Crystal Lake, Mt. Rainier National Park Trip Report
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July 19, 2004
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Directions: From Seattle take Interstate 5 South to 405 North. Take 405 North to the Highway 167 South. Go about 20 miles South, go east on Highway 410. Follow 410 through Bonney Lake, Buckley and Enumclaw up for about 60 miles. Go about 5 miles past the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort turn off continue straight Look carefully on the left for the trail.
Trail notes: Crystal Peak as the name implies is near the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. The hike starts off near a former Highway Maintenance Building off Highway 410. The trail begins by immediately crossing Crystal creek. From here the trail without much fanfare begins it's slow but consistent way up toward both Crystal Lake and Crystal Peak. From the beginning the trail shows its relatively kind character. Mad Props to the trail builders! What you see is what you get, and what you get is a very kind grade to ascent on. Sometimes, you might even think the grade it too kind. The beginning of the hike starts in what appears to be a second growth forest made up of a mix of pine and fir trees. Gradually as you ascend the sounds of Highway 410 fades away and is replaced with the sound of the White River quickly fading away below.
About 40-60 minutes into the hike you will read a fork in the trail. It is here you need to decide whether your first and maybe only destination will be Crystal Peak, or Crystal Lakes (you could do both without much difficulty, but we didn’t have time – bad Alex! ;-) ). We opted for Crystal Peak which is a little more difficult than the trail to Crystal Lakes. Taking the spur to Crystal Peak you shortly will cross Crystal Creek which is your last and only source for water, not that you will likely need it for a hike of this length. From Crystal Creek the trail becomes a little steeper and begins to offer views of the White River and Mount Rainer. The trail continues through second growth, now mostly pinion forest for another 30-50 minutes offering progressively better views. During this time you will pass several old growth trees which from the looks of it survived a forest fire from about 30-50 years ago.
Gradually, the forest and the shade associated with it fade to alpine meadows full of wildflowers which as of this writing are in full bloom. Also at this time you will get your first view of Crystal Peak still about a thousand feet up. The trail makes a few gradual switch backs as things come more and more alive. Finally, there is a short steep section of the trail to Crystal peak proper offering 360 degree views of the surroundings. To the east one can see Crystal Lake, and to the North Little Crystal Lake. The people at the lakes can be seen though they are just specs on the landscape. Crystal Peak also offers views of Mt. Adams to the South and Glacier Peak to the North. I don't think Mt. St. Helens can be viewed from here. The top of Crystal Peak is alive! There are ants, bees, flies you name it though I didn't get bit here. Just wonderful, and amazing just how alive things actually are.
Crystal Peak, well at least Crystal Lake has been reported to be heavily used though we only passed one group of backpackers on our way to the top, and were able to enjoy Crystal Peak for about 30 minutes before another party showed up. So you can get some solitude on this hike, though the expanse of the landscape makes absolute certainty pretty difficult. Another couple things, for about 1/2 the hike you are exposed to the sun, which is strong. It would be advisable to bring both sunscreen and a sunhat. Also, though I consumed less water than I thought I would bringing extra water is advisable. I would think 2 liters the minimum. Overall this hike is really very nice, at least on a par with Shriner Peak. Enjoy!
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Reviewed By: Milt on Friday, October 21, 2011 @ 10:00:08 AM
Just an update on my Cyrstal Lakes entry. Last time, we hoofed to the lakes and up to the park border. This time we took the turnoff up to Crystal Peak late September. Lots of trail work was done on the lower part of the trail. Most of the trail is out in the open, so bring sunscreen. There is one huge switchback which explains the extra mile it takes to get to the peak than to the lakes. When on top of the peak, take notice of where you sit. Lots of small ants looking for food. The views were great. It might be better to do the lakes trail first and then the peak trail because you can see where you've been while looking down at the lakes. As always, bring binoculars!
Crystal Lake Mt Rainier hike music memory video
Reviewed By: Fletch on Friday, March 18, 2011 @ 02:37:13 PM
Great hike. Too many bugs when we went August 16, 2010. Enjoy the video!
Crystal Lakes & Pacific Crest Trail junction
Reviewed By: Milt on Saturday, September 19, 2009 @ 12:03:07 PM
Decided to take this trail based on the favorable reviews of the upper lake. There is good parking on both sides of the highway. Since the sun was behind the ridge in the morning, the first mile of the trail was very dark with all the tree cover. The trail itself was near perfect for 2 miles. Very well taken care of. Look for a couple of great peek-a-boo views of the mountain on the way up to the Crystal Lake/Crystal Peak trail sign. We took the Crystal Lake trail. 95+% of the 3 mile trail is on a steady incline all the way to the upper lake. Once the trees start thining out, the trail starts getting sandy/rocky and a little ragged around the edges.
