July 28, 2008

Even Without Views of Rainier, Owyhigh Lakes Offers Scenic Stroll

By Scott Sandsberry

YAKIMA --Majestic, shadowed forest dominates the trail leading to Owyhigh Lakes in Mount Rainier National Park. The 3.5-mile hike climaxes with the appearance of jagged Governor's Ridge, overlooking a meadow basin with a pair of small alpine lakes.

Don't expect views of mighty Mount Rainier on this broad route steadily leading upward to the lakes. Enjoy those on the drive across Chinook Pass and the vista point along Highway 410 before turning off on the White River entrance to the park.

It's a scant two miles from the entrance station to the trailhead, and while the path itself climbs almost all the way to Owyhigh Lakes, the gentle grade makes the 1,350 feet of elevation gain quite reasonable.

Other options for hikers taking this trail include a one-way trip to Highway 123 (Cayuse Pass) of 8.8 miles or an extended trek to Ohanapecosh 17 miles away. Be sure to check in advance for trail conditions before attempting either of these choices.

At the time of our mid-July visit, the well-defined trail was open to the lakes with only a few snow patches to cross. Any log obstructions had been cut out and the trail was in great shape.

Although we often prefer a hike that takes you along open ridgetops, the Owyhigh Lakes Trail has a distinct advantage on hot summer days. The tall hemlock trees which surround the trail practically all the way to the lake basin provide welcome relief from the sun's rays.

For the first half mile or so, the trail leads upward until you encounter a deep creek canyon, where it makes a switchback on the hillside. Several more switchbacks follow, offering views of such park features as White River, the road leading to Sunrise, Sunrise Point, and Dege Peak along Sourdough Ridge.

The path crosses a few sidestreams along the hillside, some of which will undoubtedly dry up later in the summer. At about two miles you make your last switchback and the route steadily leads toward the lake basin.

Several signs indicate you are nearing Owyhigh Lakes and the jutting rock ramparts of Governors Ridge. First, you come to a log crossing of a good-sized stream. Next you reach the turn to the left for Tamanos Camp for backpackers.

For the last half-mile the trail levels off and there are occasional views up toward the ridge before you reach the main meadows, which descend to Owyhigh Lakes. Tamanos Peak stands above you to the west, blocking any glimpse of Mount Rainier.

Owyhigh Lakes offers several appealing features as a hiking destination. It is reasonably short, involves a gradual climb and has shade cover for almost the whole distance. The entire hike in and out, with a little time for wandering and having a lunch, can be done in less than five hours.

Ron Graham, an elementary school teacher and native of the Yakima Valley, is an avid outdoorsman who has hiked throughout the Pacific Northwest.

If you go

What: Hike to Owyhigh Lakes.

Where: Mount Rainier National Park's east side from the White River entrance.

How: Follow Highway 12 west and then Highway 410 across Chinook Pass and down to the White River entrance. Turn left and continue two miles past the park entrance station to the trailhead parking on the right. Cross the road to access the trail. Total driving distance is about 75 miles.

by Ron Graham

Yakima Herald-Republic

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