Silver Forest Trail - Visit Rainier
Silver Forest Trail

Silver Forest Trail

Area: Sunrise Hike Type: Family-friendly Pass: Natl. Park Pass
Distance: 2.4 mi RT Duration: 1 hr Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Start: 6,396 Elevation End: 6,398 Elevation Gain: 100
Snow-Free: Mid-July – September    

Of all the scenic trails originating from the Sunrise Visitor Center, this one has to be the easiest. The trail is basically flat and follows the ridge parallel to the road you came in on. Here you can enjoy the open-meadow flowers in mid-summer or the golden browns of grass and seeding plants in the fall. “The Silver Forest” pertains to the many old dead trees along the trail… standing and fallen. They are like bleached white skeletons scattered everywhere across the open landscape. Each is a unique sculpture reflecting a long-ago fire and many, many years of severe weather. Nature has a way of reducing once-living things to the most basic structures.

The best things about the Silver Forest hike are the spectacular views of Mt. Rainier and the Emmons Glacier/Moraine. From many vantage points, you can gain a true sense of nature’s process over eons. The giant moraine was carved by the Emmons Glacier as it retreated from the Ice Age. However, this glacier is currently extending, not retreating as many glaciers in the world are doing. A thick cover of debris (caused by a huge landslide from the side of Tahoma Peak in 1963), acts like an insulator for the glacier-ice beneath. The face of the glacier usually has a cave and the ice shapes are always unique and fascinating. Here is the birthplace of the White River, perfectly named for the glacier sediment it carries. With a pair of binoculars, you feel like you are part of the frozen landscape.

The Silver Forest trailhead is on the south side of the parking lot and heads downhill on a gentle slope. In a short distance the trail forks: head right for Shadow Lake and campground and beyond to the Burroughs Mountains; head left for the Silver Forest Trail. There are two observation platforms, not far from each other, a short distance from the fork. The second one opens up a bit more for a slightly better view. Sit at one of the covered benches and enjoy the amazing vista in front of you.

The next trail sign says the trail continues a short 0.6 miles, but that’s only as far as the “maintained” trail goes, a total of 1 mile from the parking lot. We have traveled the trail farther and don’t actually know where it ends. It’s so enjoyable to walk this peaceful area that you don’t want to stop and turn around. (A good spot for lunch can be found at N 46° 54′ 45″, W 121° 37′ 29″.) When you do, try not to stumble on the trail as the mountain distracts you constantly on the return trip back.

If you want more information about this wonderful walk, plan to join the an afternoon guided walk with a park ranger. These walks take place throughout the summer months.

Silver Forest is one of the less-traveled trails at Sunrise although it’s not clear why. The open meadows, the stark old wood, the colorful ground cover, are all good reasons to take this enjoyable walk. The spectacular views of Mt. Rainier are as good as any in the park and only a short, easy distance from your car. Spend the rest of the afternoon expanding your knowledge at the Sunrise Visitor Center, browse the gift shop and still have time to get ice cream before heading home.

– Mary Janosik, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert


Starting Point: 46.91411,-121.64171  

Notable Waypoints:

Trailhead: N 46° 54′ 50, W 121° 38′ 31
Best Viewpoint: N 46° 54′ 44, W 121° 38′ 28