Hiking the Pinnacle Saddle Trail On Mount Rainier
August is THE hiking month at Mount Rainier National Park. The high mountain snowpack has melted and most trails are accessible by August. The weather is usually inviting, the trails are always well-maintained by the great Park Service employees, and a wonderful adventure awaits the novice as well as skilled backpacker.
Pinnacle Saddle Trail is actually located in the Tatoosh Range directly south of the mountain. Even though this craggy line of mountains is not “on” Mount Rainer, the hikes in the Tatoosh Range offer some of the best views of Mount Rainer in the entire Park. Wildflowers are abundant and beautiful in August, and Pinnacle Saddle is a must-hike for anyone in need of the re-energizing effects of a great day hike.
How to Get There
From the west, take SR 706 into the Nisqually Entrance, then go past Longmire and turn right onto the Stevens Canyon Road. Park at Reflection Lakes and directly across from the lake you will find the trailhead.
From the south, take SR 123 past Ohanapecosh Campground, then turn onto Stevens Canyon Road.
From Enumclaw, drive 47 miles on SR 410 to the junction of SR 123. Continue until you get to Stevens Canyon Road and then on to the Reflection Lakes parking area.
What to Bring
Hiking in August usually means shorts and a t-shirt, but experienced hikers will always tell you to bring layers in case the weather turns dicey. On the Pinnacle Saddle Trail, you are never far from the comforts of your car, but still, why be miserable if you don’t have to be? Bring a fleece pullover and maybe a rain slicker just in case.
Pinnacle Saddle is a great place for a lunch while you enjoy outstanding views. Bring a lightweight backpack, include your lunch, some basic first aid items, a change of clothes, and head on up the hill.
Many hike this trail in lightweight tennis shoes or sandals, but there is loose rock on this trail and because of that sturdy hiking boots are advised.
You might also consider hiking this trail with hiking poles. The loose gravel can be a test at times, and even in August you may find a snowfield covering part of the trail.
Other items that are a must are plenty of water, binoculars to view the wildlife, and a camera for some shots that are beyond description.
The Hike Statistics
The hike itself is 3.5 miles roundtrip and includes an elevation gain of 1150 feet. The Saddle sits at 6000 feet in elevation. A casual hike of this Trail, and taking time for rest and lunch, should take three to four hours, depending of course on your physical shape and hiking abilities.
The Pinnacle Trail
For the first half mile the trail climbs gently and takes you through some dense forest of pines and firs.
Once you leave the forest you will begin a long, steady climb up a rocky ridge, and this is where you will find difficulty if it does exist. As mentioned earlier, there are places where the rocks are loose and difficult, and there are also places where snowfields still exist well into August. Make sure you exercise caution through this section.
At about ¾ of a mile the views of the mountain behind you become spectacular and the views only improve as you finally reach the Saddle. Once you are standing on the Saddle, look behind you for one of the best views of Mount Rainier, then look ahead for a breathtaking view of the Goat Rocks Wilderness as well as Mount Adams in the distance.
Here is the perfect place for a well-deserved lunch and some casual roaming. Grab those binoculars and look for wildlife on the craggy slopes. Say hello to the jays and chipmunks who will drop by for a chat and a share of your lunch. Snap some pictures to dazzle your friends with when you get home.
There are adjoining climbing tracks that lead to Plummer Peak and Pinnacle Peak, which rise above the Saddle, but it is advised that only experienced climbers with rock climbing skills attempt these ventures. They appear to be lovely spurs to follow, and everyone always wants to go higher, but many a novice has found themselves wishing they hadn’t attempted those two peaks.
The trip back down from the Saddle is obviously less of a strain on your muscles, but your knees may not agree. Take it slow going down, especially over the rock sections. Downward momentum and loose rocks are a bad combination for casual hikers as well as the more experienced.
The Park Services
After your hike you can enjoy the services at either Paradise or Longmire. Full services are available at both sites and the Park Service employees are incredibly friendly and helpful.
Enjoy your hike and visit! Chances are that once you visit Mount Rainier National Park you will be hooked for a lifetime!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)