This trail begins at the Sunrise Visitor Center on the Northeast side of Mt. Rainier.
The Northern Loop trail samples some of the best scenery in Mt. Rainier National Park, and because the trail starts from the Sunrise Visitor Center, the views are spectacular from the beginning.
From the visitors center, the trail climbs north through open meadows to meet the ridgeline, where views not only extend to Mt. Rainier, but also to the Cascades to the north. The climb is gentle, gaining a couple hundred feet in a half mile. From the top of the ridgeline, the path stays fairly level as it traverses the ridge, passes Frozen Lake (a small reservoir), and makes its way to Berkely Park. At the trail junction, stay left as it works its way around the headwall of the valley. During our trip, we saw a black bear here, as it grazed along the hillsides.
The trail reaches a high point and good views of Mt. Rainier and Sluiskin Mountain, before dropping in elevation and enters the forest as it follows Granite Creek down to meet snout of the Winthrop Glacier. The trail parallels the glacier, giving impressive, close up views, drops past Garda Falls, and crosses Winthrop Creek, the outlet of the glacier on a log bridge.
The trail then climbs up through trees and Meets Mystic Lake, a peaceful, sub-alpine lake with partial views of Mt. Rainier. There are several designated campsites located a half mile before reaching Mystic Lake.
From the lake, the trail climbs offering ever-improving views of the sheer, northern face of Mt. Rainier. One mile from Mystic Lake, the trail reaches a saddle, with views of the Carbon Glacier and meadows to the north, and spectacular views of Mt. Rainier to the south. From the pass, the trail drops to a flat meadow area, and eventually drops back into the trees as it follows Moraine Creek. Several nice side creeks are crossed, and eventually the trail drops to meet the terminus of the Carbon Glacier before hitting a trail junction. Stay right (admire the nice suspension bridge), and continue in the beautiful low-elevation forest, with fir, hemlock, and cedar.
A mile past the trail intersection, the trail begins it's steep climb up the valley wall. The trail can be quite steep in places and stays mostly under the cover of trees, even as the trail begins to level off. Eventually the trail does open up, with views of Crescent Mountain and Tyee Peak. Also look for bears as the pick there way through the huckleberries below Yellowstone Cliff. The trail enters the alpine meadows as it approaches Windy Gap and offers great views of the northern wall of Sluiskin Mountain. From Windy Gap, the trail drops into the Van Horn Creek drainage, and meets with Lake James, a quiet lake surrounded by trees. There are several campsites and a bear cable at Lake James.
From Lake James, the trail switchbacks down to meet the West Fork of the White River and Van Horn Falls (the nicest waterfall of the trip). The trail then crosses the river on a bridge, before beginning it's climb up to Grand Park. Along the way are good views of the White River Valley and Mt. Rainier. Grand Park is an amazingly flat meadow, with spectacular views, perfect for a lunch stop or spending an afternoon lounging around and taking in the scenery. The trail continues south, meeting up with Lodi Creek. The meadows along the meandering Lodi creek, with the Skyscraper Mountain rising above is particularly nice.
The trail makes its way back up to Berkely Park, and meets up with the Wonderland trail. To return to the trailhead, turn left, and hike back past Frozen Lake and back to the car.
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