Fall colors are showing up in the high country, and we were fortunate to go out earlier in September to see them. We wanted to get up high before the snows come and seal off the mountains. Naches Loop is easy and sweet, with views that can’t be beat, and it had been several years since our last trip around. Annika didn’t even remember it!
We parked at the Tipsoo Lake parking lot, which doesn’t require any permits. I like to park there for this loop, since you get the steepest parts out of the way first, and get to go down at the end. If that lot is full, you can also continue driving around the curve, under the log entry to the Mount Rainier National Park, and park in the Forest Service lots around the corner. There are pit toilets at each parking area.
It was pretty hot and dry when we started just before mid-day. The kids complained immediately, and were quickly wilting, but I urged them onward up the slope away from the lake toward the log bridge.
We like to take the loop clockwise, since you’ll have views of The Mountain in your face for the last third of the hike. Annika trudged grudgingly up the slope, but Gabe sped off out of sight. He waited for us at the bridge, where we joined the PCT for the next mile or so. It was encouraging to encounter several older ladies out hiking together, as well as a few longer distance hikers. It was cooler on the north side of the slope, with many stretches hidden in shade. All of the water seeps and creeks were dried up, and I was wondering if there would be any water in the tarns. We saw lots of deer prints and some possible coyote scat, but otherwise the wildlife was scarce.
I urged Annika on with the hope of a rest at the first tarn. Thankfully it still had water in it, though there wasn’t much shade to be found. We ate our snacks and enjoyed the sounds of the gray jays as they flew from tree to tree. It was so still and quiet away from the noise of the highway. Hardly any breeze, and the air was still and thick.
After our little rest, we tackled the next upward portion up to the viewpoint to Dewey Lakes. Again, we stopped to enjoy the view and some jelly beans and water. The gray jays here were very comfortable with humans, and would come sit on our hands if we held them out, pretending to have food. (Never feed birds your human food – it’s not good for them, and they can also take it back to their caches, where it may mold and spoil their whole cache.) A few jelly beans were required again to get the kids moving again.
For some reason I thought it would be cooler up there at elevation, but it was actually warmer up high. The kids were struggling over the last mile and a half.
Thankfully, views of The Mountain are in your face along this stretch, so it makes the walk down to the cars more bearable.
The other little tarns were mostly dried up, but the vegetation had wonderful colors. Sunlight glowed through red and yellow huckleberry leaves.
This is one of my favorite hikes to do late in the season, when the colors are all out and the bugs are gone. We like to squeeze it in before the snows come and bury everything for another long winter. Soon enough we were back at the car, where we gratefully blasted the air conditioning.
If You Go:
This hike is 3.2 miles round trip, with 600 feet elevation gain. If you park at Tipsoo Lake, you will not need any parking passes, but if you drive around to the other parking area, you’ll need your NWForest Pass. This hike is located between 5000-6000 feet in elevation, so be prepared for cold and wet, but also sun and exposure. Swimming and wading are not allowed in Tipsoo Lake (to the disappointment of my children.)