Mt. Rainier at Kautz Creek

Lowland Hikes at Mt. Rainier: Trail of Shadows & Rampart Ridge Trail

One of the best ways to experience Mt. Rainier is hiking. The park has many fantastic trails for all levels of hikers, so you can get out there and enjoy the fresh air and the beauty that is so abundant at Mt. Rainier. Some of our favorite hikes are the lowland hikes at Mt. Rainier, like the Trail of Shadows and Rampart Ridge Trails.

Earlier this month, I received the news that Ashford, Washington would be seeing blue skies and temps reaching the uppers 70s the following week. I couldn’t miss this opportunity to see Mt. Rainier waking up from its winter season, so I immediately began putting plans in place to accommodate a mid-week trip that direction.

I arranged my stay with Three Bears Lodge, reserved Little Bears Cabin for two nights, and headed towards the mountain the following Tuesday after work. Just a two hour jaunt by car from my home in Portland, Oregon—it was a quick, easy, and scenic drive to my destination.

Upon arrival at Little Bears Cabin, I was immediately pleased with my accommodations. Little Bears is a beautiful home with lots of windows that offer an abundance of natural light, vaulted ceilings, and a large front deck facing the foothills of Mt. Rainier. Its fully stocked kitchen and array of amenities meant I had to pack and unpack very little in order to be comfortable: clothes, toiletries, and food.

Lowland Hikes at Mt. Rainier

Wednesday morning the weather was as promised with a cloudless sky and rapidly climbing temps. I grabbed my camera, packed a small lunch and some snacks, jumped in my car and drove to the Nisqually entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park, less than 10 minutes from the cabin.

I followed Paradise Road and came to Kautz Creek where I caught my first breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier. I pulled over in the parking area, crossed the road and followed a short trail to a lookout where only a few other individuals were taking advantage of the photo opportunity. The snow-covered view rose above a break in the tree line allowing families to pose and show off their trip to the place John Muir famously referred to as the noblest of all the fire mountains.

Longmire Museum and Wilderness Information Center
Longmire Museum and Wilderness Information Center

After snapping my own photo, I continued toward Longmire where I hoped to enjoy my first real spring hike and find trails that would provide more views. Only a short drive away, I came to the Longmire Museum and Wilderness Information Center where a Ranger was eager to hand me a map and assist me in choosing my hike for the afternoon. I told her I wanted to experience some views and asked her about the portion of then nearby Wonderland Trail. She explained that it was tree lined and wouldn’t be the best hike for views. She also explained that many of the trails with the best views were still snow covered, but that there were some good lowland hikes to choose from.

The Ranger pointed out Rampart Ridge Trail, which was just on the other side of the Trail of Shadows, located just across the road. She warned that it involved a bit of a climb, but that at higher elevations there were some beautiful views and at the top of the trail there was a viewpoint at 4035’.

It was still early in the day, so I decided to take the long way around the Trail of Shadows—a 0.7 mi loop trail—and take a shot at Rampart Ridge.

Soda Springs
Soda Springs

The Trail of Shadows offers an easy stroll that is mostly level trail and loops through old forests and wetlands. Right off the bat you get to enjoy a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier, and then as you follow the trail clockwise you wander by Soda Springs, which is a mineral spring that is surrounded by a beautiful stonework structure. Halfway around the loop you come to a rustic log cabin that was built in 1888 by Elcaine Longmire (James Longmire’s oldest son). It is all that remains of the family’s attempt to establish the first settlement in the area.

Rustic log cabin that was built in 1888 by Elcaine Longmire
Rustic log cabin that was built in 1888 by Elcaine Longmire

A bit further along the trail you come to Rampart Ridge Trail’s access point on your right. You can either continue and complete the Trail of Shadow’s full loop or head up through several switchbacks that makeup Rampart Ridge trail.

Rampart Ridge is a 4.6-mile loop with quick elevation gain of 1339’ and steep terrain. The trail is well made and well kept, and guides you through dense forests. Because it was the middle of the week, I had the trail to myself! Hiking beneath the forest canopy and listening to the birds sing and the breeze whip through the branches of the trees was magical and relaxing—a rare deep forest experience that remained unpolluted by hordes of travelers.

If you decide to hike Rampart Ridge, be prepared for a vigorous hike! The assent will get your heart pumping and you may need some extra fuel to keep you going. Fortunately, I packed a light lunch and some snacks, which got me to the ridge, where I enjoyed mountain views and found a big flat rock to have a little picnic on. After I finished my lunch, I continued on until I found the viewpoint and rested.

View point of the hike
View point of the hike

Coming back down the trail was fast and relatively easy. I stopped twice for a drink and once to snap photos of some cool tree formations, one that resembled a arch and grew back into the ground.

By the time I returned to my car to head home, I had been hiking between 3 and 3.5 hours: a perfect amount of hiking for the afternoon. The two trails are ideal for families as well. If you have very young children, I would suggest keeping your hike to the Trail of Shadows. Little tykes can easily and safely make their way along the paths and there is plenty for them to discover.

If your family has older children who have experience with more vigorous hikes, Rampart Ridge offers a sweet family adventure. If you’re looking for a few more ideas, check out this list for more hikes near Mt. Rainier.

By Annette Benedetti – NW writer, photographer, and outdoor enthusiast

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