My friends and I had been planning to take a trip down to Mount Rainier for months, and this past weekend was much too beautiful to pass up the chance for a day hike to Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout. We started off from Kent Station at 7 AM, and the drive to the trailhead took about two hours. I’m glad I read the trip reports on WTA.org before making the drive, because I was able to anticipate the rough road conditions that started about 12 miles prior to the trailhead parking area. The road is very bumpy on the way up, and the dust can severely impact visibility, especially in the sun. I recommend keeping your headlights on the entire time, even if it doesn’t seem like it makes a difference–at the very least, cars around you will be able to see you better. Luckily, the road isn’t potholed, so even relatively low-clearance vehicles can make it to the top (although we did see one car that had punctured a tire and was being helped by the ranger). About 11 miles into the gravel road you will come to a pay station where you must purchase a $25 day-pass, unless you have an America the Beautiful Pass with you. When we finally made it to the trailhead, there were already quite a few cars lining the side of the road (you can only park on the left side, closer to the lake/trail).
We started off from Mowich Lake, so the entire hike ended up being approximately 7.5 miles round trip. If you want to cut off a mile of this 7.5 mile round-trip hike, you can look for signs along the gravel road for a second trailhead, although Mowich Lake is worth the extra mile (imo). We started off with great views of Mowich Lake through the trees, and the breeze off the water was so refreshing! The start of this hike is also very level, so it’s a great warm-up for the 1100 foot elevation gain later on. We were surprised that the trail dips in elevation for a while before the incline begins, and I believe the true elevation gain is even greater than what is stated. This time of year is absolutely perfect for a trek up to the peak, as wildflowers are in bloom–we saw fields of Avalanche Lilies and Bear Grass, which only adds to the breathtaking views of Rainier and the surrounding hills and mountains. You will arrive at Eunice Lake about three-quarters of the way in, which is strikingly blue and remarkably clear. We took a pit stop here to eat a snack and appreciate the view. Look up and see the fire lookout at the top of the ridge–it seems so far away, but in reality it’s only about a mile to the top from here. For anyone who’s played Firewatch, I was told the scene here is reminiscent of the game’s art!
At this point in the hike, the elevation gain really ramps up with the last push to the top. This was the place where we leapfrogged the most with fellow hikers, though we were well-rewarded by stunning views of Eunice Lake and Mount Rainier. The greenery and the wildflowers in the final mile definitely made me feel like I was in a movie (think Sound of Music). Once we reached the lookout, we took our pictures and then found a nice, flat spot to eat lunch and take in the view. I can honestly say this was the most beautiful hike I have ever done, and I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat. Some hikers were out at the true peak, which is a relatively short jaunt past the lookout itself–I would do that in the future to see if the view is any better from there. It was pretty warm by the time we reached the lookout, so we reapplied sunscreen and then hung out in the shade before heading back down.
The hike back to the trailhead was brutal on the knees, but we made very good time back to the car. By the time we got to the trailhead, cars were lined up on the side of the road for much further than I would have liked to park–my suggestion is to get there early, especially on a beautiful weekend day! Other recommendations include bringing plenty of water unless you plan on filtering water on the hike (there’s plenty of natural water sources if this is what you choose to do), wearing sunscreen, and donning solid hiking boots so you avoid watery mud and rolling your ankles. I would rate this hike a 10/10!