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Hikers take a moment to capture some photos on the Mount Fremont Lookout trail in the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park.

Summer is in full swing and the trails have never been as busy as they are right now. With that being said, the roads and parking lots have also never been quite as full as they have been — which, depending on how much you like company on the trail, can either be a good or bad thing. It also depends on if you’re able to find parking. I choose to look at the glass half full. 

This last spring, my girlfriend and I took a weekend excursion out to Idaho to visit my father and get away from the hustle that comes with living around the Puget Sound. After jamming out for a majority of the eight-hour drive, we found ourselves along the Clearwater River, slowly edging my Buick cruiser up the side of a large valley deeper into the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Atop the small valley, my dad lives in a small cabin well-separated from the world; the only sound is that of the crickets. 

We used my father’s cabin as something of a rendezvous point for our excursion. Sure, we were planning on visiting the local businesses around Orofino and checking out what great eats the smaller communities had to offer, but we went out for mostly one thing that next day — to hit the trails. 

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From atop the perch of the Mount Fremont, the landscape seems endlesss.

Off State Route 12 in Idaho, driving along the Clearwater toward Montana, we found a short trail that led off to some hot springs. The trails were fairly vacant despite it being the weekend. With little-to-no incline going up to Weir Hot Springs, we found the half-mile hike fairly easy and we got down to our swimming suits to enjoy the springs. It wasn’t long before thunder clouds started forming and we had to head back to our car. Because of the incessant downpour, and the threat of being struck down by Zeus himself, we took back to the car. 

Unfortunately, the rain continued into the night. Our itineraries filled to the brim the next day with time spent with my father, we unfortunately weren’t able to get back on a good hike or even enjoy our time at the springs. 

But the drive back had me thinking: What am I really looking forward to this summer? I spent so much of my spring in awe of summer’s eventual arrival that I hadn’t really made any plans. 

Well, in this column today, I’m going to try and round out those plans. And I’ll start off first by telling you about the three trails you’ll likely find me on this summer. 

 

Sauk Mountain 

The northern Cascades Mountain range is something to be in awe of. I might be a little biased, being a native of the area and all, but I think the northern range and the Mount Baker wilderness give the area a particular beauty that just can’t be beat. 

The greatness that is the Sauk Mountain trail, a small 4.2-mile hike north of the little town of Concrete, lends itself to that special allure. 

According to the Washington Trails Association, Sauk Mountain is one of the more popular trails of the Skagit River valleys, and its peaks provide a great vantage of the Olympics, the Canadian Cascades and glaciers, and the San Juan Islands, on a clear day that is. 

While the hike up is steep and narrow — hikers gain about 1,200 feet in elevation — the trail’s switchbacks are moderately spaced and make for easy spots for a rest, if need be. 

In addition to the views, Sauk Mountain also provides excellent opportunities to spot wildflowers and other mountain flora. Be wary: the road up can be rough at times, the trail access can sometimes seem remote and, according to WTA, the restroom at the trailhead is currently out of commission. 

 

Mount Fremont Lookout Trail

Back in 2017, a few friends of mine and I took to our first excursion in the Mount Rainier wilderness. Having our camp site set up off State Route 410, we made most of our hiking opportunities out near the Sunrise Day Lodge, away from the crowds of Paradise at the northeast base of Mount Rainier. 

That sunny summer day, we hiked a variety of trails all around the lodge. But when looking back, one trail left the greatest impression: The Mount Fremont Fire Lookout Trail. 

Winding along the ridge of Mount Fremont, this trail provides astounding views of Mount Rainier and the high-mountain prairies carved out from the mountain. 

A mere 7,181 feet in elevation, the Mount Fremont lookout has the distinction of being the Rainier’s highest remaining lookout, according to VisitRainier.com. Make sure you dress for the weather and watch out for those steep drop offs near the trail. 

 

Mount Ararat

One hike that I’ve never been on and am most looking forward to this summer is the 12-mile round trip Mount Ararat climb, a 4,000-foot upwards excursion near the southwest Mount Rainier area. 

The longest day hike I’ve ever been on was roughly 10 miles near Snoqualmie Pass, and I’ve got to say, there’s a lot to be gained from longer day hikes or backpacking along a single trail. 

According to WTA, this hike provides excellent views of Mount Rainier, the local mountain ranges and peaceful wooded areas. 

While the snow conditions might make this a challenging hike due to its vertical nature, I think I might have to bring some hiking poles. Here’s to hoping the verticality doesn’t kill me. 

•••

Eric Rosane is a reporter with Nisqually Valley News and a local hiking enthusiast. For story ideas on hikes off the beaten path, contact him at erosane@yelmonline.com. 

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