Location: Mount Rainier National Park
Land Agency: National Park Service
Round Trip: 5.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Contact: Mount Rainier National Park
Green Trails Maps: Mount Rainier National Park 269S
Notes: National Park Entrance Fee or Interagency Pass; Dogs-prohibited
Access: From Enumclaw follow SR 410 east for 37.5 miles to Mount Rainier National Park turning right onto the White River Road. Continue for 15.5 miles to Sunrise.
Good to Know: kid-friendly, wildflowers, alpine views, historic fire lookout, wildlife watching, Practice Leave No Trace Principles
Hike to one of the four remaining fire lookouts in Mount Rainier National Park. Perched on a rocky 7,181-foot knoll on Mount Fremont, this historic structure is the highest of the park’s lookouts. But don’t let Fremont’s lofty elevation intimidate you. You start your hike at Sunrise at 6,400-feet making this journey pretty manageable. Wildflowers along the way can be quite showy—but the real treat along this trail is catching a glimpse of the large herd of mountain goats that reside here.
From Sunrise, there are three ways to get to Mount Fremont. The most direct way is to follow an old road—now a wide trail toward Sunrise Camp and then take the Wonderland Trail up a steep often snowy gully to Frozen Lake Junction (from where the Mount Fremont Trail departs). The longer quieter way is to follow the Sunrise Rim Trail to the Wonderland Trail. Then meander through meadows on your way to Shadow Lake before traversing Sunrise Camp and heading up that aforementioned gully to Frozen Lake Junction. The most scenic route and the one described here involves hiking to Frozen Lake Junction via the Sourdough Ridge Trail. Consider one of the other routes for your return to add a little variety to your hike.
Start your hike by following a wide nature trail leaving the big parking lot north. Bear left at a fork and reach a junction along Sourdough Ridge in a little more than 0.3 mile. Then head left hiking on the packed-with-panoramic-views Sourdough Ridge Trail. All along this trail enjoy sweeping in-your-face views of Mount Rainier. Savor breathtaking views too of Yakima Park’s emerald lawn rolled out below you with its frolicking deer, marmots, and ground squirrels. Pass the Huckleberry Creek Trail, one of the loneliest paths in the park. Reach busy Frozen Lake Junction at 1.4 miles. Here four trails converge.
Now head right on the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail descending a little across a plain of pumice and lichen-encrusted rocks. The way follows along a fence enclosing nearly perpetually snow filled Frozen Lake. This stark body of water is the water supply for Sunrise. It’s imperative that you do not cross the fence line. Enjoy viewing the lake from along the fence—your telephoto lens should work just fine for the close-up.
The trail reaches a small saddle and begins to climb. With each step, views of the barren windswept alpine tundra surrounding you expand. To the south it’s big barren Burroughs Mountain and craggy Skyscraper Peak. Rainier looms above them. To the west Old Desolate and Sluiskin Mountain provide a rugged backdrop to emerald Berkeley Park. Keep your eyes fixed on the flats directly below for moving white patches. Yep—those aren’t snowfields but mountain goats. A rather large herd hangs out here on Fremont, Burroughs and Berkeley Park. It’s not rare to see more than two score of these members of the Bovid family grazing, wallowing, napping, and skedaddling in the surrounding slopes, meadows and plain.
Continue climbing the open slopes punctuated by clusters of tenacious whitebark pines. The trail rounds a 7,291-knoll and then heads northward—the lookout now in view. Traverse steep open slopes and take in breathtaking views of the West Fork White River below. The grade is gentle but the rocky terrain will have you watching your step. The trail skirts below Fremont’s summit before emerging on a 7,181-foot knoll housing the historic lookout.
Definitely check out the lookout, still occasionally used by park personnel. Walk the catwalk and cherish the views. They’re jaw-dropping! Look north across the broad emerald plain of Grand Park. Beyond is a seemingly infinite wave of verdant ridges succumbing to Puget Sound. The Olympics rise above the fog and haze in the Puget Trough. Look northeast and trace the Cascade Crest all the way to Mount Baker. Then turn south and try to keep your senses from exploding as you savor an in-your-face view of Rainier’s impressive Willis Wall and sprawling Emmons Glacier. Stay for a while. Keep your lunch from being raided by ground squirrels. Make a friend or two. And cherish the natural beauty from this historic landmark.
For more information on other great hikes in Mount Rainier National Park and throughout the state,
refer to my best selling 100 Classic Hikes Washington