Area: Mowich Lake
||Hike Type: Mountain views||Pass: National Park Pass|
|Distance: 6.4 mi RT||Duration: 4 hrs||Difficulty Level: Moderate|
|Snow-Free: Mid-July – Oct||Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft||High Point: 5,939 ft|
Features: historical fire lookout tower, subalpine lake, exceptional wildflowers, kid-friendly
This is a great family-friendly hike from Mount Rainier National Park’s largest lake to one of its four remaining historic fire lookouts. En route wander through old growth hemlock groves and beneath steep rock walls of columnar basalt. Stop at sparkling Eunice Lake beneath Tolmie’s rocky south face and soak your feet. Then lace up—hit the trail and pass wildflower patches on your way to the summit. Once atop inspect the lookout and marvel at one of the best views in the park—Rainier in all its snowy glory towering over two shimmering lakes.
Hit the Trail:
From the parking area, head north on the Wonderland Trail. Here enjoy one of the relatively level stretches of this 93-mile round-the-mountain classic hiking trail. The trail hugs the western shoreline of Mowich Lake, the largest body of water within Mount Rainier National Park. Mowich is Chinook Jargon for deer, and you may spot a few along the way. But the lake’s namesake is actually for the mowich seen on Mount Rainier. Native peoples long saw the figure of a deer’s head in the ice and snow high on Mount Rainier. It can still be seen and is best viewed from nearby Spray Park.
Mount Rainier can be viewed hovering over the lake from several vantages. Early or late in the day when the lake’s waters are placid—the mountain as well as Castle and Fay peaks reflect on Mowich creating a truly stunning and surreal scene. Take your time and explore the several short trails heading out to small points on the lake. But, please stay on the trail and respect all closure signs as this fragile area is being trampled in places.
There are several spur trails leading left too to the Mowich Road offering alternative starting points—especially if you arrive on a busy day requiring you to park along the road well away from the main trailhead. Once past all of the spurs, enjoy hiking under a cool canopy of old-growth firs, hemlocks and cedars. The way eventually departs the lake and makes a short climb to a forested gap. It then descends slightly and traverses steep slopes beneath rocky ledges.
Pass a short opening with good views of Virginia and Berry peaks and the Mowich Meadows down below. It’s then back beneath a thick, forested canopy.
At 1.5 miles reach a junction. The Wonderland Trail continue straight soon coming to Ipsut Pass before plunging 2,500 feet into the Carbon River Valley. Feel free to walk to the pass to catch a view of the wild valley below. Otherwise head left on the Tolmie Peak Trail. You may be a little dismayed as the trail drops about 200 feet leaving you a little climb for the return. But this is a necessary move to avoid a narrow ridge crest of cliffs and precipices.
The way eventually starts climbing again including a couple of steep sections of rocky and rooty tread. Eventually, the grade eases as the trail enters the semi-open basin cradling Eunice Lake. This beautiful backcountry lake sparkles beneath the columnar basalt ledges of Tolmie Peak. Look up and locate the fire lookout. Do spend some time exploring this lake—and like Mowich respect closures to help protect fragile shoreline plants. The lake has several sandy coves that warm up nicely in the summer inviting foot soaking and full body immersion. Several smaller pools dot the meadows bordering the lake providing breeding grounds for frogs and for mosquitos. Unfortunately, the resident frogs can’t eat enough mosquitos to keep the buzzers away from you.
Now rock hop across the lake’s outlet creek and begin climbing again. The trail is well groomed utilizing a couple of sweeping switchbacks including one that traverses a hillside of wildflowers. Enjoy the breathtaking view of Eunice and the Mountain. The trail eventually crests Tolmie’s ridgeline and turns northeast to make the final ascent. Enjoy excellent views out over Puget Sound to the Olympics. Note the Seattle and Tacoma skylines. See too Mount Baker and Glacier Peak in the distance.
At 3.2 miles reach the Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout atop on a 5,939-foot knoll. One of four remaining fire lookouts within the park, this one was built in 1933. It is still occasionally staffed. You are free to lounge on its catwalk. The views from the lookout are sweeping and among the best in the park. Stare straight down below at Eunice Lake. Then cast your eyes upward to Mowich Lake and the Mountain!
Look to the southwest and see Mount St Helens. Look east to Mother Mountain, Sluiskin Mountain and Mount Fremont. Look north to the peaks of the Clearwater Wilderness and beyond to Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks. If you walk around a bit you’ll be able to see through the trees down to Green Lake sitting in an isolated emerald basin. What a view—stay for a while! And as you do think about the fascinating life of the person that this peak is named for, William Fraser Tolmie.
Born in the Scottish Highlands in 1812, Tolmie would go on to live an industrious life as a surgeon, botanist, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) chief factor, and politician in British Columbia. He arrived at Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Country in the spring of 1833. Soon afterward he helped establish Fort Nisqually for the HBC. It was here that he became acquainted with Mount Rainier. In August he left for a 10 day trip in what is now Mount Rainier National Park, becoming the first non-native to step foot in the park. While he didn’t climb this peak, he did with his Native-American guides ascend nearby Hessong Rock which is visible from the lookout.
Notes: dogs prohibited, no camping at Eunice Lake or Tolmie Peak. Mowich Lake Road can be rough and bumpy.
Contact: Mount Rainier National Park; https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm; (360) 569-2211
Maps: Green Trails Mount Rainier National Park 269S
Trailhead directions: From Buckley, follow SR 165 south. At 10.4 miles (just beyond Fairfax Bridge) bear right onto the Mowich Lake Road and continue for 16.8 miles (pavement ends in 1.7 miles) to trailhead at Mowich Lake.
Trailhead facilities: primitive car campground, privy
– Craig Romano, is an author of more than a dozen hiking guidebooks including the newly released 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books) which includes several hikes in and around Mount Rainier National Park.
|Starting Point: N46 55.971 W121 51.838|
Tolmie Peak Trail junction: N46 57.041 W121 52.090
Eunice Lake: N46 57.285 W 121 52.586
Tolmie Peak Lookout: N47 57.464 W121 52.856