Friday, August 19, 2016

Rampart Ridge

Mount Rainier viewed from Rampart Ridge
 4.6 miles loop, 1340 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Mount Rainier National Park entrance fee required

There aren't many good things that I can say about the hike to Rampart Ridge. There's a single good view all hike and the hike is too popular to enjoy as a quiet wander in the woods. National Park Service literature and many guidebooks recommend this hike; while this isn't necessarily a bad hike, it is certainly not one of the highlights of Mount Rainier National Park and only makes sense as a hike if higher-elevation trails have not melted out yet.

I did this hike with two friends, one of whom was on a short visit to Seattle, on an early May day. We intended originally to hike near Paradise, but my friends lacked appropriate gear for hiking in the snow, so we settled for stops at Paradise and Narada Falls for photos before returning to Longmire to do this hike.

Rainbow at Narada Falls
From Seattle, we took Hwy 167 and Hwy 512 south to Puyallup, then followed Hwy 161 south until it joined with Hwy 7. We took Hwy 7 east (left turn) to Elbe, then stayed straight through the town to take Hwy 706 into Mount Rainier National Park. We parked next to the visitor center at Longmire to start the hike.

We took the Wonderland Trail heading north from the north end of the Longmire parking area (near the Longmire Museum). The first few hundred meters of trail roughly paralleled the road to Paradise, which meant we were never far from the sound of traffic.

We followed the Wonderland Trail across the Paradise Road and then hiked through a gentle uphill for the next couple hundred meters. The trail passed some large old-growth trees before it embarked on a much more substantial uphill climb. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, we reached a junction with the Van Trump Park Trail, which led off to the right; we stayed left to stay on the Wonderland Trail. Another fifth of a mile farther, we came to a junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail, which marked the end of the climb for the hike.

We took the left fork for the Rampart Ridge Trail, which followed the top of the forested ridge. There were no views to speak of for the next mile, which featured little elevation gain and little else of interest.

The best portion of the hike was a mile after coming to the top of the ridge- and a little over 2.7 miles past the trailhead- when the trail emerged into an open talus slope overlooking the Kautz Creek watershed. At the southern end of the talus slope, we looked back and saw a beautiful view of Mount Rainier in its snow-capped spring glory.

View of Mt. Rainier from the talus slope
After leaving the talus slope, the trail followed the ridge slightly further before beginning to gradually dip off to the southeastern side of the ridge. A signed trail for a viewpoint branched off to the left, leading to an overlook with a very, very limited view of the Nisqually valley. Continuing further, the trail began to descend in earnest down a set of graded switchbacks through the forest. We found an interestingly arched tree along the switchbacks.

Arched tree
The switchbacks continued until the trail returned to the base of Rampart Ridge in the Nisqually valley. The trail made its way around the swamp at the base of the valley; we smelled the distinct odor of skunk cabbage and soon spotted some of its odd yellow flowers blooming the wetlands.

Skunk cabbage in wetlands near Longmire
When we made our way back to Longmire and the National Park Inn, we noticed a final decent view of Mount Rainier while we crossed the road back to the parking lot.

Mount Rainier viewed from Longmire
All in all, it was a reasonably nice walk in the woods, a tad of a workout, and one good view of Mount Rainier. It's not a bad hike- but also not a spectacular one. It's worth doing if you've seen the highlights of the park and want to explore more.

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