Area: Sunrise
Hike Type: Mountain views Pass: Natl. Park Pass
Distance: 7.5 mi RT Duration: 4 hrs Difficulty Level: Moderate
Elevation Start: 6,150 Elevation End: 6,150 Elevation Gain: 700 in / 900 out
Snow-Free: July – Oct  

The Palisades Lake Trail, out of Sunrise Point, is one of those hikes where you can do as little or as much as you want. This trail passes by six pristine, alpine lakes, like jewels on a necklace. Each can be a destination in itself or a site for pictures before moving on. You will probably find picas in great numbers and a marmot or two in the rocks. You may even come upon a few deer or elk grazing in the giant meadows. This is a great fall hike… all the colors are brilliant, the air is cool and the bugs are few. (Although August is the perfect time to see the meadows carpeted with wildflowers, the bugs, especially the mosquitoes, are numerous.)

The trailhead to the Palisades Lakes begins at Sunrise Point, about 3 miles BEFORE the Sunrise Visitor’s Center. You can’t miss the large parking lot inside the hairpin turn in the road. There are always people walking around taking pictures from this ridge. From here, the view of Mt. Rainier is exceptional and you can even see Mt. Adams in the distance to the south. The trail goes east from the parking lot and follows the ridge for a short distance before dropping steeply down the north side. Remember at this point that if you drop down, you must be able to come up the same steep hillside.

As you hike down this hill you will see Sunrise Lake ahead of you. The total distance from the parking lot to this lake is .5 miles. This is a beautiful place for a picnic if that is as far as you would like to go. The trail is short enough for little ones… even if you have to carry them up the hill on the return. Along the way you will hear the squeaks of many picas (small rodents), as they scurry into their little holes in the rocks. This trail ends at the lake.

If Sunrise Lake is NOT your destination you will need to hang a right BEFORE reaching the bottom of the hill. (There is a sign at this junction.) The trail continues on through forest alternating with meadow on fairly level ground to Clover Lake, 1.5 miles from the parking lot and the second and largest lake in the chain. Clover Lake, another great spot for a picnic lunch, is a good destination for a family outing with older children. Note: there are small trails along the banks… please don’t stray off of them, as the meadow is fragile and is easily damaged by hiking boots.

The main trail travels past Clover Lake, up the next hill and down the other side… another steep grade. Again, coming back on this part of the hike will get your heart-rate up. You cross another large meadow, with the rocky ridge to the west getting more impressive as you hike on. The definition of “Palisades” becomes more apparent.

At 2.6 miles from the parking lot is the junction to Hidden Lake. The trail heads west, up and into the ridge on a fairly steep path. As you gain in elevation, you get a terrific view of the meadows and hills below. If you look south you can see a flat section on the far ridge… this is the parking lot where you began this hike. You will be surprised at how far you have come. As you crest this hill, .5 miles from the junction, you come upon Hidden Lake. The crystal clear waters allow you to see the sandy bottom of this crescent-shaped lake. The trail goes to the right and then to the left, just above the shoreline. As you round the second corner, the amazing rocky cliffs come into view and you realize that you are in a huge bowl. Above you, the cliff-face looks like vertical columns. Many of those columns have broken away and fallen down the hillside.

If your destination is still the Palisades Lakes, stay right at the Hidden Lake Junction. You will pass by Tom, Dick and Harry Lakes on the right side of the path. (Dick Camp is located on a short spur trail.) The trail continues on through rolling meadows and woods until you reach Upper Palisades Lake on the left (at 3.5 miles from the trailhead). After a relaxing rest and delicious lunch (and perhaps a quick swim), you will be ready for the 3.5-mile hike back to the parking lot.

– Mary Janosik, Visit Rainer Hiking Expert

Starting Point: 46.9175, -121.587778
Notable Waypoints:

Trailhead: 46° 55′ 03 N & 121° 35′ 16 W
Clover Lake: 46° 55′ 43 N & 121° 35′ 38 W

About The Author

Mary Janosik

Mary has lived in the small town of Enumclaw, in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, all of her life. Her parents raised six kids on the backside of a mountain. Playing in the woods and exploring the countryside, often on horseback, life was an adventure just outside the backdoor. And Mary was content to enjoy nature's treasures close to home, most of the time. It wasn't until 2001, when Mary's 21 year-old daughter wanted to start hiking, that she thought it would be great to spend quality time with her in the mountains a little farther from home. Mary and her daughter started hiking seriously that year and couldn't seem to get enough. (In 2004 they did 72 hikes in 52 weeks.) It was always an adventure exploring new trails and visiting old ones in all the seasons. In March of 2007 Mary's daughter moved to the beautiful state of Colorado and she drafted her wonderful husband as a hiking partner. Mary started a photography business in January 2005 and has her work hanging in a few businesses in Enumclaw and in surrounding towns. She's primarily a hiker... the photos result from something that she loves to do.