“… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.”
– John Muir on wildflower meadows at Mount Rainier’s Paradise
Mount Rainier’s wildflower meadows are world-renowned. Indeed, it’s peak season right now and wildflowers are laughin’ it up all over the park! From last week’s Old Iron Knees Expeditionary Trek to the northwest corner of the park (Mowich Lake/Tolmie and Paul Peaks, Crystal Lakes):
In Lummi Indian legend, Mount Rainier left her husband, Mount Baker, taking the choicest flowers and fruits with her. When Chinook summer winds flutter alpine frocks and cyan skies frolic over blushing swells of mountain heather, Western anemones, and the flaming heads of mountain paintbrush, you can’t help believe that the legend is true. And that John Muir was right.
To Mowich Lake:
From Buckley, head south on Highway 165 through Burnett, Wilkeson, and Carbonado. Cross the one-lane Fairfax Bridge. Continue until you hit a “Y” in the road. Take a right. The route to Mowich Lake is clearly marked. The Paul Peak Trailhead is about 11 miles in and six miles from Mowich Lake. The sign is on your right. There’s a parking area and a couple rustic bathrooms.
Note: About 1.8 miles after leaving the “Y,” the road is unpaved. It’s rough and rutted. It takes about 45 minutes to cover 17 miles to its terminus at Mowich Lake.
To Crystal Lakes:
Take 410E from Enumclaw and drive under the Mount Rainier National Park arch/boundary. Look for pullouts on both sides of the road after about four miles, post-arch. The trailhead sign features a “hiker” icon on the east side of the road. About 36.5 miles from Enumclaw, between mile markers 61 and 62. If you hit the sign for White River and Sunrise, you’ve gone too far.
Note: The Crystal Lakes trail probably isn’t a great choice if you have a heart condition. With an elevation gain of 2,300 over 3 miles, this is a tough, steep climb to two pristine mountain lakes.
The lower lake is fine, but access is limited and there’s almost no where to sit. The upper lake – another .5 miles, still climbing – is spectacular, with plenty of boulders for a great lunch break. Trekking poles highly recommended, especially for the descent. Unless you’re 23. Or have titanium knees.