Mt. Rainier National Park is one of Washington’s most iconic and photographed destinations for good reason. The park has a visitor attendance of around 2 million people each year, with the majority of people visiting during summer months. Scenic hikes and winding mountain roads surrounding Rainier give visitors breathtaking views and ample photography opportunities. Visiting the park during Fall has many benefits including less crowds, colorful leaves, and good weather. This October I spent two days at Rainier hiking and photographing two of the best trails the park has to offer; Naches Peak Loop and Skyline.
For our first day at the park we wanted to go on a moderately difficult hike that would give us nice panoramic views of Rainier and opportunities to see the changing fall colors of trees along the trail. We picked Naches Peak Loop because we had heard that it was one of the top 10 hikes to do at the park. We started the hike around noon and had beautiful blue skies and warm weather. There was plenty of parking along the road near the start of the trail and we only saw a few other people coming back down the trail as we began the accent. As you begin the hike you pass the peaceful Upper Tipsoo Lake (In the picture below you can see the lake and road to park along).
This is the smaller of the two Tipsoo lakes and gives amazing reflections of Mt. Rainier all day long due to its small size and stillness of the water. We were told by some older experienced hikers at the trailhead that we should hike the loop counterclockwise to have the best views of Rainier so we took their advice and were not disappointed. Along the trail we hiked through vibrant meadows and came to a panoramic point with great views of Dewey Lake below.
Although we didn’t see many trees with colorful changing leaves we were happy we chose this hike and finished the 3.5 mile loop in a little under 3 hours. After the hike we walked around Upper and Lower Tipsoo Lakes to find good spots to take photos at sunset. We found that the Upper TIpsoo Lake had a much better vantage point of Rainier and the stillness of the lake and absence of people made for some amazing sunset pictures! We highly recommend coming to this lake at sunset to get reflection shots of Rainier.
For our second day at the park we wanted to get up close and personal with Rainier. We decided to hike the Skyline trail as it is regarded by some as the best day hike at the park. We were blessed again with great weather and both wore shorts and T-shirts. We parked at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and were surprised to see that the parking lot was nearly full and there were many tour and school buses bringing young students and tourists to the trailhead. The beginning of the trail is well paved and wheelchair accessible with a slight incline.
As you look up at the mountain top from the bottom of the trail it does seem like a slightly intimating climb but for any intermediate hiker the 1500-foot elevation gain is definitely doable in a few hours. This trail is incredibly scenic and along the way you pass through meadows, waterfalls, streams, and the Nisqually Glacier. We hiked past Panorama Point to get an even closer look at Mt. Rainier and found a flat tranquil resting place with many balanced rock formations previous hikers had built. From here we had an incredibly clear 360 degree view of Rainier, Paradise valley, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and even Mount Hood. It was cool to Rainier so up close as you can see that what looks like a fully powder snow covered mountain from afar is actually very patchy and ice covered. We made our decent down the mountain very quickly and made it to our car in just an hour. For sunset we drove to Reflection Lake to fly our drone and set up some HDR photos on a tripod. Overall, we had an amazing two day trip to Mt. Rainier National Park and highly recommend Naches Peak and Skyline trails as they offer a diverse range of views and photo opportunities in a short amount of time.