The lower lake is small, cute, but nothing to write home about. There is a toilet here, but it's out in the open. Hope nodody comes down the path! The 1/2 mile to the upper lake is painless. The upper lake is surrounded on three side by tall peaks and is worth the hike. No Rainier view, but I challenge anyone not to take at least a dozen pictures of the place. There are several large rounded rocks near the lake to picnic on.
One could end the day here and head back, but we checked the map and noticed that the trail goes on another mile or so and hooks up with the famed Pacific Crest Trail just outside the park border. There are no markers anywhere mentioning the PCT or the park border. To continue onward, look for the campsite trail marker when you first arrived at the lake. You want to take the left trail and not the right trail to the campsites. The trail follows the lake shore a little bit and then starts fading away in the marsh. Start looking for a trail to the left, going away from the lake. It will start heading up the hill. This trail is nothing more than a deluxe goat path and in some places, it seemed we were walking in a trench. Once you start getting up the ridge, that's when the first payoff begins. Look back towards the lake and Rainier starts to pop up over the ridge above the lake. The higher you hike, the taller the mountain gets until the whole thing is exposed. Pull out your binoculars and look for summit climbers and Camp Muir buildings. Continue hiking to the top of the ridge and the park border. Payoff #2 begins with a spectacular mountain/forrest/valley view on the other side. Here you can also see the Pacific Crest Trail. You will notice on the right, the trail you are on hooks up with the PCT and goes to another ridge. We had to see just what was on the other side of that ridge. A short hike later we were greeted with payoff #3. A great view of Mt. Adams and a look at the Chinook Pass highway way off in the distance. Just amazing.
Only saw four people on this hike and NO bugs. The sun was out, but not hot. Just enough cool wind to cancel out the heat. Five stars just for the upper lake and the views over the ridge.
Great hike to Crystal Peak
Reviewed By: Ben on Monday, July 9, 2007 @ 02:26:13 PM
My girlfriend and I did this hike July 7, 2007. We headed up to Crystal Peak around noon and made the top 3.5 hours later where we had it all to ourselves. The wildflowers are out in full force. The views of Mt. Rainier are great once you get out of the thick forest. We hit a patch of snow at about the 6000' mark but easily traversed it.
Upper Crystal Lake via Tipsoo Lake/Sourdough Gap
Reviewed By: Glenn on Tuesday, October 10, 2006 @ 08:03:17 PM
"...and I'll get on my knees and pray we don't get fooled again...(The Who). Looking for a beautiful Autumn hike that will traverse three mountain lakes over a distance of about three miles, reward you with majestic views including Mount Rainier, and not leave your legs feeling like stairmaster failures? Okay! Consider adding Tipsoo Lake to Upper Crystal Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Sourdough Gap. Upper Crystal Lake is always a personal favorite but that gruelling hike up from Highway 410 wears on my knees. An alternative hiking route is to start at Tipsoo Lake (5,304 feet) near Chinook Pass on Highway 410. Lot's of parking and some assurance your car will be intact when you return. Pick up the trail on the north side of Tipsoo Lake. It quickly climbs over Chinook Pass (5,432 feet) as the PCT, enters the Snoqualmie National Forest, and then gradually declines as it follows Highway 410 below you and to your right. After about two miles, it begins to gradually climb and enters the forest. Another 1/2 mile, and you're at Sheep Lake (5,939 feet). This is a beautiful mountain lake with rock outcroppings on the shore suitable for lunch (and camping) while you gaze at trout in the crystal clear water. On leaving the lake, the trail continues to climb for about a 1/2 mile until you reach Sourdough Gap (6,396 feet), which is worth a pause just for the view. Another 100 yards and the PCT turns right and heads downhill. You stay left on the trail and cross back into Mount Rainier National Park according to a posted sign. Another 100 yards and there is Upper Crystal Lake 300 feet below you about a 1/4 mile distant. There are several good lunch spots (6,288 feet) that enable you to see Mount Rainier and Upper Crystal Lake--at the same time. The trail continues down to Upper Crystal Lake. The whole hike today had that Autumn feel to it--dry foilage in Fall colors, eerie silence on the trail, sunlight more like what you experience on a July evening, and a crispness in the air that gives a hint of what's coming. Only critters observed were the fish in the lake and the usual swarms of ground chipmunks eager to steal my lunch. No bugs. The only water sources were at the lakes. The roundtrip distance was 6.0+ miles covered in four hours including time for lunch above Upper Crystal Lakes and one cigar. Total elevation climbed was about 1,092 feet from Tipsoo Lake to Sourdough Gap. Only observed about ten folks on the trail and all qualified for AARP membership--including me. As a side note, groups considering this hike may want to park one car at the area off of Highway 410 near the Lower/Upper Crystal Lakes trail (the "traditional" route), and drive the group in a second car to Tipsoo Lake, then hike all the way through--probably a distance of about 7 miles and except for 1+ mile, essentially downhill. Just a thought for those eager for a longer hike. You probably have only 3-4 weeks left for this hike before the snow arrives and Chinook Pass is closed, but it's a good one this time of year. Happy Trails!
