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Paradise Glacier

Difficulty: easy

4.8 miles

Elevation gain: 1300'

Max elevation: 6280'

Camps: none

First hiked by me: older

This trail is a 0.7 mile spur off the eastern side of the wildly popular Panorama Point and Skyline Trail loop. It can be hiked as an extension to that route, or on its own as an out-and-back from Paradise (which is the mileage shown above), or you can cut some distance by starting on the 4th Crossing trail.

Apparently not many people come this way, as it's the only place I've managed to find solitude above Paradise. This is probably because the trail name is misleading. At one time there used to be a glacier here, but the glacier has retreated and its once famous ice caves are no more :-( In their place is a barren landscape consisting of rock, water, and not much else. I find it beautiful in a strange, unsettling way.

In his book "A Year in Paradise", then-guide Floyd Schmoe describes the ice caves as of 1921:

"Caverns larger than railway tunnels are melted under the ice and they can be followed sometimes for miles. They change somewhat from year to year, and no one has ever explored them all. We took parties only a few hundred yards into the caverns. It was strangely beautiful inside as the sunlight filtering through the ice and snow above is changed into rainbow colors, and it is not dangerous so long as one is careful not to pass under the flakes of ice that sometimes split away from the sides and top of the cavern."

Schmoe's confidence about safety has become increasingly inaccurate as the glacier has retreated, but every few years someone will continue far higher than was necessary in 1921 to where a remnant still has caves, and take a photo of strangely beautiful filtered sunlight which then goes viral on social media. Do not emulate these people! In the 21st century, any remaining ice caves are extremely dangerous.

The trail peters out rather than having a clear end. If you want to go further, check out Cowlitz Gap.

Heading up the Paradise Glacier trail

Reflections in a pool of meltwater

This is the end, my only friend... but an unofficial path continues past this point

Otherworldly barren landscape where a glacier recently retreated

View of Mount Adams

Sunset above Paradise