Sun Top Mountain, Walupt Lake Camping, and a Trip to Paradise, Mount Rainier


A view of Mount Rainier from Sun Top Mountain


Mount Rainier

With the Perseid meteor shower on the calendar this month, I wanted to find a great camping spot with the best views of the nights’ sky.  Walupt Lake campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest provided wide angle views with the mountains as a backdrop.  The campgrounds’ location to the southeast of Mount Rainier put our camp site in an area completely void of night pollution.  The 20 mile drive down a National Forest road and camping on a Monday and Tuesday night allowed for a semi-private camping experience for my family with my mother visiting from Texas.


Lake Walupt

My family and I spent our first day of travelling, enjoying the peek-a-boo views of Mount Rainier along the route.  We decided to take a detour to the peak of Sun Top Mountain in hopes of seeing views of the Cascades.  Once we parked just below the locked gate, we hiked the 1/2 mile trail up the the operational Fire Watch Tower.  The occasional mountain biker with the look of fear and rushing adrenaline allowed us small breaks to catch our breath as we watched them whiz by (or walk their bike by depending on the bikers level of confidence.)  The short hike did not disappoint, delivering 360° views including Mount Rainier as the centerpiece.

We arrived at the Walupt Lake campground in the late afternoon and set up camp in a site set back from the lake which gave my family privacy and kept the mosquitoes away.  As the evening turned to night, we made our way to the lakeside to view the nights’ sky in hopes to seeing the Perseids.  Although we had traveled hours away from light pollution from the surrounding cities, we were not able to escape the the luminescence of the Super Moon.  While we did not see one star streaking across the sky, the moons’ reflection on the lake provided a show of its own.


Sheep Lake

Walupt Lake Trail – 8 miles round-trip / 1100′ elevation gain


Sheep Lake

As the sun peaked through our tent windows the next morning, my husband and I woke up and began to prepare for a day of hiking along the Walupt Lake trail.  Our plan was to make our way to the Pacific Crest Trail junction and find a picnic spot for resting.  The hike starts alongside Walupt Lake, but strays away from the shoreline after the first mile.  The first two miles were easy with a gradual climb along the mountainside.  The trail had constant evidence of horses along the way, some more recent than others.  The last two miles were much more steep, but the cool mountain breeze kept us comfortable along the way.  As we passed one family they mentioned a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by a meadow just past the PCT junction.


Sheep Lake

Once we arrived at the lake, a family on horses were taking a break at the lakeside as their dog splashed and played in the water.  We found a quiet, shady spot near the lakes’ edge to rest and sketch. The lake meadow was peaceful; at times is was still and quiet, but the occasional burst of wind would blow across the soft grass surrounding us.  Butterflies and dragonflies fluttered about and at times would land on the mountain flowers.  Across the lake several backpackers hiked along the PCT, and I wondered where they were coming from and going to.  It was hard to leave the beauty of the alpine lake behind as we trekked back down the Walupt Lake trail.  Once we arrived back at camp, we were thankful we had spent the previous evening viewing the nights’ sky as clouds were beginning to build.  There was not a single star to be seen that night in the wilderness sky; even the Super Moons’ light was unable to find its way through the thick clouds.


Mount Rainier flowers


Mount Rainier

As we woke to the sound of light rain tapping on our tent, we were thankful we had put our rain-fly on the previous night.  We broke camp quickly and even skipped breakfast to avoid the impending rain.  In hopes the rain would dissipate, we made our way up the road to Paradise on Mount Rainier to spend the day touring.

Flowers were in full bloom everywhere around the mountain providing a rainbow of colors speckling throughout the green blanket of grass and trees.  As we made our way down the mountain, we found the perfect picnic spot along the raging Nisqually River.  As we exited through the National Park entrance on the west side, I hated the thought of driving back into populated society.  Each time I leave the wilderness I leave a small part of me with it, with hopes of returning to find myself once again.


Nisqually River

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