Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Burroughs Mountain at Sunrise

While hiking the Skyline Trail in Paradise earlier in the day we heard from a backcountry ranger that heavy rain was moving into the area later that night, and would continue into the next day. As a result we made some changes to our plans and decided to hike the Burroughs Mountain loop that afternoon, instead of the next morning. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Sunrise roughly two hours later, Mt. Rainier was already socked-in with heavy clouds from about 11,000 feet and above.

No worries, though. The Burroughs Mountain loop still offers big expansive views in all directions throughout almost the entire route.

The hike begins near the Sunrise Visitor Center. It starts off with a relatively steep climb, but you’ll have an awesome view of Mt. Rainier off to your left, if the weather permits.

After ascending two short connector trails you’ll arrive at the Sourdough Ridge Trail junction. Turn left here and travel west for about a mile to Frozen Lake. Once the trail ascends Sourdough Ridge it flattens out for a fairly long stretch before reaching the lake. Burroughs Mountain will be the dominating feature just off to your left.

You may expect Frozen Lake to be a pretty scenic place to stop, but really it’s not. In fact it was kind of a disappointment. The lake is used as the water supply for the Sunrise Visitor Center, and is completely fenced-in.

After passing Frozen Lake you’ll reach a five-way trail junction. The Wonderland Trail crosses over on an east-west trajectory, while the Mt. Freemont Lookout Trail spurs off towards the north. The Burroughs Mountain Trail heads southwest, and almost immediately begins a fairly steep climb up the northeastern slopes of Burroughs Mountain.

At the top of the climb you’ll reach what is known as First Burroughs Mountain. The name is the result of there being three “summits” on the mountain. On this alpine tundra plateau, at roughly 7160 feet in elevation, you’ll have outstanding views of Emmons Glacier and Little Tahoma Peak. Also at the top is the Sunrise Rim Trail junction, a trail you’ll use to continue your loop hike on your return trip.

From First Burroughs Mountain the trail descends roughly 70 feet before it begins climbing back up to Second Burroughs. As we crossed the gap between the two summits a light fog drifted over us.

At roughly 2.9 miles hikers will reach the summit of Second Burroughs Mountain. The peak is marked by the Meany Memorial Seat, an interesting stone bench that was erected as a memorial to Edmond S. Meany, a long-time president of the Mountaineers. From this perch at 7402 feet you’ll have commanding views of 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier and the Emmons Glacier towards the south. To the west is Third Burroughs Mountain. You can continue hiking on an unmarked trail for another 1.5 miles to reach the highest point on the mountain, but you’ll have to descend roughly 400 feet first before climbing to the top of the 7828-foot summit. Based on what I’ve heard, however, it sounds like the effort is well worth it. The views of the Winthrop Glacier just beyond mountain are supposed to be spectacular.

Although we didn’t see any this day, mountain goats are frequently seen in this area of the park.

Mount Rainier has the distinction of being the most glaciated peak in the lower 48. With more than 35 square miles of glaciers radiating from its summit, almost 10% of the park is covered in ice. The mountain has 25 named glaciers and several dozen smaller unnamed glaciers and snowfields. Covering a total of 4.3 square miles, Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier on the mountain, while Winthrop Glacier ranks as the second largest. Rainier’s glaciers also spawn six major rivers, including the Carbon, Puyallup, Mowich, Nisqually, Cowlitz and White rivers.

From the summit of Second Burroughs Mountain the loop hike continues by turning around and returning to First Burroughs Mountain. While on the saddle between the two summits you may be able to spot the Mt. Freemont Lookout fire tower if you look towards the north. Once back at the Sunrise Rim Trail junction hikers should head east towards Shadow Lake to resume the loop hike and return back to the visitor center. As you head down the trail the views of Mt. Rainier are quite impressive. You’ll have a grand view of the west face of the peak, as well as Emmons Glacier.

As the trail descends you'll notice a beautiful emerald-colored lake in the valley below. This vantage point also provides a birds-eye view of the Inter Fork spilling off Inter Glacier and into the valley below, before eventually flowing into the White River.

As you continue downhill the trail hugs the southern slopes of Burroughs Mountain. Take note of the rock walls alongside the path throughout this section. The crews who built this did an excellent job of carving out the trail and building rock walls that retain the hillside from sliding over the pathway. We saw a couple examples of this workmanship throughout our hike.

At just over 4.5 miles you’ll reach the Emmons Glacier Overlook. Here you'll have an impressive view of Goat Island Mountain, and the White River valley more than two thousand feet below.

At 4.8 miles hikers will reach the Wonderland Trail. You’re also likely to notice the Sunrise Camp shelter, which was built for backpackers section-hiking or thru-hiking the entire 93-mile Wonderland Trail. Hikers should turn right here to continue on towards Sunrise. Just past the Wonderland Trail junction is another fork in the trail. The short side trail on the left leads to Shadow Lake, while the right fork continues on towards Sunrise.

Roughly a half-mile outside of Sunrise the clouds that were hanging over Rainier finally lifted and we were able to get one last full view of the mountain before leaving the park.

After completing the 6.2-mile loop the hike ends at the Sunrise parking area. Although the weather wasn't optimal that afternoon, I would still rate this as an outstanding hike.

Trail: Burroughs Mountain
RT Distance: 6.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1425 feet
Max Elevation: 7402 feet
TH Location: Sunrise
Map: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails Illustrated Map

Day Hike! Mount Rainier uncovers the best trails for the day tripper, whether you’re a newbie hiker or a veteran with hundreds of miles on your boots. Northwest outdoors expert and Seattle Times's Trail Mix columnist Ron Judd reviews more than 50 of the best day hike trails in Mt. Rainier National Park, from Paradise and Sunrise to the lower foothills. The book describes classic routes - from easy to moderate to extreme - giving hikers the choices they want.


  1. Whats the best time of the year for this hike in your opinion?

  2. Aslesha - due to snow, the window for hiking this trail is fairly short. In general, I would say early July through the end of September will be your best bet. I don't recall there being any places where you would expect to see a lot of wildflowers on this route - so any day within that time frame would be a good choice. Of course it's best to call the park to find about snow conditions, which could hamper backcountry travel during the late spring and early summer.


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