For the few months of the year it’s accessible, the Sunrise Area in Mount Rainier offers an incredible view of the Emmons glacier and the mountain from the Northeast. While it can be a long drive across the windy roads, the area is full of impressive sights, life, and of course hikes. After a few visits exploring around on my own this summer, I decided to stop in at the Visitor Center to get the Ranger’s recommendations on where to trek next and without pause, they told me about the Burroughs.
Over around 6 miles, this hike loops across through many of Sunrise’s most stunning points passing by Frozen and Shadow Lakes, the Glacier Overlook viewpoint, and through Sunrise Camp. The highlight of the half-day adventure is a stop at the Burroughs, two peaks that offer a beyond close up look of the mountain. With many options to route around and additional trails to explore off the loop, it really was a great suggestion and one I’m excited to share in this trail guide.
Getting to the trailhead: Directions, lodging, trail facilities
The Sunrise Area in Mount Rainier is only accessible part of the year with the road typically opening sometime in June if not July and closing by early Fall. With such a short season, visitors tend to flock to the area and weekend activity can be rather busy though with so much to explore, that’s ok!
To reach the Visitor Center where the hike begins, you will need to travel to the NE side of the park. From the South, you’ll pass through the town of Packwood; from the North, Puyallup; from the east, Yakima; and you can connect over from Paradise and the Westside as well though you’ll leave the park to do so. No matter your starting point, expect at least an hour of forest driving to the parking lot so be sure to stock up on food & beverages ahead of time while also keeping your gas tank full: the nearest refill I’m away are of is over 40 miles away.
At Sunrise, you will find a large, paved parking lot, a small visitor center staffed by rangers and a combination cafe / gift shop. The cafe offers a far variety of both prepackaged and hot food while the gift shop has a lot of souvenirs and a few hiking tools like waterbottles and poles but don’t expect anything elaborate and do expect a premium price for the location. Bring your own supplies.
The nearest camping is at the White River Campground about 30 minutes down the road and is available on a first come, first served basis. This is a developed campground and while I don’t believe there are showers, there’s plenty of bathrooms, running water, and firewood is for sale.
Hiking to the First Burroughs
Departing out of the Visitor Center with a backpack full of water, snacks, spare layers, and sunblock (you’ll need it all), there are a few ways to get to the Burroughs. The Ranger I spoke with suggests starting along the upper side of the loop by hiking up above the parking lot which he felt was less steep of a path given that there are less ups and downs along the way. The alternative is to start from below the parking lot and work backwards. Having gone both directions, the Ranger’s remarks seems accurate though it also means the lower side of the hike may be less crowded with uphill traffic.
Assuming you follow the suggested, above the parking lot path, you’ll quickly find yourself walking up a well developed trail right through a hillside meadow in the park. Almost immediately, this opens up from the trees revealing great views not just of Rainier but of mountain ranges around the park and those will only get better.
Coming to a fork near the top of the first slope, you’ll want to stick to your left and head towards Frozen Lake (everything up here is very well marked provided that the snow has melted out.) The trail remains well developed all the way up this side and as you hike up the moderate slope away from the visitor center, a few clearnings reveal some additional views off to the North as well as the potential for a glimpse of Mt. Fremont and its fire lookout building.
Rounding the trail towards Frozen Lake, the trail crosses over a rockier stretch of the mountain where large, stone retaining walls have been put in place. It’s a small detail but indicative of the popularity and the work done around here. Frozen Lake its self is only about 1.4 miles from the parking lot and quickly comes into view, likely with plenty of snow or ice around though access to the water is restricted as it’s used for actual drinking supply.
Continue on past Frozen Lake (or add an hour and change to visit the Mt. Fremont Lookout on the way), and up the hill ahead. This slope tends to hold snow later than most of the trail and even on a 80+ degree, August day, I still had a couple short crossings. Those were not a real problem with decent shoes and a trekking pole but early in the season, you will want to check with the ranger as I’ve seen the entire slope snow covered and slick.
The last hill up is the crux of the hike, at least for getting to the First Burroughs but remains a pretty moderate slope. As you close on in on the top of this peak, you’ll find that the trail switches from dirt to more stones which make up this unique feature of the mountain.
The actual rise of the Burroughs is less obvious coming from this side but as you’ll find out on your way back down, this is quite the feature and as you arrive at the junction point, you will cross the 7,000′ marker for the day.
Continuing to the Second Burroughs
While the view from the first Burroughs is nice, it’s impossible to ignore the second one right ahead, especially since you’ll likely see plenty of people standing at the top. There’s certainly nothing wrong with calling it a day at the first spot, taking a lunch break and starting your descent hike as you still have several miles back to Sunrise but there’s a lot of reason to continue on as well.
If you do elect to press forward, you’ll have another 0.6 miles to reach the top of the Second Burroughs with about 400′ of elevation to gain over it. That’s not super steep but is a fair climb and all in plain view as you walk along the rock and dirt trail that cuts over the mountains ridge. It’s straight forward and obvious but do watch your footing to avoid slipping or twisting on the large rocks that make up the mountain slope.
Arriving up at the top, you’ll find yourself staring right at the mountain and it’s so close that with a little zoom, you’ll feel like you should be able to touch it. The rocks on the top provide a nice break spot to enjoy the view, take your obligatory selfies and rest up before continuing on down.
The Lower Trail Back to Sunrise
The Burroughs view is by no means the end of the fun for this hike with plenty of new views to be had on the return. To get started, head back to the junction point at the First Burroughs (so yes, you’ll have to walk down those 0.6 miles if you went to the Second) and this time, hang a hard right.
You’ll immediately find yourself hiking down the side of the First Burroughs over a very distinct and interesting trail full of tons of rock from the mountains. Alongside at all points will be a great view of Rainier that continues for over a mile until you reach the developed Glacier Overlook point where you may want to pause for a last up close look of the mountain (and a sip of water.)
From here, you’ll continue down the side of the mountain a bit further but now with the view above obstructred by the slopes. Below and ahead will be a great view of the Sunrise Camp area and soon, Shadow Lake. It’s only a few tenths of a mile to reach camp where you will find one actual restroom that I know of and the camp building but no potable water.
Continue straight ahead for the most direct way back to Sunrise which will take you past Shadow Lake and through some very impressive and likely very lush meadows before a little bit of uphill climbing weaves you out of the area and back to the final fork in the trial. Hang a left to hike on up to the Sunrise parking lot, food, bathrooms, and your car.
Tracks from my hike with an extra visit to Mt. Fremont Lookout on the return
Quick facts about the trail:
- Route: Loop
- Official Rating: Moderate
- Start point: Sunrise Visitor Center
- Distance: 6+ miles as a loop
- Duration: 3+ hours
- Climb: 1,700 of effective gain (1,000′ altitude change)
- Facilities: Restrooms, water, food by the Visitor Center
- Water: At the trailhead only! Treat all streamwater.
- Crowds: Moderate to Heavy
- Cost: $25 to enter the park or an NPS annual pass
- Permits: None