In the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park, a breathtaking destination awaits your adventures. Typically overlooked for the amenity-filled Paradise, Longmire and Sunrise, those in the know flock to the Mowich Lake region of Mount Rainier during the summer and early fall months. Once the snow has melted for the year, few places in the US offer access to such iconic and beautiful landscapes. Full of hiking for all ages and abilities, as well as camping spots and unrivaled entry to stunning backpacking locales, Mowich Lake needs to be seen by all who love the splendor of nature in the Pacific Northwest.
Mount Rainier’s Mowich Lake is located just 28 miles from Buckley, but plan on it taking about an hour to reach the lake and campground area. That is because the road slowly narrows and becomes less maintained the closer you get to the mountain, eventually becoming a 17-mile long bumpy gravel road that leads to you destination. Accessible by car from July through early October, the short window for exploration makes this a must-see spot for all those in the Pacific Northwest who crave something a little wilder than the paved parking lots elsewhere around the National Park.
While Mowich can get crowded on a sunny weekend, the area is far less visited than Paradise and Sunrise, making it a nice treat after you’ve spent a few weekends seeing other spots in the park. The name “Mowich” is said to derive from the Chinook word for deer, which you may see a few of in the area. Mowich Lake is said to be the deepest and largest lake in Mount Rainier National Park, with a surface area of 188 acres. While this may catch the attention of some anglers, fishing here is poor, due to the area not being stocked. However, those with non-motorized boats can enjoy paddling around the pristine waters, a rare thing to do in Mount Rainier National Park.
The main activity for those heading up to Mowich Lake is hiking. At Mowich, there are trails for nearly all levels of hikers, from short walks with the kids, to treks with incredible views of the majestic mountain. While hiking, keep your eyes open for wildlife, including mountain goats who are commonly spotted from the trails.
Families will enjoy a few options, depending on hiking ability. The easiest trail to walk is exploring the paths around the lake. While not that long, this is a scenic walk with a few good glimpses of the region and a fun place to look for wildflowers and frogs. Those with older kids can take the trek to Eunice Lake. The trek here is 5.8 miles round trip and can get a little steep, so take your time and bring plenty of snacks and water. While the lake is a pretty enough spot to turn around, those who can should make their way up the steep one mile trail from Eunice Lake up to Tolmie Peak and the iconic fire lookout perched atop. At the fire lookout, you’ll have incredible views of Mount Rainier and the lake below, giving you a new appreciation for the scale of wilderness in the region.
Longer day hikers and trail runners will fall in love with the trail options at Mowich Lake. The gem for many is Spray Park, an eight-mile round trip trek leading to cascading water, wildflowers, mountain views and a chance to walk a few miles along an alternative route of the 93-mile long Wonderland Trail. Few hikes rival the beauty found on the Spray Park trail. If Spray Park isn’t enough, take a 13-mile round trip hike to Observation Rock. Recommended for advanced hikers and those who have a lot snow experience, Observation Rock is a challenging day hike full of big views. The hike is best done in late summer, as that will give you the least amount of snow travel. Keep in mind that this is also a scramble and can be dangerous due to loose rock and unstable footing.
If a day isn’t enough, spend the night at Mowich. Mowich is one of four front country campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park. Camping at Mowich is busy, especially for the size of the camping area. The campground has just 13 tent areas for 10 sites, all walk-in tent camping spots without the possibility of being reserved in advance. When camping here, don’t expect much, as these are mostly primitive spots, with pit toilets, picnic tables, a fire pit and not much else. The camping area also has no potable water, so be prepared to treat your water or bring your own. While this may not sound great for many weekend campers in the region, those looking for unrivaled night skies and a basecamp to amazing adventures during the day will love camping here. The campground is typically open from July through early October, so your window to stay here is short.
Finally, those looking for backpacking adventures or section hikes along the Wonderland Trail will enjoy Mowich for the access it gives to the wetter side of the park. From Mowich Lake, you can drop down to the Carbon River and into Longmire, or head through the rain forested sections of the park to Golden Lakes. One popular route is to hike from Mowich to Sunrise, a 57-mile trek that gives you over 15,000 feet of elevation gain. Along this route, you’ll have unrivaled views of Mount Rainier and a new appreciation for the wilderness of the Mount Rainier National Park.
Whether you go for the day, a weekend or a week-long backpacking trip, Mowich Lake is a fantastic spot to go for outdoor adventures. While it won’t give you the luxuries of flushing toilets, running water or ranger-led programs, it will entice and inspire you to get out and explore, heading deeper into the wilds of our backyard National Park.