Ranking: 4/5 For Mt. Rainier scenery, there are few places that can match the in your face views that you will experience across the flower laden meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, and because of its less than rock star status, like the upper meadows at Paradise, or Sunrise, you will have a lot more elbow room than those notoriously crowded summer locations. Rolling meadows, and the reflections off of Mirror Lake make this a worthy day hike, if you haven’t experienced this part of the park yet…
Difficulty: 6/10 The drive to the parking lot is easy, and the trail is well maintained and well marked. The difficult part is the steep uphill from the Kautz Creek crossing, where you will gain almost 3000ft of elevation in just a little over 3 miles. If not for that, this would be a straight forward easy hike. That, and it’s 12.6 miles round trip.
Getting there: From I-5S, take exit 127 for WA 512E to Puyallup, and go 2 miles. Turn right off of WA 512E, to WA-7 Pacific Ave exit, which leads towards Parkland/Spanaway. Follow WA-7 for 36 miles to the town of Elbe, and turn off of WA-7 onto WA-706, the National Park Hwy, to Mt. Rainier Natl. Park, the Paradise entrance. Follow WA-706 13.7 miles to the Mt. Rainier park entrance. From here, its 3.3 miles to the Kautz Creek parking lot on the right. The trail crosses the road from the parking lot, and is quite busy during the summer months.
Permits: You will need to pay to enter the park at the Paradise entrance, single car is $15, or a $30 annual pass, or a NPS pass, which costs $80 annually, and allows you to enter all National Parks.
Maps: You can use the Trails Illustrated Map, of Mt. Rainier Natl. Park, or for greater detail, we used My Topo maps, which you can create at any REI kiosk, or order online at Mytopo.com.
Kautz Creek to Indian Henry’s, and Mirror Lake GPS Added 10/31/2012
The first real trip of the season, a chance to stretch out and field test new gear, (namely, new boots), and get some photos of a great section of the Wonderland Trail through Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.
Brian and I pick a sunny and hot day, but get to the trailhead before the tourists, around 7:00am, and there are only a couple cars here before us.
The trail begins along the Kautz creek, and since it’s changed its course during the floods of 2006, when 18 inches of rain fell in a 36 hour period, the bed here that crosses under the first bridge looks like a trickle, coloring the rocks along the stream bed a bright rusty red color. The main flow has cut a path a little further east. The trail is of course, well used, and wide to the creek crossing, a mile in. From there, after finding your way over rocks, (not difficult), the trail begins a steep ascent through old growth forest, gaining 2800ft of elevation for the next 3.2 miles, before you break out into hilly meadows, at the 5280ft mark. It’s a welcome relief to finally be able to see something, and the meadows here are filled with a variety of wildflowers, creating a colored tapestry in the foreground of distant mountain top views of Mt. Adams, and the Goat Rocks, draped in snow and ice.
There’s only a little more uphill, to your highpoint, 5640ft, and 5 miles in. From here, the trail drops down into the meadows of Indian Henrys Hunting Grounds, and reaches the junction with the Wonderland Trail. Nearing the junction, you’re greeted by horizon filling views of Mt. Rainier, the southern side of the mountain feels so close here, and the huge ice fields of the Tahoma glaciers and the Kautz glacier continue their slow motion flow down the mountain. You can also see St. Andrews Rock, and Sunset Amphitheater on the left ridge. A spectacular view for sure! Across the meadows, to the opposite tree line, there tucked up against the trees is the patrol cabin for this section of the Wonderland. What an amazing place to put a cabin, with views like this. It’s usually staffed during the summer, but today, no one’s home…
Taking a left on the Wonderland Trail, we travel another .25 miles and turn right towards Mirror Lakes. With the mountain in full view, it’s a slight uphill through rolling hills, covered in an abundance of avalanche lilies and various other flowers, to Mirror Lakes, at the 6.3 mile mark.
“…and Pasqueflower Seed heads that look like something out of Dr. Seuss’s imagination…”
This park like setting is truly remarkable, the rolling hills covered in green; dotted by small stands of alpine firs, with huge bunches of white avalanche lilies growing so thick that it looks like a snow field from a distance. And, just in case you get bored with the white, the
occasional field is filled with such variety that I cannot name them all, but some of the notables are Lupine, Indian paintbrush, Sitka Valerian, yellow Mountain Arnica, and Pasqueflower Seed heads that look like something out of Dr. Seuss’s imagination. The color combinations are endless, and all of this with Mt. Rainier as a backdrop, just seems too fantastical to be real.
I remember walking through these fields a long time ago, when we made the round the mountain trek along the Wonderland in 2005, and I thought then, that I would have to return here to make a more concerted effort to photograph these meadows against the mountain, I just never knew it would take me so long to get back.
“… The hum of bees tending to the flowers, and birds singing float through the air…”
Finally at the shores of the largest of the Mirror Lakes, it doesn’t take too much imagination to picture why they named them so, for there on the still surface of the lake was a perfect reflection of Mt. Rainier. For the next 20 minutes or so, we scurried around the lake, trying to find that perfect shot of the reflection and the mountain together. Many photos later, we take a quick break sit near the shore, enjoying this perfect summers day at the lake. The hum of bees tending to the flowers, and birds singing float through the air that’s been scented by the sweet smell of the abundant wildflowers, all helping to create that calming feeling that washes over you in such a place as this.
Taking a few more pictures just in case we didn’t get the right one, we head back down to the parking lot, and home. If you have a few hours and want to see some of what makes the Wonderland Trail and the meadows of Mt. Rainier famous, don’t miss this great out and back day hike!