Burroughs Mountain Loop
From the countless variety of day hikes Mount Rainier NP has to offer Burroughs Mountain is one of my favorites. Most people pay it a visit in the summertime when the drive to Sunrise is literally lined by wildflowers and many more of them can be found during the first part of the hike where the trail will lead you through colorful Sunrise meadows.
The trail heads steadily uphill gaining about 400 feet in the first half mile but there is a lot to distract you on this ascent including magnificent views of Mt. Rainier and even though you might huff and puff a little, the climb will be over faster than you’d expect. The grade eases afterwards as you starts traversing towards Frozen Lake. It’s a very nice part of the trail, once again offering incredible views and variety flowers in the summertime. Indian paintbrush is common here, mostly it’s red variety.
At Frozen Lake you will find a junction of three trails, Fremont Lookout, Barclay Park, and Burroughs Mountain. If you are ambitious and in a decent shape, you can do them all in one day but for now, let’s continue up the one that takes you to the closest neighborhood of Mt. Rainier.
What I really like about Burroughs Mountain is the variety of terrain it crosses during it’s relatively short course. From Frozen Lake you will start ascending again. The vegetation disappears, except for tiny alpine flowers that have the ability to somehow survive up here in conditions that often include strong winds and temperatures that can drop to freezing at any month of the year. The trail becomes more rocky. It’s not unusual to encounter snow fields here late into the summer and occasionally you might even need to cross a snow patch or two. Once you top the first Burrough, and you might shed few drops of sweat on this uphill, view of Rainier will dominate in front of you. It will be tempting to keep starring at the mountain but don’t forget to look around as well. There are 360 degrees of great views available from here.
The trail then continues to the second Burrough. You dip a little and regain the elevation immediately afterwards. One of the most stubborn snow patches can be found on this slope. In some years it never completely melts. The second Burrough brings you even closer to Mt. Rainier. It feels like you could nearly touch it.
Second Burrough is where many people end their hike. You can sit on a rocky man made bench and admire the scenery. If you are lucky you might spot a herd of mountain goats that frequent the area or ptarmigans. It’s a wonderful lunch spot and worthwhile destination; however if you still have some steam left, you have to continue further. You will dip couple hundred feet and you will need to gain even more if you wish to summit the third and last Burroughs but I assure you it’s worthwhile effort. If you could not peel your eyes from Mt. Rainier earlier on this hike, now you will stare at it with your mouth open. There aren’t many places that will bring you closer. You will be so close indeed, your camera might have hard time to capture the entire volcano in a single frame. This is where I like to finish my Burroughs Mountain trip.
The road to Sunrise usually opens at the end of May and on this summer route you will hike 9 miles round trip and gain 2600 feet.
This year Dave and I decided to bring the annual visit forward. We opt for approach from White River since the road to sunrise is not yet opened and from there we follow Glacier Basin Trail. Glacier Basin is a very nice destination on it’s own with several campsites for those who wish to spend the night. About ¼ mile before reaching it a spur trail takes off towards the Burroughs. It is a well established trail and when melted out it is very easy to follow. Today significant portions of the path are snow covered and we have to engage our navigation skills and equipments to stay on route.
The trail involves climbing series of steep switchbacks and later it breaks from the trees and traverses an open slope where the snow is softened by sun. We posthole for a while but in the end we give in and strap the snowshoes on. The trail leads us in the saddle between Second and Third Burrough. From there we have few hundred feet of ascent left to the summit. It’s a stellar day and our views are grand.
On the way back we choose a different route. There are not many loop hikes in Washington and when possibility of one arises, it would be shame not to take it. The wind is blasting atop the second Burrough. The layers we could not wait to take off are staying on for a while longer.
There is sufficient amount of snow at the end of the First Burrough for us to plunge step down to Sunrise Camp. Sunrise Camp lies on the Wonderland Trail which is the route we chose for our way down. The first half mile is little tricky to navigate. The snow is deep and there is no visible trail to follow so we head in the general direction that would take us home. We go down, we go back up, we cross a snowy creek (we also refill our water bottles here. There’s nothing like a fresh mountain water) and after little bit of cross country side hilling we bump into the partially melted out Wonderland that takes us all the way back to White River. The sun is out, the birds are singing. It’s a wonderful spring day in the mountains.
Distance: 11.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 4500 feet