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Tolmie Peak

Difficulty: moderate

5.8 miles

Elevation gain: 1540'

Max elevation: 5940'

Camps: Mowich Lake

First hiked by me: 2019

The trail to the old fire lookout at Tolmie Peak is popular, which is a polite way of saying crowded. It's easy to see why: this is steep enough to offer a workout yet not too long, located on the closest side of Rainier to Seattle, and offers an astonishingly well-composed view that couldn't have been better designed for the taking of selfies in front of.

Rainier novices who choose this hike because the drive to it seems shorter than Paradise or Sunrise are in for an unpleasant surprise, though. The 17 mile Mowich Lake Road is mostly unpaved, potholed, and very dusty. Trailheads further away from Seattle are often actually easier to reach.

Starting at Mowich Lake (which always surprises me with how little it offers in the way of views, given how big and blue the lake is) the trail runs north for a flattish and forested mile. Here the Wonderland Trail drops away to the right over Ipsut Pass, while you continue straight ahead. The route dips, then climbs back up, and forest gives way to more open terrain near Eunice Lake. Head around the left of the lake, staying on the main trail to avoid contributing to the erosion caused by the many social trails in this area, switchback up onto the peak behind it, and you're at the fire lookout. Dating from 1932, this is in great condition although no longer used for fire watch which is done aerially these days.

My solution to the problem of crowds was to start early. I hit the trail at 4 AM, leaving plenty of time to reach the top before dawn. This was my first time hiking through woods at night, which turned out to be fun but spooky. My headlamp lit the tips of branches from only the closest trees, making the forest behind them seem impenetrably black. It was a great relief when the one time I saw eyes glowing at me from the distance, they turned out to be just a deer!

A nighttime hike through dark scary forest

Moon above the Tolmie Peak fire lookout, around 5:30 AM

Lenticular cloud above the early morning mountain

Above the clouds, catching the dawn

Fantasy landscape in the dawn light

River of cloud flowing over Ipsut Pass

Good morning Rainier! (from Tolmie Peak)

Eunice Lake, with the Tolmie fire lookout on the ridge behind it

Rainier from Tolmie Peak, with Eunice Lake in the foreground