Mount Rainier’s “Toughest Trail” Offers 360′ of AWESOME!

The Shriner Peak Lookout Trail at Mount Rainier National Park is as unforgettable as it is rigorous.

Dubbed “the toughest trail in the park” by park rangers, you’d better be in decent shape before tackling this steep, switchbacking out-and-back trail of about 8.5 miles round-trip. It’s long. It’s steep. It’s shadeless. But for those who are up to a rigorous day hike, Shriner Peak offers 360-degrees of Awesome.

One of the reasons this trail is so challenging is because it’s all uphill, without any real breaks to catch your breath. It’s also at altitude. You begin in the shade and chug through an impressive stand of sword fern. But it doesn’t last long. You are soon out in the open, in shade-less terrain, in direct sun. Be sure to wear a hat. Use sunscreen and bring plenty of water. Sturdy footwear is a must. No sandals or flip-flops.

Don’t forget to look behind you from time to time during your nearly 4,000 foot climb to the lookout, elev. 5,800+ feet. On a clear day, the views of the Nisqually Valley, which are at your back, are jaw-dropping.

At roughly two miles up, there’s a rocky outcropping on the left. The panoramic view of Mount Rainier is one of a kind. Stop here to grab some photos or video with Mounts Adams, Baker, Saint Helens, and Hood. It’s also a good place to stuff your lungs back into your chest before tackling the next stretch of hamstring-hollering up.

You’ll soon round another rocky ridge, after which you dip slightly into sparsely shaded meadows for about a nano-second. Then you start into switchbacks. It’s a long, steady uphill from there to the lookout.

It was in the upper 80s/low 90s when we hiked this trail in late June. You’re probably better off waiting for cooler temperatures in the fall. We started early and took it slow, moving from shade patch to shade patch. We made the lookout in just under four hours. Had the whole place to ourselves. Everyone with brains was at Paradise.

Yes, Shriner Peak is a tough climb. It  earns its reputation as “the loneliest trail in the park.” But oh, the rewards at the top! You can see most of the Cascades, the Olympic Mountains, and halfway to China. And oh yeah. Lean off the fire lookout porch and take in that snowy colossus just over your shoulder. It dominates Northwest topography for miles.

If your legs are up to it once you make the lookout, walk a short stretch down a narrow path to the camp sites. They’re pretty primitive, but you can find a rock or log to rest your howling hoofers while enjoying some of the must stunning scenery on God’s green earth. You’ll need the rest and trekking poles for the hike back. Your knees will thank you. Trust me on this one.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting there:

Heading out of Packwood on the east side of the park, the Shriner Peak trail head is on the right side of Highway 123 between Ohanapecosh and Tipsoo Lake. Drive 3.5 miles north of the Stevens Canyon Entrance on Highway 123. The trail head is located .5 mile north of the Panther Creek Bridge. There’s room to park on the left, just past the trail head sign. Park at the pull out and walk back to the sign. Cross the road. Hit the trail. Start climbing.