I didn’t get to hike nearly as much as I wanted to this summer, but every hike I did go on reminded me of how spoiled I am. I’m surrounded by amazing scenery in my backyard that other people travel far to see. Lately Mt. Rainier has been hidden by smoke from the nearby fires, but after checking the weather and smoke patterns, it looked like skies would be clear in the south. It was the perfect opportunity for a sunrise hike in Mt. Rainier National Park. 

I woke up at 1am to pack up my car and start the two hour drive to Tolmie Peak trailhead in the northwest corner of the park. The roads were empty enough at that hour, so it took just over an hour to get to the park boundary. From there, 17 miles of dirt road took about 45 minutes to drive up but I’ve definitely driven worse forest roads. By 3:30am I found a perfect parking spot right next to the trailhead. 

The sky was absolutely clear and it’s been years since I’ve seen that many stars in the sky. I gathered my gear and got ready to head out, but after seeing three elk, a coyote and hearing what was likely a black bear in the distance (or at least that’s what my 3am-alone-in-the-dark-sleep-deprived-brain thought) and realizing that I was the only one at the trailhead, I decided to wait until more hikers showed up. 

View of the lookout from Eunice Lake on my way back down after sunrise.

I did this hike about a year ago, and I knew it would be a perfect destination for a sunrise. The trail starts out pretty mild and descends into a valley before climbing up to Eunice Lake. From there you can spot the fire lookout that’s the final destination up on the ridge above the lake. By the time I reached the lake the sky was already starting to lighten. I knew I had to be speedy in order to get to the lookout before the sun rose. 

Post-sunrise, pre-hot chocolate.

That last bit of climb was brutal but as always, so so worth it. The 360 mountain views glowed orange as it got closer and closer to sunrise. 

Tolmie Peak Lookout is one of the roughly 90 fire lookouts that are still standing in the cascade mountains today. In the early 1900s these fire lookouts were built to help spot forest fires from a distance. Advances in technology mean that most of these lookouts are retired, but they’re still great resources for fantastic panoramic views throughout the pacific northwest. 

This is arguably one of the most iconic views of Mt. Rainier in the park, and sunrise lighting makes it feel even more magical. I highly recommend this hike for sunrise or sunset. If the early call-time is too intense for you, there’s an option to camp at Mowich Lake before or after the hike.