You don’t need to be a great mountaineer to enjoy the grandeur of Mount Rainier. Intimidating as the mountain may appear, it’s accessible for everyone to enjoy. While summiting the peak certainly takes preparation and physical conditioning, there ARE easy hikes at Mount Rainier.
As someone who’s visited the mountain dozens of times without ever losing a bit of my sense of wonder at it, I believe everyone who gets the chance to visit Mount Rainier should do so. It’s an experience you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier #1: Box Canyon Loop
Above all others, the Box Canyon Loop (which is part of the Wonderland Trail) is the one short trek that I always make sure to take visiting friends and family on. When it comes to easy hikes at Mount Rainier, this one is hard to beat. It leads to one of the most fantastic sites on the mountain. I’m not talking simply “most fantastic easily accessible sights,”; I mean, “one of the most fantastic sights on Mount Rainier…period.”
The quickest route to the trail is from Mount Rainier National Park’s southeastern Steven’s Canyon entrance (the National Park Service provides concise driving directions). You can’t miss the Box Canyon Loop trail head, which is just off to the side of the main road and generally well-visited (you’ll see cars and pedestrians).
The Box Canyon Loop is only 3/10s of a mile long. The trail itself is to the east of the road and parking lot, but don’t forget to also check out the lookout to the west.
The lookout is just a few yards from the parking lot. Not only does it have a terrific view of the surrounding landscape, but the ground itself is interesting in that the stone was scoured smooth by the recession of the Cowlitz Glacier long, long ago. The glacier itself has retreated a couple MILES up the mountain, but the evidence of its influence on the terrain is right there at your feet. It’s always felt humbling to me to consider the unfathomable time scale that the mountain reveals.
The main trail to the east of the lot leads to a bridge that overlooks a very narrow and very deep canyon cut into raw stone. Blasting through this little canyon is the melt-water of the Cowlitz Glacier. This is, in fact, the very start of the Cowlitz River.
The sheer force of the water coming through that channel is amazing and one of my favorite sights on Mount Rainier. It gives a visceral sense of the magnitude of the natural forces that Rainier represents. I’ve gotten lost in a sense of sublimity while standing on that bridge and contemplating the power of that water and the scale of the glacier, which itself is dwarfed by Rainier itself.
Incredible stuff. Don’t miss it. (The trail shows up on Google Maps as the “Box Canyon – Wonderland Trail,” rather than Box Canyon Loop. The location is pinned to map below)
Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier #2: Reflection Lakes
While the Box Canyon Loop is my personal favorite easy hike at Rainier, Reflection Lakes would probably take that prize in most other people’s eyes. This spot shows up in nearly visitor’s photographs and in the bulk of Mount Rainier postcards. There’s good reason for this.
Even if you didn’t walk at all, just parking and looking at the lake is impressive. On a clear day when the sun is at the right position, you can see Mount Rainier reflected perfectly in the lake (hence the name). This area is also known to explode with color at the right times of season, with wildflowers blooming in summer and leaves changing in autumn.
The one drawback to the beauty and easy accessibility of this spot is that it gets visited a LOT. There are often no parking spaces left. You can see the lakes from the road, though, and it’s pretty likely that it’ll be enticing enough that you’ll wait for something open up. Visiting Rainier without stopping to look at the Reflection Lakes should be a felony, in my opinion.
The trail goes around the lake. There are also points where other trails branch off of that primary trail, but that’s outside the scope of this article.
There are apparently trout in the lake, as well. I haven’t seen them myself, but word is that the lake was stocked with trout years ago and that you can even see them jumping now and then.
Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier #3: Cispus Braille Trail
This trail is specifically designed for visually impaired hikers. The trail, which is a little under a mile long with no appreciable elevation changes, features a guide rope that hikers can touch or hold as they go around. The walkway is kept free of anything that might trip somebody up.
The trail’s design also allows for all hikers to enjoy a new experience of nature. Even if your eyes work well, you can close them and lead yourself around by the guide rope, focusing on the feel and the sounds and smell of the woods. It’s an experience of nature that you aren’t likely to come by in any other way. I did it for a short while and felt like a whole new dimension of nature had been opened up to me. Ever since then, I’ve tried to remind myself while camping or walking to stop, close my eyes, and focus on my other senses.
This is one the trails I most like to tell people about, because it opens up the wilderness experience to a community of people who otherwise may not be able to fully immerse themselves into. The Lions Club sponsors this trail. That information isn’t something visitors really need to know, but I want to mention because I feel they deserve kudos for that. Go Lions Club!
Enjoy the Hikes!
If readers happen to check any of these options out, please shoot me a message to let me know about the experience. I would love to hear about it.