Crystal Lakes Trail, in the Mount Rainier area, is a beautiful day hike best enjoyed in late spring (June) or early fall (October). With 2600 feet elevation gain in merely 3 miles, it may seem challenging, but the trail is very well maintained with mostly dirt path, and shaded most of the way to the top.
Unless you are camping overnight, no pass or permit is required.
The only caveat is finding the trailhead. It is on the east side of Highway 410. While there are no signs visible from the road, parking is available on both sides of Highway 410. WTA website has a good description of how to get there.
Even if you drive past the trailhead, this view of Mt. Rainier, with rushing rapids of the White River snaking through verdant valley, is worth checking out.
Back to the trailhead, start the hike by crossing Crystal Creek on a rustic log bridge.
And begin the countless switchbacks. You will see wild flowers in the spring
And look for opening in trees for a view of Mt. Rainier, under lenticular clouds
Half way through the hike, there is a junction that goes to Crystal Peak. Stay to the left. After a few more switchbacks, the view opens up.
Here you can take a detour to lower lake but upper lake is where you want to be!
A gray jay showed up when we were having lunch by the lake, being the camp robber they are known for.
Western anemones and glacier lilies decorate the lake shore
North of the lake, a mountain stream carrying glacier water tumbling down from the high ridge. The sound itself is soothing.
Compared to other known lake trail closer to the Seattle area, Crystal Lakes is not crowded at all. When we were there on a Tuesday we ran into only 5 people total. There is a great chance that you will find solitude at this beautiful lake.
Now onto the other side of the story. I had not mentioned that the final 0.5 miles of the trail was covered in snow. Going up to the lake, with the jugged peaks in sight, this did not present any issue. But coming down into the forest, we lost the trail. We followed foodprints until they vanished, and ended up among thick bushes and on snow covered slopes. My friend suggested that we pressed on with the descend, but I was not comfortable treading this terrain, especially when we do not know what lies ahead of us. We looked for objects of reference. I brought up the fact that we had a clear view of the ridge to our left on our way to the lake, where the trees were not as tall and dense, meaning that the trail could be somewhere above us. Given that we were only off trail for less than 10 minutes, we decided to walk towards the ridge in a straight line and it didn’t take us long to find our way back to the trail.
This reminds us that as beautiful as nature is, it is also vast and relentless. We should always travel prepared and be familiar with seasonal hazards. As we came down to the car, I reflected on what we could have done. My friend pointed out that with longer daylight, even if we got lost, we should still be fine, but how? I couldn’t help but wonder, is it true that under stress women makes better decisions than men?