Gray skies on the drive in gave way to fluffy white clouds and blue sky as I neared the mountain. I look forward to opening day at Sunrise, like a kid looks forward to a trip to Disneyland. This place is almost sacred to me. I have learned the subtle nuances of this side of the mountain, not by reading, but by walking. Step by step , boots on the trail. 

Sunrise sits at 6400 feet. It’s the highest point on the mountain you can drive to. There are a dozen trails that begin from the parking lot at the visitor center and an early arrival is necessary if you’re looking for any solitude. I’m meeting a friend this morning and rather than hoping for an early opening of the gate we decide a conservative choice of 7am will have to do. MRNP will not commit to an opening time so we go on faith. 

I imagine my frustrations of earlier in the week will be just a memory as I climb this road (Wednesday, the parking lots were all blocked at Owthigh Lakes and Summerland with NO PARKING signs and the gate at Sunrise Road locked up tight). Surely they will open it up early for hikers looking to escape the mobs of tourists).

But I am foiled again. Gate is still closed up at 7am with a ranger offering only “it will open sometime later today”. Good grief. What does that mean ? 8 am or 4 pm ? Sigh.


My friend arrives and we review our options. Summerland, Owyhigh Lakes or wait it out in our cars with the growing mob of people. We decide on Summerland, one of my favorite hikes in the park. 

Trip reports indicate there are a few crossings of snow on the trail that are doable, but dicey. The snow is slippery and the slope down is steep. A misstep could be ugly. It sounds like the bridge across Frying Pan Creek is intact and so we head off. 

(I note that the lot at Summerland is again blocked with No Parking signs, but the dates have changed. They now caution the lots will be closed 7/6-7/7, meaning the closure of these lots last week was unnecessary as they never did any of the planned work. Sigh.)

The hike begins flat and shaded in the old growth. The trail is wide and really well maintained. At the kiosk it describes this hike as 8.5 miles with a couple thousand feet of gain, though you’d never guess it from the leisurely shaded walk in the beginning. You connect with the Wonderland Trail just after beginning this hike. It’s a nice mix of folks day-hiking and those with heavy backpacks exploring the Wonderland Trail.

As you pass a nice viewpoint for Frying Pan Creek the trail begins to climb and the carpeted path gives way to rocks, dirt and a more exposed trail. The vegetation is overgrown and lush as the first views of the Cowlitz Chimneys come into view. The snow that remains makes for a dramatic picture-perfect view. 

The crossing of Frying Pan Creek is exhilarating. The run off is cascading down and the milky glacier water is refreshing. The trail picks up on the other side and switchbacks as you climb parallel the creek. This is where it got interesting. 

There are no less than eight sloped snow crossings along the trail. They are all manageable, but as the snow melts it gets slippery making them a bit challenging. Poles and good boots make easy work of them. We never needed traction on this hike. The big surprise was a large (really large) tree across the path. It is navigable but we had to experiment a bit. On the way up we tried going around, but this approach will erode the trail if this obstacle remains. On our return, we went over the top. 

After these switchbacks, through slopes covered in avalanch lilies you arrive at Summerland Meadow and the views are other-worldly. Mount Rainier and Little Tahoma appear to be of equal height at this angle. It’s an illusion of course, but the views are stunning. 

There are chipmunks and some surprisingly beefy marmots up here. Lots of places to sit and enjoy your lunch. It’s kind of an idyllic scene: a painter creating mountain-scapes from a boulder, people lunching beside the trail looking out at the meadow about to explode with paintbrush and lupine. I saw just one bird I was able to photograph: a chipping sparrow. Another lifer for my list. 

Beautiful hike, and despite the obstacles, well worth the extra effort in these early weeks of summer. I’ll be back in a few weeks for the flower show. The trail ends as it begins, shaded and flat. A perfect finish. 

We toyed with the idea of a drive up to Sunrise since the road was finally open, but the steady stream of cars that direction made the decision for us. Early is the only way to enjoy any solitude and the summer hiking season is just beginning in earnest. 

Here are a few photos of flowers blooming now. There are a lot just beginning to pop and this trail will be a stunning display in a week or two. 

11 Comments on “Pivot

  1. I’m thinking of taking my kids up to Summerland next week. This report was really useful! Trying to decide if its doable for us. Thank you for posting such an informative post!!

    • Thanks so much for writing. Glad it was helpful for you and hope you have a great trip next week. The flower show will only get better as thr snow continues to melt. Such a beautiful hike !

  2. Gorgeous. And good grief Sunrise. What’s up with that? Scrubbing out the coffee pots? I’m in awe of your hiking on snow willingness. I kind of draw the line there. Did you just go into the valley at Summerland? Not up through the rocks on the other side?

    • We lunched by the water just past camp. I heard the water was pretty tricky and the snow was more of an issue toward the gap, so we passed. I’ll go back in a couple weeks and venture further, sans snow. The lilies were amazing with paintbrush and lupine on the way !

  3. Yesterday I took a short hike with the grandkids at the Audubon Society in Portland. The 6 year old ran on the trail for most of it, only stopping when I pointed something out, while the 9 year old carried her notebook in hopes of finding another bird for her life list. When none showed up she proceeded to sketch what she saw. Then they both spent a long time playing in the creek with sticks and leaves and rocks…. I don’t get far with them, but we are all about the journey! 🙂

  4. Wish I had your get up and go and will to keep pivoting. Such beauty out there for those whose flesh is willing. Or maybe I need a buddy like you to drag me up the mountain. And is that purple flower a trillium? Ours are long gone in the valley. [There seem to be a few photos that aren’t displaying right, and the video didn’t work for me – me? or you?]

    • Thanks for the heads up. I deleted the video. WordPress can give me a stomach ache sometimes. It’s pretty heavy in content, so I know it loads slowly. Really gorgeous day ! If you’re an early riser with my same philosophy ” the journey is the reward” ( read: I go slow … ) then let me know when you’re up for a hike !

    • Hi there riversandroadspdx. This is Kelly, Bonnie’s wife replying to suggest you maybe try different browsers [Chrome Firefox Edge] and see if that allows all the media to display/play as intended on the device [phone, tablet, Windows computer, Mac computer] you’re using.

      • Hi Kelly, I just checked again and the photos showed up (on my Chromebook/Chrome browser). It was the 2 pics with the feet on the “bridge”. As for the video, I think it was removed. I can’t do video on my account cause I don’t pay enough $ but maybe Bonnie’s acct is the pro one? If so, I don’t know why it didn’t load for me. Size?

        • I always blame WordPress 😄 I DID take the video down. It seemed to be hanging everything up. Glad you got to see the pictures. Beautiful place !

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