A couple of years ago we visited Crater Lake in southern Oregon, a lake inside the caldera of a volcano which is also reportedly both the deepest lake in North America but also has the purest water. The clear blue lake is like a beautiful postcard and the visit there made a big impression on me. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to discover the areas around Seattle and Vancouver this summer, I really wanted go out on some kind of hike up in the mountains. Around these two cities the landscape is stunning and especially the majestic Cascadades Mountain Range that extends from British Columbia, Canada in the north, down through the United States.
The highest peak in the Cascades is Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier National Park offers opportunities to try many different hikes, some are easy while others are a bit more challenging. After a bit of research, I decided to go up to Mount Fremont Fire Lookout, which is an old vantage point previously used to look for forest fires.
How to get to Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is approximately two hours drive southeast of Seattle. The park has five developed areas: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River & Mowich, and you can chose any of these places as a starting point for amazing hikes.
To hike to the Mount Fremont Fire Lookout, you start at Sunrise Visitor Centre. At an elevation of 1,950 meters, Sunrise is the highest point that can be reached by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park. The Sunrise Road usually opens in late June or early July and closes in late September to early October, and this was the first weekend the road was open for the season, so I guess I was a bit lucky.
From Seattle by car, take Highway 5 south to Tacoma, then take State Route 18 to Auburn. Proceed to State Route 164 to Enumclaw and continue on State Route 410 to Sunrise Visitor Center. It will take approximately 2 and a half hours. The last part before you reach the visitor centre offers some amazing views. Don’t forget to stop at the vista point just before the top.
The road up the the visitor center is paved all the way, so in the summer you can safely drive here with any kind of car.
I would strongly recommend to arrive early in the day before the parking is full. Since I was jetlagged, I had no problem getting up early and I arrived at the parking lot at 9 AM, and by then it was almost empty. By noon, it was full.
Mount Fremont Fire Lookout Trail
Mount Fremont Lookout Trail is a 9 km out and back trail which starts at the Sunrise Visitor Center. It is quite an easy hike but can be busy, especially later in the day. When I started out there were hardly anyone else on the trail, but it is quite narrow so hikers often stop and let other hikers pass in the opposite direction safely. You don’t want to fall off the trail and down the mountain! The hike will take about 3 hours all in all, depending on how fast you walk.
There are several trails that lead ut to the lookout, but the most scenic route is to take the Sourdough Ridge Trail to Frozen Lake Junction where you take a right, then continue up to the lookout.
Along this route you have a perfect view of the iconic Mount Rainier, an impressive and still active stratovolcano. With an elevation of 4,395 meters above sea level, it is the highest peak in the Cascade Mountain Range.
During my hike, the weather was almost perfect, and the peak was slighly covered in clouds on the way up, a little less on the way down.
The Fire Lookout
Once you reach the summit you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain range. The lookout is empty most of the time and you are free to climb up to the viewing platform and enjoy the landscape.
This is a perfect spot for taking a short break, have some snacks and drinks and just relax in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable. Do mind the chipmunks, they are quite aggressive and they aren’t afraid to approach your lunch box.
Here is a short video of my hike up to Mount Fremont Fire Lookout. Enjoy!
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