CAMPSITES: 10 | GROUP SITES: 3 | RV SITES: 0 | RESERVATIONS: No; sites are first-come, first-serve | Site Fee: No
AMENITIES: picnic tables, tent platforms, secure food storage | PROHIBITED: RV’s, fires, groups of more than 12
SEASON: early July – early October | NEARBY: Tolmie Peak Lookout, Eunice Lake, Spray Falls
WEBSITE: National Park Page
It is absolutely worth whatever effort it takes to get to Mowich Lake. This campground is one of the most scenic locations in a park that is filled with awesome vistas, and the crystal-clear water can be downright hypnotizing. From a shoreline vantage point on a glacier-scoured boulder, you can look through the water to the lakebed below, where ancient logs and drop-offs seem close enough to touch.
The campground at Mowich Lake is the smallest of the four camping areas within the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park. The road is unpaved after the first three miles and may be rough. Also, this is a walk-in campground only and fires are not allowed. With all that said, however, it just may be the most pristine and beautiful place to pitch a tent you’ll ever come across, with one of the most magnificent views of the mountain that you’ll find anywhere.
To get to Mowich Lake, located six miles from the Mowich entrance, you’ll need to drive on an unpaved, and often very rough, State Highway 165, which ends at the Mowich Lake parking area. The campground is situated a short walk from that point, so even though it is a walk-in area only, the car is not necessarily all that far away. There are ten individual sites, all with picnic tables and tent platforms, and secure food storage locations to keep your supplies safe from bears and other wildlife.
There is no charge to camp and no backcountry permit is required at Mowich, however, all sites are available on a first-come, first-served system, which can present a challenge at busy times during the summer. Because fires are not permitted, a good camp stove is a necessity. Pit toilets are located at the campground entrance and there is a ranger’s patrol cabin just to the east of the main camping area, with an excellent view of the lake.
Mowich Lake is one of the access points for the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, and through-hikers often use the campground as a resupply point on their circumnavigation of the mountain. A large, metal bin at the ranger’s cabin holds food packages for these travelers to pick up when they arrive. A myriad of other trails intersect at the campground and many are popular with day-hikers as well as those on multi-day excursions.
One of the best options for a day trip is the six-mile round-trip to the Tolmie Peak Lookout. From the campground, the approach winds along the west shore of the lake and climbs to the base of Ipsut Pass, where the trail to Ipsut Creek and the Carbon River veers to the right and the Eunice Lake trail descends to the left. The descent doesn’t last for long though; soon the trail is switchbacking up once again through an alpine forest before arriving at Eunice Lake, elevation 5,355 feet.
This particular lake is, if possible, even more alluring than Mowich. Tucked into a fold of the hill below a massive wall of scree and vertical rock on one side and rolling alpine meadows on the other, the calm surface of Eunice Lake reflects the magnificent scenery that surrounds it in a way that only adds to the overall effect.
Above the lake, on the ridge to the north, sits the Tolmie Peak Lookout. The trail from the lake climbs steadily upward for another 600 feet to the lookout itself, where the views of the mountain scenery will take your breath away. Eunice Lake huddles at the bottom of the hill, a corner of Mowich Lake is visible in the middle distance, and the vast bulk of Rainier fills the southern skyline. Ptarmigan Ridge, the North Mowich Glacier, the Willis Wall: all of these and more line up for review, one next to the other. Needless to say, a great choice for a lunch break.
A short hike in the other direction from the Mowich Lake campground will take you to Spray Falls, another popular day-hiking destination. The trail is relatively free from large elevation gains and losses and features panoramic views of the North Mowich Glacier as it meanders over rolling hills toward the mountain. The falls are located at the 2-mile mark, where Spray Creek shoots out and down a 160-foot drop, an impressive, cooling force on a warm summer day.
The campground at Mowich Lake is a perfect base of operations for hikers who are interested in sampling some of the best that Mount Rainier has to offer. And, as the night begins to fall in this remote setting and the alpenglow lights up the western face of the mountain, when the shadows lengthen in the lower elevations and the heat of the day turns to the cool of the evening, you’ll know you’ve made the right decision.
– Ken Campbell