Trail Review: Hiking Mount Rainier’s Pyramid Peak (20 miles, 4,800′, 7-10 hours)

Trail Guides

Trail details last updated 7/26/2015.

Open the map for Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park and you’ll find years worth of trails to explore with alluring destinations like Panorama Point, Rampart Ridge, Mineral Mountain and so many others. What you won’t find on any park hike list or sign post however is Pyramid Peak. That’s a bit strange as, at 6,937′, Pyramid Peak is one of the highest free-standing points on the popular south side of the park offering 360-degree views of Rainier and Washington and it’s all accessible via a man made trail.

The Southwest Face of Mount Rainier with Indian Henry's Cabin in the foreground. That "small" mountain to the right is Pyramid Peak... Perspective!

The Southwest Face of Mount Rainier with Indian Henry’s Cabin in the foreground. That “small” bump to the right is Pyramid Peak… Almost 7,000′ and with a little change in perspective, it’s all but dwarfed!

Whatever caused Pyramid Peak to be removed from park literature and to have its trail crossed off the maintenance list, it is, without a doubt one of those places avid hikers simply must visit. Since the trail is no longer on the books, I’ll use this post to walk through getting there for you…

The most direct route up and the one commonly referenced on older blogs and the occasional trip report requires driving up the seasonal / dirt access “Westside” road. Flows from the Tahoma Creek have progressively washed out the road out moving the end point further and further back and making this route notably longer. Once parked, it’s off to an unmaintained & rough trail that the park map will tell you is subject to flooding and is complete with dated bridges crossing high over rivers. We were told to avoid this

Despite being removed from park information, rangers at the Longmire Wilderness Center were happy to tell us about the peak, the trail and offered an alternative way up from the washed out Westside approach via the Wonderland Trail. Longer (though less and less so with the Westside road partial closure) and with more effective elevation gain, it’s a serious day hike but no Columbia Crest climb either (columbia crest being the high-point on Rainier). The trail starts up right behind the red bus at the Wilderness Center in Longmire so park in the adjacent lot, fill up water at the nearby faucets and enjoy one final real restroom before heading out.

1500' up from the base to the top of Pyramid Peak with another 3,000+ to get to it!

1500′ up from the base to the top of Pyramid Peak with another 3,000+ to get to it!

For the next several hours, navigating is as simple as you follow the Wonderland Trail past the Rampart Ridge turnoff, down to cross Pyramid Creek (for a fun ~500′ climb on the way back), up to Devil’s Dream campground (where you’ll find one compost toilet), past the Cabin at Indian Henry’s and finally over to to the Mirror Lakes cutoff.  This is where things get tricky so let me show you a few shots of the Wonderland Trail and then dive in on the specifics of the turnoff and the miles to the top from there…

As you approach Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, you’ll pass a couple sign posts marking a turnoff for the cabin. Stay straight to continue on the Wonderland Trail but start tracking your distance as it’s only 0.3 miles to the important (and easy to miss) fork. As you approach, there will be sign post on your left noting the junction: turn right and pass through the muddy swap for around 0.6 miles. After navigating some rotten bridges and covering your shoes in a healthy collection of debris, you’ll hit the end of the maintained trail. Not to worry, the signs may end but the path certainly does not. (Note: If you’re coming from Westside road approach, you’ll be heading on Wonderland towards Indian Henry’s and turn off for Mirror Lakes 0.3 miles before it).

The sign post as seen from the Mirror Lakes trail. The route we took is the "long" way to Longmire... the shorter way is probably inaccurate given the changes to the Westside road, not to mention the risk of flooded trails.

The sign post as seen from the Mirror Lakes trail. The route we took is the “long” way to Longmire… the shorter way is probably inaccurate given the changes to the Westside road, not to mention the risk of flooded trails.

To get to Pyramid Peak, simply walk through the overgrowth that lies just beyond the end of trail sign and stay to your right at the small pond that you immediately encounter. Over the next few miles to the summit you’ll find a number of cutoff trails to viewpoints so just stick with the more beaten in path (hint: it’s usually the one going up!) and you’ll be fine. As I mentioned before, at some point, Pyramid Peak was a real trail and much of the man-made structure remains though logs have started to rot out and obstacles are common; we didn’t find anything really difficult to navigate until near the top on our summer season visit.

The official end of the line. From here the trail is visible thanks to regular visitors but not maintained and it is starting to show.

The official end of the line. From here the trail is visible thanks to regular visitors but not maintained and it is starting to show.

