Another quarantine hike! I picked Owyhigh Lakes because it’s been too long since I’ve done much cardio, and this 7 mile round-trip hike seemed like it would be a great payoff for the relatively easy grade. There are two main access points to the lakes – the north trailhead on White River Road and the south trailhead on State Route 123. We left from Bellevue at 6:20 am and while it should have taken about an hour and a half to get to the parking lot, we got turned around and ended up at the south trailhead. Since we didn’t want to extend our hike in mileage or elevation gain, we made the 20-minute drive north to the White River Road lot instead. When we parked around 8:30am, there were already at least 7-8 cars. As a note, this particular lot does require a Mount Rainier National Park Pass (or an America the Beautiful Pass), and you have to show your pass and identification at the entrance if you decide to use this starting point.
From the marked trailhead, you’re immediately immersed in dense PNW forest, with lots of green but few wildflowers or mountain views – I think this might be why the trail tends to be lightly trafficked. The trail starts out with a fairly steady incline, but it was very doable and we didn’t have to take half as many breathers as we did when we hiked Mount Si back in May.
The first major switchback features a lookout where you can see the remands of what might have been a rockslide or flood. From there, six or seven more switchbacks follow (at least two switchbacks didn’t show up for us on Google Maps) through more forest. There were several areas where water flowed downstream, growing vibrant green moss wherever it landed. However, I read somewhere that these disappear by late summer, so I recommend planning your water accordingly. Although the forest was nice, the dry trees and dusty earth wasn’t quite as cozy as the damp PNW forest smell we love so much.
Soon after passing Tamanos Creek Camp on the left side of the trail, you’ll reach the open meadow. This was hands-down one of the most beautiful places I’ve been – with vast swaths of wildflowers and mountains looming ahead. It also smelled fantastic, like a field full of jasmine tea. It was a picture out of a movie and I won’t easily forget the views on this hike.
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at Owyhigh Lakes (around 11:15 am) it was already quite hot and the mosquitoes were out and hungry. Between the two of us, we counted over 35 bites. We decided not to venture down to the lakes to avoid being eaten alive, although we did see several people stopping there for their lunch. We backtracked to a shady area where we could eat and avoid masses of insects – this was the first time we’ve brought fresh fruit on a hike, and it will definitely not be our last!
The walk back was quick and easier on the knees than some of the steeper hikes we’ve done. We were back at the car by 12:45pm, and there were no more parking spots left. Owyhigh Lakes trail was a perfect choice for social distancing – we only saw ten people during our entire out-and-back hike, and nearly everyone put on some sort of face mask when we passed them. I would recommend this hike to anyone looking for an easy to moderate hike with lots of shade and a gorgeous payoff. Bring bug spray!