Documenting my Rainier obsession
about Mount Rainier where to start
about this site future plans
itinerary planner permits

Longmire to Reflection Lakes

Difficulty: moderate

11.4 miles

Elevation gain: 2550'

Max elevation: 4890'

Camps: Cougar Rock, Paradise River

First hiked by me: 2019

The section of the Wonderland Trail between Longmire and Reflection Lakes is not typically considered one of its highlights, but makes a great off-season day hike (the distance shown here is roundtrip). In summer this lacks solitude because it parallels the road for the first 3/4 mile plus rejoins it near Cougar Rock, by Narada Falls, and at Reflection Lakes themselves. Early or late in the season, though, the road to Reflection Lakes will be closed for winter, and the main road up to Paradise doesn't open until 9 AM. Even after the road gate at Longmire opens, traffic volume is much lower than the busy summer.

Once freed from traffic noise, this is a lovely trail. Mostly forest, but there are great views from the Nisqually river crossing and at Reflection Lakes. Also multiple excellent waterfalls. The view of Carter Falls is partially obstructed, but there's a clear view of the smaller Madcap Falls just beyond it. Further up the trail, a short detour on the left leads to the spectacular Narada Falls, where in summer you'll share the overlook with countless tourists who came here by road.

The section from Longmire to the Nisqually crossing just past Cougar Rock makes a great easy snowshoe: 3.6 miles roundtrip with 440' elevation gain. From Cougar Rock to Carter Falls is 2.7 miles roundtrip with 570' gain. Be careful crossing the Nisqually both in winter (when the log bridge may be icy) and summer (when it sometimes gets washed away). Above Narada Falls the trail crosses steep slopes that are unsafe when the snow gets deep enough to slide, in which case you can hop across onto the Narada Falls Loop and Lakes Loop to reach Reflection Lakes via an alternate route with less avalanche risk.

Mossy forest trail from Longmire to the Nisqually crossing

Wintry view up the Nisqually Valley

Crossing the Nisqually River in early winter

Crossing the Nisqually River, late fall edition

Carter Falls

Madcap Falls

Narada Falls, during the spring melt

Narada Falls, halfway through the process of freezing for the winter

A wintry visit to Reflection Lakes

The iconic view from Reflection Lakes is kinda like a hurricane path: if it doesn't do what you want, you can fix it with a sharpie