Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sunset Park and Golden Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier reflected in a tarn in Sunset Park.
There is a reason that photographers from around the world are drawn to Mount Rainier National Park.  For starters, it is easily accessed and offers some of the most superb flower meadows our state has to offer.  It also serves up a heavily glaciered volcano as its center piece.

There is a side of the park that offers a little more solitude from the easily accessed areas of the park, though one must be willing to put in the extra effort to earn it. 

Away from the bustle of Paradise, Longmire and Sunrise exists the fabled land - the west side.  Emerald Ridge, St. Andrews Park, Klapatche Park and Sunset Park and Indian Henry's Hunting Ground (though Inidan Henry's can also be approached via Kautz Creek near Longmire) offer scenery unsurpassed in the park, with a fraction of the people. (with the Carbon River Road closure, this can now also be said of the north side)

Mount Rainier reflection in partially frozen tarn at Sunset Park.
Most of these locations are accessed via the West Side Road.  Closed at Dry Creek, 3 miles from its start, the West Side Road requires hoofing it or bicycling further up to the trailhead of choice.

Because of the closure of the West Side Road, Golden Lakes and Sunset Park are now more easily accessed from the Paul Peak trailhead on the Mowich Lake Road.  However, be warned; "more easily" does not translate to "easy"!

The trail descends 1,100' from the Paul Peak trailhead (or 2,400' from Mowich Lake - same trail distance) to the north and south forks of the Mowich River.  This elevation must be regained on the way out.  The south fork can be tricky if not impossible to cross in early season until the bridge is put in place.

Once across the south fork, it is a 2,400' climb in 4 miles to Golden Lakes in Sunset Park - 10 miles from the trailhead.  Mosquitos can be nasty here in season.  Bears are common.

Mount Rainier above Sunset Park.
From Golden Lakes, wander south along the Wonderland Trail around a ridge to open slopes of Sunset Park and numerous lakes.  For the best views, find the abondoned trail to the former Sunset Lookout site (despite a ranger telling me it no longer existed, it very much existed.  It may not be obvious at the junction with the Wonderland Trail, however.  This section was under snow during my visit).  Cross-country travel is easy here as well.

As the name would imply, evening and sunset are the very best time to visit here, offering brilliant light on the mountain as the sun sets to the west. (don't forget your headlamp for the return to camp).

Finish the evening off by beating it back to camp at Golden Lakes and watching the lights of Puget Sound grow ever brighter as dusk turns to dark.

Photographers will want wide angle and mid-zoom lenses here.  A 2-stop graduated neutral density filter is also a must.  The difficult part of photographing here is that the sun sets directly behind you durning the summer months, making it very challenging to keep your increasingly long shadow out of your composition.

I hope you get a chance to visit this wonderland.

Caution:  If approaching from the Paul Peak trailhead, do not leave valuables in your car.  Though quiet this year according to the rangers I spoke with, this trailhead has a history of vandalism and break-ins, thanks in part to its location at the edge of the park's boundary and close proximity to an ORV area.  Some hikers elect to start from Mowich Lake - same distance travel, but ~1,300' more elevation gain on the way out.

For more pictures, please visit my Mount Rainier Gallery!

No comments:

Post a Comment