Hiking the Pinnacle Peak Trail at Mt. Rainier, Washington

Escape the Crowds: Hiking Pinnacle Peak Trail at Mt. Rainier National Park

If you want to enjoy a less busy hiking trail while still experiencing breathtaking views, look no further than Pinnacle Peak Trail at Mt. Rainier National Park. Whether the mountain is “out” or covered in fog or clouds, this trail offers a unique and enjoyable experience.

Reflection Lake

Getting to the Trail Head

The trailhead is conveniently located across from Reflection Lakes on Steven’s Canyon Road. Parking spaces are available along the road, but be mindful of pedestrians and vehicles.

This part of the park can get busy, especially near the lake where visitors with limited mobility enjoy the well-maintained trail. To reach the trailhead, you can enter from either the Nisqually entrance on State Route 706 or the Steven’s Canyon Entrance on State Route 123.

If you plan to hike Pinnacle Peak Trail when the weather looks promising, consider pairing it with the nearby Bench and Snow Lakes trail for a full day of outdoor adventure.

Pinnacle Peak Trail Map

Expect to Climb

The trail map indicates that it is 1.3 miles to the saddle just below Pinnacle Peak, while the posted map suggests it will be 1.5 miles. The saddle, located at 5,920 feet, marks the end of the maintained trail. Beyond the saddle is the Butter Creek Research Natural Area, which is restricted to scientists.

Be prepared for a challenging climb up and a steep descent back down. Take your time to appreciate the stunning views, observe wildlife, and rest along the way.

Lower trail path

Lower Trail Section

The trail starts off wide and well-maintained, with steps and culverts to help you cross streams without getting your feet wet. Families often enjoy this section due to its accessibility and beautiful views. As you continue hiking, the trail becomes narrower, steeper, and rockier, and the number of hikers decreases.

Snow can accumulate earlier in the season, and by late June, small ponds form before melting away. Songbirds and small blooms on the heather provide a picturesque backdrop, and if the clouds clear, glimpses of Mt. Rainier can be seen through the forest.

High meadows

As you climb, the forest starts to thin, and open fields of rock appear. The trail becomes fragmented with large rocks and exposed tree roots, and shade becomes less frequent. The view of Mt. Rainier becomes more prominent as you approach the upper section.

Rocky trail

The Upper Section

In the upper section, switchbacks become more prevalent as you steadily ascend. Loose rocks cover the trail, so sturdy boots are recommended to prevent slipping. Pay attention to falling rocks from above and be cautious not to dislodge rocks that may pose a danger to hikers below.

A rock wall marks the end of the lower section and serves as a reminder of the dedicated volunteers who maintain the trail. Take a moment to appreciate the hard work that goes into keeping the trails safe and accessible for everyone.

At higher elevations, keep an eye out for pika, small mammals related to rabbits and hares. They are known for their distinctive “EEP” call and can often be spotted darting in and out of the rocks. Yellow Pine Chipmunks are also common in the area and may greet you at the saddle.

Enjoy the Views

From the saddle, you can enjoy stunning views of Mt. Rainier to the north, with the Paradise Inn and Visitor’s Center at the base of the Paradise Meadows visible to the right. The Nisqually Glacier and the winding road back to the Nisqually Entrance can be seen as well.

On clear days, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Hood may be visible to the south. However, be prepared for unpredictable weather in the Cascade Mountain Range.

South view from the saddle

Heading Back Down

As you start your descent, take one final look at Mt. Rainier before making your way back to the Reflection Lakes parking area. The return journey offers different perspectives of the mountain and a chance to reflect on your hiking experience.

Path back down

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