Crystal Lakes, Cloudy Day
Reviewed By: Brian and Shirley on Saturday, September 16, 2006 @ 04:59:22 PM
Review: My wife & I completed hike September 16th, 2006. We hiked from Hwy 410 to the lower lake, then up to the upper lake. The lower lake isn't particularly scenic, but the upper lake is definitely worth the extra .8 mile to get there! It was an overcast day with some sun breaks, but mostly cloudy. Never saw Mount Rainier on the hike, but we really went to see the lakes. Very few bugs as the temps at the upper lake was in the upper 40's. There was still a snow field several feet higher than the upper lake, but the ground around the lakes was firm and easy to walk on. Saw quite a few birds, squirrels, and a large toad, but no big animals. We saw absolutely no hikers on the way up. We had the upper lake to ourselves for lunch (about 1/2 hour) before anyone else arrived, then passed about 20 hikers on the way down (we must have started earlier than average?). We're both in our early 40's, in OK shape, but by the time we were halfway down we were very sore from the steep trail. It's a very steep trail up and down, but the views at the upper lake and the serenity (if you get there early enough) are worth it!
Crystal Mountain Trail (Crystal Recreation Area)
Reviewed By: Glenn on Sunday, August 27, 2006 @ 07:13:09 AM
Hike completed on 26 August 2006. Total distance one way downhill was approximately 9.0 miles with an elevation change of about 2,450 feet. As an avid but aging intermediate skiier who occasionally challenges the winter slopes at the Crystal Mountain ski resort (despite the cost), my wife and I opted to experience a summer chairlift ride and hike on the same terrain that threatens our knees during the winter months. We paid our $20 chairlift fee, were handed our area trail map guide (...adequate...), and rode the Chinook Express and Rainier Express lifts to the top and Summit House (6,872 feet). The view of Mount Rainier was spectacular as always although today it was slightly obscured by smoke due to the forest fires south of Buckley and Winchester. After a lunch of grilled bratwurst, we selected the Crystal Mountain trail (#1163) as our route to the lodge area at the base (4,417 feet). We donned our day packs and started down the trail on essentially the same terrain as the Lucky Shot ski run. The trail was initially rocky but gradually transitioned to the more familiar packed dirt. The #1163 trail crosses or skirts the actual ski runs and tends to wind through forested terrain east of the Forest Queen Express and Quicksilver lifts after leaving open trail at the higher elevation. It was eerie to hike under the familiar but silent ski lifts and cross barren ski runs, well known during winter months, but now covered with wildflowers, rocks, and grass. The #1163 trail runs adjacent to several mountain lakes and ponds. Elizabeth Lake (5,828 feet) was a surprisingly large mountain lake with clear water and apparently a favorite watering hole for deer and elk based on the abundant prints near the shoreline. Henson Lake (5,466 feet) was so clear you could observe trout slowly moving in the shallows. Other then a few folks on horse back and a youth trail crew resting near Henson Lake, we saw no one else during our four hour descent. Unlike the trails in MRNP, the trails here are unmarked, something the resort folks might want to fix at some time in the future. When we arrived at some trail junctions, our navigational skills and familiarity with the area proved beneficial. The trail also runs adjacent to several meadows with wildflowers still in bloom. Other then a few chipmunks and the fish, we saw no other wildlife. The bugs were also in the air, although they seemed less aggressive today. Water sources became more abundant as we descended. In summary, it was an interesting four hour hike, essentially level or downhill the entire distance, and provided a different perspective of familar terrain normally unseen from a chairlift and covered in snow...and we are not affiliated with the resort in any way or form...just a couple of dayhikers celebrating our 28th anniversary. Happy Trails!
