A lot of my favorite places in Mount Rainier National Park – Reflection Lakes, Faraway Rock, Mazama Ridge, Paradise River, and more – all jammed into one stroll.

The Lakes Loop Trail Download

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Highlights: Glorious bodies of water, Mount Rainier looming and reflected, wondrous vistas, wildflowers and wildlife.

Travel Time (from Urban Centers to Park/Trailhead): About 2 1/2 miles from Seattle, about 2 hours from Tacoma, 3 hours from Portland.

Nearby Supplies and Gas: Eatonville and Ashford.

Stop Along the Way: Cottage Bakery in Eatonville for the best maple bars ever, packed lunches.

Difficulty: There are short stretches that will challenge.

Distance: 5.25 miles (loop).

Entrance Fees: $25 per vehicle (as of May 27, 2016), $10 per individual (if walk, bike, etc.), various passes.

Top Elevation: 5,743 feet.

Elevation Gain: 1,316 feet.

Trailhead Waypoint: N46° 47.130′ W121° 44.004′

Maps: Green Trails Mount Rainier No. 269.

Getting There: From the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, drive 17.5 miles to Paradise. The trailhead is across the street from the parking lot, away from the Jackson Visitor Center.

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There are a lot of ways to do this loop, including extending it a little and starting at Narada Falls. Many suggest beginning and ending at Reflection Lakes. I start at Paradise because you can end at a place that doesn’t feel a bit repetitive and actually seems exalting.

Start at the marked trail, across the street from the Jackson Visitor Center, a bit toward Paradise Valley Road. It’s mostly downhill to your first “wow” moment at the Reflection Lakes. If you arrive early enough, the water will be smooth and, if the skies are clear enough, you’ll get the iconic Mount Rainier reflection. You might even run into a Cascade red fox or even a black bear.

If you can rip yourself away from the Reflections, you’ll be traversing a paved part of the Wonderland Trail and rejoin the Lakes Trail shortly. Now you’re going back up and will reach Faraway Rock and hear the angels sing again. Now you have the killer view of the Reflections, Louise Lake and the sawtooth Tatoosh Range. Just up the trail, you get an opportunity for further reflection at Artist Pool.

It’s highly recommended that you do this hike during wildflower season and, if you do, the next stretch, along Mazama Ridge and the rolling meadows into Paradise, are heavenly. Keep an eye peeled for deer and Ptarmigan, and ears open for woodpeckers and other avian delights. The Mountain now also looms ahead for the rest of your journey.

After the meadows, you’ll join the Skyline Trail and descend to a stretch of the Paradise River, which I love, not least of which is for the marmots. Listen for their whistles or watch for them sunning themselves on the rocks. Marmots also frequent the approach to Myrtle Falls and the footbridge over Edith Creek, which is one of my favorite photographic stops because it’s the only place to get cascading water with Mount Rainier in the background.

I love doing it this way, traversing the loop counterclockwise, because the stretch between Relection Lakes and back to the Paradise parking lot is a sensory feast.

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