hiking and swimming emmons moraine

hiking and swimming emmons moraine

Happy Monday, friends! This past weekend was a special one for us because Ryan is back from his TDY! I shared on my instagram a little video of the boys seeing Daddy for the first time in over a month, and it was just so special. They’re so happy, and we’re officially navigating that fun process of reintegrating as a family again because, for better or worse, we all adapted to a new pattern while he was gone. This is the first time since we moved to JBLM, however, that Ryan’s going to have a significant portion of the summer here with us, and we’re committed to doing, seeing, and exploring as much as possible with him now that he’s back. Thankfully, he’s just about as adventurous as I am, so we loaded up as a family on Sunday and heading up to Mt. Rainier National Park to spend the day hiking and swimming Emmons Moraine.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog for some time, you may remember that the kids and I (and some friends) headed up to Rainier a few weeks ago to try this trail. We got there around 11:30, and we waited in line for an hour before realizing it would take another 3+ hours to get in. We turned around and went to Skookum Creek to play instead. Hiking and swimming Emmons Moraine has been on my bucket list for a hot minute though, so I knew we’d have to try again, and yesterday seemed like the perfect time. Since it’s less than two hours from JBLM, we decided to get up early and get on the road by 7:00 AM to get there as early as possible. The verdict? We succeeded! There was already a line at the entrance to Rainier, but after about 30 minutes of waiting, we were on our way.

We’ve been on a lot of hikes recently, and some of have definitely stretched us far beyond our comfort zones. Some have been just right. Emmons Moraine was just right. The path was considerably uphill for the entire way to the lake, but the trail was also perfectly maintained with plenty of spots to stop and stare in wonder at the beautiful sights around us the whole time. It was a hot day yesterday, but the elevation on Emmons Moraine trail, as well as the heavy covering of shaded trees, kept us cool and collected the whole time. And, when we were about a mile in, we could see just snippets of the perfectly turquoise lake to our left, leading us to the prize.

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The trail takes you across the Inter Fork churning river on a petite little footbridge, and from there, it’s kind of a choose-your-own adventure sort of thing. The trail leads up another half mile once you’ve crossed the Inter Fork, and from there you reach a stunning viewpoint that overlooks the Emmons Glacier flowing the down the mountain. Or, you could go bold (as plenty people – ourselves included) do, and traverse your way down the less reliable “path” directly down to the water. I use quotations because it’s not really a path. You sort of have to sidestep your way down loose and sliding rocks towards the water, but it’s not that far – maybe 50 yards at best – and then you reach your prize.

We knew in advance there would be no real “beach” or embankment to set up our little picnic and changing area, but we weren’t deterred. We found a little jut-out just above the water, ate a little bit of our trail snacks and did a quick deck change (skills from my years as a competitive swimmer), and got ready for a swim under the hot sun. The water was cold, but it wasn’t that cold, and both boys got in for a little swim, while Ryan and I both dove in and swam across and around a little bit. There were other hikers there with floats to spend the day, and had we not had Mieke, I would have completely done the same. It was perfection, and the cloudless sky coupled with the milky turquoise water was absolutely dreamy – a place I definitely want to go again! Want to spend a day hiking and swimming Emmons Moraine? Here’s what you need to know:

Trail Length: It’s 3 miles roundtrip if you go all the way to viewpoint to overlook the glacier. We chose to traverse our way down to the lake, itself, which added about a half a mile total. So, altogether, you’re in about 3.5 miles roundtrip.

Level of Difficulty: Easy…as long as you stay on the actual trail. It’s is incredibly well-maintained, and the only real difficulty lies in the uphill grade and elevation gain. If you do go down to the water though, that’s where it gets tricky. Our boys are really good with getting off the beaten path these days, so it wasn’t too bad, but we definitely struggled a bit getting back up from the lake. Altogether though, I think it definitely qualifies as an easier hike.

Cost: You need an America the Beautiful park pass for National Parks. An annual pass online is $80. If you’re military or a dependent, however, you can show your ID at the park and get an annual pass for free.

Parking: Parking varies by trail. Once you enter the park, you’ll head straight about four miles before turning left for another mile and a half. There’ll be campgrounds flanking both sides of the road, but there is a singular lot on your left side. We ended up not getting an actual spot and just parking off the road in the lot backed against some trees. If parking is full, you can park along the road, but you have to be off the road, and you can’t block the entrances to the individual campsites there. Also, don’t park in the campsites unless you’ve bought a slip for the night, or you’ll be fined.

Dog-friendly: No; dogs are not allowed on national park grounds.

Tips: Wear hiking shoes if you plan to go down to the lake, and hiking poles will help tremendously, as well. Bring water and snacks for wherever you choose to stop, and definitely bring your swimsuit if you plan to take a dip! Remember – bring it in, pack it out!