Happy Monday, friends! We checked another gem off our PNW fall bucket list this past weekend, hiking Naches Peak Loop Trail – something that’s actually been on my list for almost two years now. For those of you who’ve been following our little corner of the interwebs for some time, you’ve likely seen that we didn’t really start hiking in earnest until last fall after Ryan got home from his last deployment. It was a concerted effort on both Ryan and my part, as neither of us actually grew up enjoying hiking. We knew we really wanted to give our kids the gift of adventure though, and one of the best ways to explore and adventure is hiking, which meant we needed to dive in.
So, like I said, hiking Naches Peak Loop has been on my list for a while. Hailed as a family-friendly hike in Mt. Rainier National Park, it’s a gorgeous trail that offers spectacular views of Mt. Rainier, multiple lakes both up close and from afar, and ample opportunities to simply soak up the beauty of the PNW. We’ve been erring on the side of easier trails for the boys most of the summer – especially after hiking Lake Serene early in the season. We wanted to encourage them, rather than discourage them with hikes that are beyond their skill level, so this one seemed like just the ticket. But, again, we had to get to the point where we were both equipped and comfortable to do the loop together, so we took our sweet time getting to that point.
It’s been pretty rainy the last week here, so I scoured the forecast all week, and saw that the weather called for spotty sunshine on Sunday. We decided to play it easy Saturday, then we headed out early(ish) on Sunday morning, leaving JBLM around 7:30 AM. When we left, the temps were in the low 50s, and they dipped into the low 40s by the time we reached Mt. Rainier National Park, so we were glad we’d layered the kids. And, thankfully, we were right in thinking that most people wouldn’t hike in the colder morning temperatures, and it didn’t seem to get busy until the latter half of the afternoon when we finished our hike. So, when we set out on the trail, we let the littles – mainly Mieke – stretch her legs around Tipsoo Lake at the trailhead before popping her in the Deuter carrier. After two and half hours in the car, we wanted her to get some of her crazies about before we started climbing, and she did.
Naches Peak Loop is a beautiful, well-maintained trail that is very heavily trafficked, and for good reason. The gradual elevation gain of 600+ feet, the diverse ways to navigate the trail, and the epic views combine for a fun, family-friendly hike. We opted to hike clockwise, which immediately started climbing after rounding Tipsoo Lake. The kids were initially not too pleased about climbing, but once we course-corrected because, yes, we got off the trail, they were in it. We crossed over the footbridge onto the Pacific Crest Trail, hiked a ways further, and parked ourselves by another gem of a lake surrounded by hills and valleys for a little lunch in the wild. It was well-received and well-deserved, and the views were first-class.
The trail started to get a little bit busier as we continued past the midway point with some folks opting for the counter-clockwise loop, but the clockwise loop treated us perfectly, and we walked straight towards incredible views of Mt. Rainier surrounded by snowy clouds. We even got to see some beauty glimpses of Dewey Lake a few miles below us, and we kept going as Mieke snoozed through the most beautiful parts of the hike.
Hiking Naches Peak Loop was fun because it reinforced those lessons we continue to learn the more we get out there and hike as a family. Now is the time to foster a love of hiking, rather than chase down the big-name peaks. It’s time to teach our kids about conservation and preservation because, sadly, Naches Peak Loop has seen significant impact from ill-informed and lazy visitors who don’t stay on the trail and even bring their dogs to trample through the wild lands. This is the time to enjoy as a family, and Naches didn’t disappoint. I definitely hope to have the opportunity to share this gem with some of my family if they’re able to visit before we PCS next year! In the meantime, if you want to hike this loop, here’s what you should know:
Trail Length: AllTrails says this beauty is 3.3 miles. We ended up doing 4 because we went around Tipsoo Lake, and we also got off the trail, turning the wrong way initially before the footbridge. Even at 4 miles though, it was perfect.
Level of Difficulty: AllTrails rates this one as moderate, while WTA rates it easy. I’d say that for younger and inexperienced hikers, it errs on the side of moderate, but I found it to be pretty easy. It’s definitely a well-maintained trail, and you just need to look out for roots and rocks along the way.
Cost: You need an America the Beautiful Pass, which is free for military. Show your ID at the entrance of the park. If you’re not military, you can buy your pass at the entrance, too.
Dogs: No. Dogs are not allowed on the trail in Mt. Rainier National Park. We did see some dogs on the trail, but we’ve noticed some people just don’t pay attention to the signs.
Tips: PLEASE stay on the trail. This area has seen significant impact due to the presence of hikers, and the signs repeatedly request that people stay on the trail and don’t bring dogs. The area’s ecosystem is extremely sensitive, and human impact is one of the leading causes in its destruction. Pack in, pack out. Be smart.