As you continue your way forward, the trail has nearly a mile of fairly flat walking through a simply majestic area. Our approach was shrouded in fog as you can see from the photos below but this just served to make the hike all the more magical — on a clear day, you’ll see the peak in front of you after clearing one final hill but really it’s the only option this trail goes to anyways. Cross a few more streams (try to stay on trail for the plant / meadow life but be practical about it too) and pretty soon you’ll start to notice things slope up for the last 1,5000′ of the trail. As you cross over a short section of rock, just look for markers built up by past hikers before the dirt trail returns — after this, you’ll be climbing all the way to the top.

The final 1,000′ or so to the top are a mix of dirt, rock and overgrowth before you ascend to a small clearing in the rocks. Keep an eye on the path beat into the rocks as you stay left for the scramble / rock hike. While there are plenty of lose rocks to be wary of, it’s a solid stone mountain and one you can easily grab / anchor into, especially if you stay along the beaten in route which keep things as gentle as it can. From the reports I’ve seen in winter, this is a pretty gnarly summit climb so definitely mind the conditions as you ascend the 40+ degree ridge to the summit. It’s just a few hundred feet up this bit and I’m told the summit view is unreal… even in fog, it’s a very cool top out though you won’t find a marker to greet you.

Unfortunately our view was about 15′ as we picked one of those typical cloudy northwest days to make the hike. On the plus side, this meant being the only people on the mountain and helped create some mystery to the climb as we really never knew what was coming next. Assuming we’d basically just done a nice training hike with some info for a trip report, we settled in for a decent break on the summit until some rain forced us to descend. I guess it was the last push from storm because just as we got down to around 6,000′, the weather changed. Bit by bit, the wind blew away the fog & clouds revealing an environment that was nothing but spectacular.

Heading back down the trail as the clouds parted we were treated to this first view of Copper & Iron Mountains. It only got better from there.

Heading back down the trail as the clouds parted we were treated to this first view of Copper & Iron Mountains. It only got better from there.

Without the burden of a popular trail, campsites or buildings, Pyramid Rock is truly pure backcountry. No noise except water and the occasional animal… one buck we saw literally refused to move for a good five minutes despite our presence (or noise), assume we were one of the few humans he’d seen. The more things cleared up, the more peaks came into view… Copper Mountain & Iron Mountain back towards Wonderland, Tokaloo infront of us before Rainier its self finally started to come into view and what a view it was.

Pyramid Peak from the trail

Finally, Pyramid Peak its self opened up (photo from just below the rock part of the trail) and we could see what we had climbed to the top of. I can see why the winter ascent requires real gear now!

I don’t think I’ve ever progressed so slowly as we stopped at every viewpoint with a path, turning back towards the mountain and waiting to see if the peak would get just a little more exposed until finally, at last, the clouds blew away almost completely. I’ve stood on the top of Mount Rainier, visited it half a dozen other times, and still there are no words for the experience we had seeing it along this trail. I very seriously considered climbing back up to the summit just to get that view of it for myself but another day I suppose.

Rainier starting to come into view through the clouds with a good shot of Pyramid Peak on the right.

Rainier starting to come into view through the clouds with a good shot of Pyramid Peak on the right.

Rainier now in full view with just a few remaining clouds giving the view a true sense of being alive. What a view it is!

Rainier now in full view with just a few remaining clouds giving the view a true sense of being alive. What a view it is!

As the storm started to move back in, we finally picked up the pace to head towards home. It’s a long, long walk back… something like 20 miles in total round trip and while I’m sure competition for permits can be rough on a weekend like this one, it would make absolute sense to secure a spot, haul in to the forest and enjoy a couple days out here. With so much to explore like Pyramid Peak, Copper Mountain and all the other nearby vista points, it seems like a fantastic backpacking trip or long stay along a longer Wonderland trek. But as a day hike it worked just the same and easily makes my top 10 list.

Mount Rainier Map with our route drawn in. Obviously a topographic map is a must have here!

Mount Rainier Map with our route drawn in. Obviously a topographic map is a must have here!

We never did find out why the peak was taken off the guidebooks but I’m going to take it as a good thing for those willing to explore. The trail is long, the elevation gain no joke (though only the last mile or so is particularly steep) and it’s not a route for the unprepared but all of that adds up to an experience you can truly revel in. Free from massive crowds and all the noise and worries that they bring, it’s truly an incredible secret experience… sort of.

Hike Date: July 25th. Duration: 5 hours up, 3.5 back, 10+ on the trail.

Directions, tips & other trail details:

  • Official Rating: Difficult
  • My Rating: It’s Going on Facebook
  • Start point: Wonderland Trail @ Longmire
  • Distance: 20 +/- miles RT
  • Duration: Full day (8+ hours on trail)
  • Climb:4,800′ total, well over 5,000 effective
  • Facilities: Restrooms & water at TH, streams on the trail
  • Crowds: Light to moderate on Wonderland, zero beyond it
  • Cost / Permits: $20 Rainier National Park entrance fee

Additional reading: