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When Grand Park Was A Lonely Place

In the days before rise of hiking trails detailed carefully online, there were lonely trails to be had. One was the back entrance to Grand Park, in Mount Rainier National Park.

Taken from above Fremont Lookout, looking out onto the long plateau of Grand Park.

It’s not a short hike any of the three ways you can come into it, however the “back” way is the shortest (in both driving and hiking). Nowadays, I don’t feel too bad writing about it. It’s been written on too many blogs to count, and the route is even in well-known guide books now.

My first time to Grand Park was in the summer of 2004, when I came in via Sunrise and Berkley Park with my oldest son (he was 6 then):

But let’s go back to a sunny day in July of 2008 when I got the chance to finally visit.

It’s a dirt forest service road in, that about half way gets more primitive. There is however an obvious parking area, just past the bend in the road and past the creek.

A well shot up Eleanor Creek sign, which marks the trailhead.

Eleanor Lake. It’s a shy mile to the lake, through typical high montane forest. You can backpack at this camp with permit, as you enter the national park not long after you start the trail.

Once you leave the lake, the trail heads up and then down, winding all around. It comes out into a large meadow and cuts across. Your first views of Rainier are here.

The trail passes by a couple of meadow lakes as you cut across.

The trail goes into the woods, crosses a creek, then heads up a ridge, on the edge, in the woods. It is pretty hiking though, with plenty of wind. We went very early that year, and hit snow in the woods, but were able to follow the trail overall. The final pitch up is in subalpine woods and opens up.

And right about when you don’t wanna go on…the trail literally levels and opens up. In the distance is the peaks with Fremont Lookout and in the back, Little Tahoma. The avy lilies were just opening that trip.

The only real downside (besides having to go home) is the trough trail. You have to pay attention, it is barely wider than your feet. And walking this direction, the mountain is in your eyes nearly the whole way.

It’s hard to just not stop.

Zoomed in you can see Fremont Lookout on the right peak, in the middle.

The trail meanders through the very long plateau meadow. If you go early in the season, there may still be snow and snow melt ponds. Otherwise, there isn’t a reliable water source up there.

There was a Lenticular cloud forming over the mountain. But since that can mean weather shifts within 24 hours, we were fine that day.

On the far edge of Grand Park there is a silver forest, the tall trees in the picture. They were from a forest fire.

Another Lenticular cloud heading over. Sometimes the mountain will get two to three, stacked up like hats.

The farther into the park, the more snow patches there were.

A shallow water source. They don’t last long.

Ford getting ready to cross, looking back across Grand Park.

Trail/creek bed, looking back. We had lunch in the copse of trees on the right side of the photo.

Once you cross the park, there is a junction, the only one on this trail. Lake Eleanor is 3.3 miles away. It’s 3 miles to Berkeley Park, and around another 4 or so to Sunrise. The truly lonely route is the Northern Loop. Not many go this way. But truthfully, there are not many out in Grand park either. At lunch, hidden in the woods, we saw the only other party walk by. I am sure they didn’t see us either, as we were hidden.

We got the hint though, the weather was slowly changing.

But it is so hard to leave.

In the woods, in the snow, by the creek crossing, were white mushrooms popping up.

The lake was gorgeous in the changing weather. The winds had picked up, and were blowing the bugs out.

I found a quick video I had shot in all the glory of low-res in 2008, a pano of the park. Turn your volume down however, it has wind noise:

I would visit again in 2010, and bring more friends along – and see even more parts of it.