more tips on avoiding summer congestion, see my post on