Chinook Pass – Tipsoo Lake


Where should you go to watch Mount Rainier glow as the sun rises?  Sure, the obvious answer is Sunrise, but despite an early start on the first sunny day of my week-long visit to the Mount Rainier area, I had hit the road too late to make it all the way to Sunrise for the sunrise.  So, I detoured to an equally awesome spot (maybe even better!) — Chinook Pass.

From Packwood, Washington (my base for the week), Chinook Pass is only about a half hour away, up US 12, then WA-123, to WA-410.  As soon as you turn from 123 onto 410 at Cayuse Pass, the road begins a dramatic climb, and after a few switchbacks, it tops out at Chinook Pass.  Stop just shy of the high point, along the side of the road, and you can enjoy a view like this one.

The scenic Tipsoo Lake makes this area even more picture-perfect.  The road circles around, and climbs above Tipsoo Lake.

There’s a trail that lets you get closer to Tipsoo Lake, with a trailhead and lots of parking near the water’s edge.  After taking pictures from the side of the road, I headed down to this trail.

The morning was quite chilly.  Elk bellowed a mating call in the distance.  My boots made footprints in the frost on this footbridge.  A fellow photographer — the only other person taking pictures here on this beautiful morning — warned me to keep my camera battery in my pocket.  The freezing temperatures had caused one of his batteries to go dead.  From the edge of the water, there was a decent, but not perfect reflection of Rainier, and it was partially obscured by nearby trees.

Across Tipsoo Lake, the much-smaller Yakima Peak was nicely lit by the morning sun.  I’ve read that there is a fairly easy path up to the top of Yakima Peak on the north side.

If I had just one more day at Mount Rainier, there’s a good chance I would have hiked the Tipsoo-Naches Peak Loop Trail.  It’s a popular 3-mile route that begins at the Tipsoo Lake Trailhead, and heads north (towards Yakima Peak) briefly, then makes a clockwise circle over Chinook Pass and around Naches Peak.  Of course, you can hike it in either direction, but the WTA recommends a clockwise hike for the best views of Rainier.

As I headed back to my car, I noticed another good view of Rainier, looking off from the side of the road.

Heading downhill from here would take you directly towards Yakima Peak, for just a moment, before the switchbacks begin.  Instead, take a moment to drive the other direction — east on WA-410, over the pass, then down the other side for a mile or so.

Make a u-turn, and head back to the pass, and you’ll be treated to a brilliantly lit view of the road (and Yakima Peak).

It’s not always this beautiful, though.

A few days earlier, I took the first pictures of my vacation at Chinook Pass. This was some of the last daylight I saw, as three solid days of rain set in.  Surprisingly, even at sunset, and even on a cloudy day, this was a nice place to take a picture.

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