Reviewed By: Valerie on Thursday, August 10, 2006 @ 04:30:30 PM
Review: My husband and I hiked the trail to Crystal Lake (not peak) on August 6th. It started out nicely enough, though a little tougher than I expected (we are VERY out of shape). The hike is kind of boring because it has very few nice views, just trees, trees, and more trees. The main problem, though, was bugs! Every kind you can imagine and it seemed half of them were biting. If we kept moving, we would have about 3 bugs biting us at any moment, but stop for rest (this hike is not easy for a beginner) or water and we felt like we were drowning in bugs (probably because they were entering every orifice!). So we get to the one nice view of Rainier and can barely stop to take a picture. We get to the lake, but can't take a picture, rest, or eat our lunch because of the bugs. I usually don't care too much about bugs, but this was so bad I refused to even stop for 2 minutes at the lake even after killing myself to get to it! Overall, it was absolutely awful. Maybe it was the time of year, but I will never go back.
Be Prepared for Snow
Reviewed By: Glenn on Tuesday, June 20, 2006 @ 06:03:01 PM
Completed this hike on 21 June 2006. Elevation at trailhead was 3,561 ft according to my GPS. First 2.25 mile is relentless uphill with multiple switchbacks. Snow on trail (5,352 ft) about 1/4 mile from Lower Crystal Lake but easy to follow footprints. Lower Crystal Lake is snow-free and campsites appear melted out.. Trail (1/2 mile) to Upper Crystal Lake is covered in snow. Easy to lose the "trail" but footprints uphill help you stay on course. At Upper Crystal Lake (5,851 ft), lake is covered with snow/ice and trail around lake is also covered in snow. Both campsites covered in snow (2-3 ft). Several snow-free rock formations allow you to sit and enjoy the moment at the upper lake. If heading to the upper lake, good footwear, sunscreen, poles, and a way to mark your trail is recommended so you can find your way down to the trail at the lower lake. Completed the 6.0 mile roundtrip in four hours including time at the upper lake. Kinda like hiking Mt Si near North Bend...makes you regret more time was not spent on stairmaster at the gym during the spring.
Reviewed By: Anonymous on Thursday, August 25, 2005 @ 03:15:29 PM
Review: The Upper Crystal Lake is very pretty, but the Lower Crystal Lake is ok. One thing to pay attention to for backpacker is that there are only 2 camp sites at each lake. We didn't make reservation and found out at the ranger station that Upper Crystal Lake was full for the first night. We were there for 2 nights. We ended up camping at Lower Crystal Lake for the first night and moved everything the next day to the Upper Crystal Lake. And we went on Mon through Wed. (8/8-8/10) Can't believe that it was still full on weekdays.
Crystal Lakes, Mt Rainier
Reviewed By: Fran on Thursday, July 7, 2005 @ 02:24:11 PM
Review: July 3, 2005
Sunny, gorgeous day. The hike ascends in the forest for a while, gets close to the treeline where the trees get smaller, and more and more wildflowers were around the trail in the sun. The lakes were crystal clear and gorgeous, esp. the upper lake. The edges were slightly marshy but you could easily walk all the way around the lake. One patch of boulders provided a place for lunch by the lake. Lots of mosquitoes close to the water though.
In spite of this hike being described in a guidebook as very popular, we only saw a few people and did not have to share our lunch spot, even on a sunny holiday weekend.
Only one part of the trail has a view of Rainier. But the upper lake is worth the hike on its own in my opinion.
Great destination but poor hike.
Reviewed By: Bert on Wednesday, October 6, 2004 @ 02:47:53 PM
Review: This is for Crystal Lakes, not Crystal Peak (which is at 6600 ft.). I did this as a day hike on Oct. 3rd with unseasonable warm 72 degree temperature. Allow 3-4 hours round for the 6 mile round trip hike. It rises from highway 410 at 3500 ft. to 5800 ft. at the second lake.
While the destination is gorgeous, the actual hike leaves a lot to be desired. The trees here are thick, spindley, and it feels as if you are hiking in a tunnel. There is no variety in this hike (until you reach the first lake) except for 3 quick views of Mt. Rainier. The foilage is nearly non-existant -- just a lot of thin fir trees and needles. The only interesting thing was the large and plentiful mushrooms growing on the side of the trail (tells you how dark this trail is).
Once you reach the first lake at 5300 ft. the views start to open up and you are in a huge basin with magnificent hills and cliffs all around. There is overnight camping at both lakes and there are toilets. If you enjoy climbing and exploring surrounding hills from a base campsite this is a good place to do it.
I rated this hike down because most of the actual hike isn't that great, but if you want a good destination it is worth it.
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