This “backdoor” loop into and through Mt Rainier National Park had been on our radar for a while. Multiple attempts to follow through with the plan ended with bad weather, not enough time, or our friend that wanted to do this with us not being available the same day we were.
Finally schedules, weather, and time aligned for us to complete this fabulous loop! The plan was to start at Lake Eleanor trail head, loop through the park, and come back down via Huckleberry Creek trail. The only catch was that the trailheads are about 4 miles apart on a not-so-lovely forest road. We were lucky enough to have a friend in the area that day, and they agreed to help us out by driving up and moving our car from Point A to Point B for us! It was great knowing we didn’t have that 4 mile slog to deal with on foot!
If you take this route, you don’t even need a National Park Pass, since you are starting outside of the park itself. The run to Lake Eleanor was mellow, winding through the forest just getting our legs warmed up. Before I knew it we were at the lake, greeting a few campers, with them looking at us like we were nuts with our little run packs on and chatting about the miles ahead.
We dipped back into the trees, and apparently found where all of the mosquitoes were located in the park. It was certainly motivation to keep moving at a good pace, and drove us up and out of the forest into the beautiful meadows that Mt Rainier boasts.
After running through the forest and smaller meadows, you break through a small tree line into Grand Park and just stop. It really is Grand, and this day couldn’t have been more perfect to have the honor of running through it. We oohed and ahhed over the view and then continued on our run. This was one of those rare adventures that there wasn’t a ton of elevation gain, so it felt great to actually be able to maintain a nice pace for a while without having to slow for a pass summit.
We got to the Northern Loop trail and headed down towards Berkeley Park. This is probably one of my favorite areas on the Northern Loop trail, which I backpacked last year. Creeks babbling, trees scattered around in the meadows, rock formations – this park has it all.
The climb out of Berkeley Park towards Sunrise is s beautiful, it’s hard to maintain pace due to pausing to look left and take in the expansive rolling meadows below you.
Once you hit the Wonderland Trail and head towards Sourdough ridge, you find hoards of people that are day hiking from Sunrise. This makes running a little difficult, but this portion of our route was short, and soon we were turning on to Huckleberry Creek trail where nobody was headed, since it only led down into the basin and out of the park.
Huckleberry Basin did not disappoint. We took the switchbacks along the ridge down back into the forest, and started the 7 mile knee-pounder back out of he park. The trail was very runnable, up until we got to an area that had a huge landslide. This little “logjam” (as hikers that had tried to come up from the other direction were calling it) slowed us down by about 45 minutes. Once through, it was smooth sailing back out to the forest road.
19 miles in total, this was probably my favorite real trail run of the year. Long, beautiful, runnable, and not a huge sufferfest of elevation. Highly recommended for those that want to explore Mt Rainier National Park in a not-so-common route!