The Sunrise Area of Mount Rainier can be really crowded! The reason for the crowds is all the amazing hikes right at the foot of this towering, active volcano. If you visit Mount Rainier National Park, make sure to plan some time at Sunrise. You’ll want to arrive early though, if you’re going to do an amazing hike like Shadow Lake in Mount Rainer.
Shadow Lake starts at the large parking area right near the Visitor Center. There are several routes to Shadow Lake, but we did a nice loop that didn’t require climbing and had a very manageable distance of just 3 miles. The start of the loop is located on the south side of the parking lot near the Emmons Vista Overlook. Turn right at the vista (left takes you on the Silver Forest Trail).
The hike heads west and gives really nice views of of Mount Rainier as it skirts the hillside toward Shadow Lake. As you walk in and out of the trees, there is a small chance of seeing a bear. We were told this is the most common place to see one. It may be a good idea to carry bear spray on this hike. We did not see a bear, though.
After about a half mile, the trail splits. The left fork drops down the hillside, but the right should take you to Shadow Lake. It is 0.8 miles to the lake from this point, but the going is easy, the wildflowers are beautiful, and there is not much elevation change.
Finally, you come around a corner and find Shadow Lake on the right. You can stay to the left, which doesn’t approach the lake, but we turned right and walked right along the shore. We walked all the way around the lake, and the trail was fine, though less traveled. After we’d gone almost all the way around, some steps led us to the top of the hill near the starting place. From there, we dropped down to the junction at Sunrise Campground.
Sunrise Campground is a really old camp with a building and a very primitive bathroom (bring your own toilet paper). There was actually a volunteer at the camp when we visited on a weekend. He was directing hikers to other, more distant destinations. Since we were exactly halfway around the loop, we had the option to go back the way we’d come, or turn north.
We turned north and traveled a short distance to another junction. From there, we turned right and followed a much wider service road back to the Visitor Center. Along the way, we spotted a hoary marmot, and sometimes, there are elk in the trees.
This hike is great if your group can do the distance. We had an amazing time, and even though the trail is pretty busy on a weekend, there are amazing views of Mount Rainier! Add Shadow Lake in Mount Rainier to your itinerary. And check out our guide to Mount Rainier for other great hike suggestions.