Best Rookie Trails at Mount Rainier 1: Sheep Lake

posted in: Hiking 101, Mount Rainier | 0

A great choice for rookie hikers or families with young children, the trail to Sheep Lake has it all: sweeping vistas, towering trees, scores of wildflowers, and a splendid emerald-green lake lolling under an infinite blue sky, at just over four miles round trip!

The 2.1 miles to Sheep Lake include some climbing. But the grade is gentle and not steep by Rainier standards. The first mile or so out of the parking lot parallels Highway 410. This stretch is mostly exposed and rocky in places. Not much shade. Be sure to bring plenty of water. Use sunscreen and wear a hat. Sturdy footwear is a must. No sandals or flip-flops. Bring a camera. The views of the valley to the east are stunning.

After about a mile, the trail winds into the woods and then opens into a beautiful little bowl. You’re greeted by one of the most stunning lakes in the region. Ringed by jagged mountains, emerald-green Sheep Lake offers smooth-as-glass reflections of the quiet, conifered landscape and open skies. In season, the wildflowers are outrageous.

We made it to the lake in about 40 minutes. The mountain paintbrush, elephant head, cinquefoil, purple asters and clouds of lupine ringing the lake are spectacular in season! We applied plenty of Deet and although the bugs were definitely out in June, they did not bother us. There were so many butterflies near the lake, we lost track!

You don’t get those magnificent views of Mount Rainier from this trail. But drive a stone’s throw up the road to Tipsoo Lake and you can spot the Mountain if she’s out.

This is a nice hike to a beautiful, serene alpine lake and quite popular. It’s a great place for a picnic lunch. Start early if you want to avoid afternoon crowds.

The trail is just outside Mount Rainier National Park boundaries. It’s part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Dogs and horses are allowed on the PCT, which is not the case on trails inside the park.

Tip: There’s a $5 parking fee at the lot at the trail head. There are bathrooms at the parking lot.

Getting there: From Enumclaw, drive east on SR 410 for about 50 miles to Chinook Pass. Continue about 0.2 miles to Pacific Crest Trail parking lot, which is the second large parking lot on the left side of the road. The trailhead is on the east end of the parking lot behind the vault toilets.

From Naches, drive west on Hwy 12 to the junction with SR 410. Turn onto SR 410, and drive about 45 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot, on the right side of the road about 0.2 miles from the top of the pass. If you get to the Tipsoo Lake parking lot, you have gone too far.

From Packwood, drive east on Hwy 12 to the junction with State Highway 123. Go north on State Highway 123 about 16 miles to the junction with SR 410. Turn right onto SR 410. Continue about 0.2 miles to Pacific Crest Trail trailhead parking lot, which is the second large parking lot on the left side of the road. The trailhead is on the east end of the parking lot.


A “rookie” trail:

  • Offers a choice introduction to the park’s beauty and stunning scenery.
  • Doesn’t require specialized gear like crampons or triathlete status, although being in decent physical shape is a definite plus when tackling any trail at Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Is family-friendly, easily accessible and features exceptional landscapes like jaw-dropping vistas, thundering waterfalls, outrageous wildflower meadows, or crystal-clear lakes.
  • Is at least one mile but is five miles or less round trip.