Exploring Mt. Rainier: Palisades Lakes Trail

On a clear day, from Sunrise Point parking lot for the Palisades Lakes Trail, Mt. Rainier stands proudly in the near distance. Venturing to the eastern edge of this high perch and looking down, views of emerald-hued Sunrise Lake invite curious hikers to have a closer look. We spent our day exploring Sunrise Lake and the other lakes along the trail.

View of Mt. Rainier from Palisade Lakes Trail

The Palisades Lakes Trail led gently downward through a thin line of trees on either side. The conditions were dry, and the trail was dusty, evidence there had been no recent rains. The views of nearby mountains, meadows, and lakes urged us on. We came to the first turn in the trail and to our left was a Sooty Grouse. We abruptly stopped to admire the fowl and catch a few photos. This would not be our only first-time encounter with shy wildlife on this trip.

Sooty Grouse, Palisades Lakes Trail

As we continued along the trail we came to a rock wall, with several Pikas making their squeak-toy “meep” to alert others of our presence. The trail split just past the walled portion, and we continued straight to Sunrise Lake. The water was crystal clear, and the color moved from the tan of the sandy shore to deep greens and blues at deeper depths. A few feet from the perimeter, a wall of trees surrounded the lake. Small shrubs and a variety of wildflowers grew closer to shore. The hum of bees and the clicking of grasshoppers joined the chorus of the breeze through the trees.

Sunrise Lake

We returned to the split in the trail and continued toward our ultimate destination: Upper Palisades Lake.The trail left its mark on us, and every step kicked up small clouds of dust that settled on our pants. Fortunately, the breeze was calm, and we only got the occasional feeling of grit in our mouths. Surrounded by trees, we crossed over several single log bridges that spanned now-dry creek beds. We emerged from the trees to unexpectedly find ourselves in a meadow.

Wildflowers along Palisades Lakes Trail

Next we reached Clover Lake, another gem-hued beauty. We paused and drank in the calm splendor of the place. We saw salamanders and small frogs in the shallow depths, and a fellow hiker took a dip across the lake.

Local inhabitants, Clover Lake

We still had ground to cover, so we quickly rejoined the trail. Forest, meadow, and live and dry creeks along the path led us to another trail junction. Hidden Lake was a mile detour from the main trail. We decided this short and slightly steep detour would be worth taking, and we were rewarded for our choice. Shrouded in silence, horseshoe-shaped Hidden Lake took our breath away.

Stacy admires Hidden Lake. Pictured in Sora Shirt and Destroyr Pant

We rested on the shore and took photos. The part of the land that makes up the inner part of the horseshoe was home to enough trees to provide shade. On close inspection, we discovered that the small, berry-laden shrubs around our ankles were blueberry bushes. The brief rest savored, we continued onward. As we left, we passed a mother and daughter and exchanged pleasantries before continuing in opposite directions.

We passed Tom, Dick and Harry’s Lakes and continued through the trees into an open meadow. Finally, we could see Upper Palisades Lake. We skirted the trail up and around for a cliffside view of Lower Palisades Lake far below. We then made our way back to Upper Palisades. The perimeter of the lake displayed clear evidence of the lack of rain over the last several months. Residue from the evaporated water left perfect graduating rings on the shore to the current water line. Still a beautiful setting, we understood its popularity with campers.

Upper Palisades Lake

As we made our return trip, we’d just passed the trail marker for Dick’s Lake Camp when a rustle high on a wooded bank caught our attention. A large black bear grazed in the underbrush. We stopped in our tracks. The bear looked at us and continued to nibble. As we backed up, the bear began to move into the trees in the direction we needed to go.

We decided to backtrack to the nearby camp. In chairs on the lakeside we saw the mother and daughter we’d met earlier. We apologized for the interruption and explained our surprise presence. They had come upon three bears during their hike, so they weren’t surprised. We lingered for a few minutes, and then decided to get back to the trail. We had no further brushes with bears, but our pace was a bit brisker for the remainder of our journey!

Pacific North Wanderers

Stacy & Brandon are Pacific North Wanderers. Both transplants to Washington state, they spend their free time outdoors exploring, hiking, and camping all across the glorious Pacific Northwest. They started Pacific North Wanderers in 2015 to share their adventures and inspire others to enjoy the outdoors.