The Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park is my favorite place in the park. So when our guest writer, Tammi Kaeberlein, offered to share her story of hiking the beautiful Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, I knew you’d fall in love with this hike yourself. Isn’t that sunset amazing! Ladona
The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail is one of the most popular hiking destinations at Mt Rainier National Park, Washington. The trail itself has jaw-dropping views of both Mt. Rainier and the surrounding Cascade Range. The view from the lookout however is particularly stunning, as it provides a panoramic vista of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and Mount Rainier is so close you feel like you could touch it if you just reach your hand out far enough.
I’ve been hiking at this national park for decades now and this is one of my favorite hikes. Most people make a short trip of this, up to the fabulous lookout and back. Others adjust their timing so as to make it at sunrise or sunset, and both are equally gorgeous. In this article, I’ve included details to help you plan for a beautiful sunset hike.
Why Hike to Mt Fremont Fire Lookout?
Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout is the iconic hiking destination at the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. This hike has everything all wrapped up into one of the easier day hikes in the park. The lookout itself is an added bonus, a delightful historic structure that was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You get the maximum payout on this one, for a minimum effort. It truly does represent everything that is beautiful about Washington State.
Trailhead for Mount Fremont Lookout Trail
The trailhead for the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail is located by the ranger station at the Sunrise Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is located in the northeastern part of Mt. Rainier National Park and is accessible by car. Although the Sunrise Visitor Center can be reached from most other roads in Mount Rainier, if you are driving from Seattle you’ll find it easiest to reach this trailhead by following Highway 410 to the White River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. From the entrance, continue on the road for about 15 miles to the Sunrise Visitor Center.
Parking and Permits
Parking is available in the visitor center parking lot. Mount Rainier National Park does charge an entrance fee that is collected at the entrance station. It’s important to note that the park has moved to cashless payments so be prepared with a credit card or your National Park Pass.
Best Time to Hike the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail
The best time to hike to Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout is from late July to mid-September when the snow has melted and the wildflowers are in bloom. However, the trail is open all summer and is perfectly beautiful whenever you go.
The Sunrise Visitor Center is only open from early July to late September due to snow cover. Sometimes it opens up in June, depending on the road conditions. During the rest of the year, the road to Sunrise is closed. It’s always recommended to check the park’s website or call ahead to confirm road conditions and visitor center hours before planning your trip.
Be Aware of Fires and Smoke
Starting in July, the earlier you can go the more likely you are to have a successful journey. Washington State is known for its fire season which typically starts about the middle or end of August. The smoke, depending on the year and the rain, covers most of the state and dramatically reduces air quality by early September. While the smoke from the fires does make for some pretty spectacular sunsets, it’s not all that enjoyable to hike in.
I did this hike one year just as the smoke from the wildfires was moving in. You could see it coming and we didn’t expect it to move in as fast as it did, so we were covering our mouths with our neck gators on the way down and had sore throats and stinging eyes for several days afterward.
Weekdays are Less Crowded
If you have the option, this trip is best completed on a weekday. It’s an extremely popular hike and will be significantly more crowded on weekends. If you go during the week, you will not be alone, by any means, but you will have a little more space for yourself.
If you plan to do a sunrise or sunset hike, give yourself extra time if hiking in the dark is new to you so that you can take your time and not feel rushed. Also, understand that you will not be able to rely entirely on the trail signs in the dark. Download your map before leaving home, so that it’s there for you when you need it most.
Discover more of Mount Rainier National Park with this list of Things to Do for the First Time Visitor!
About the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail
Quick Stats for This Hike
Distance: 5.7 miles round trip
Type: Out and Back
Elevation: 1112 feet
Difficulty Rating: Moderate difficulty
The trailhead is located at the Sunrise Visitor Center, which is the highest point in the park accessible by car. From the visitor center, the trail climbs steadily through subalpine meadows and forests before reaching the fire lookout. Keep an eye for wildlife from here out – deer, bears, silver fox, black fox, marmot, and mountain goats especially.
Towards the beginning of the trail, you will pass an extremely long log bench on your right. Take note for future reference. When you return in the dark, this log makes a spectacular spot to lay on and watch the stars. Take a left at the T and follow the Sourdough Ridge Trail to Fremont Lookout. There are clear signs along the way.
A bit further on there will be a steep hillside to your right and this is one of two places where I have seen bears. They were very far away, but still very obviously bears. There are no grizzly bears at the park, so the light color you see at times is simply the natural coloring of some of the black bears depending on age and season.
If you’ve given yourself plenty of time, which to me means arriving by mid-afternoon at the very latest, consider taking a detour for possible close-up goat sightings. After you pass the little lake on your right, Frozen Lake, you will come to a junction in the trail.
The right leads to Fremont lookout, the far left to the Wonderland Trail, the left to the Burroughs Mountain trail, and straight to the Wonderland Trail. To take the goat-worthy detour, take the Wonderland trail straight ahead for a few hundred meters and around a sharp bend to your right. Here you may have the opportunity to see a huge herd of goats if the timing is right. There is no need to go further than the next split at this point unless you want to. Just turn around and return to the junction at Frozen Lake.
Return to the junction and the lake and continue up to the lookout. Yogi bear, a real bear, is often seen by Frozen Lake so keep an eye out here too. And keep your distance. It’s 1.3 miles and 483 feet in elevation to the lookout from here. The incline is moderate and often punctuated by frequent stops to look at marmots and because the trail has a lot of loose rock from this point on.
The trail is nearly always dry and dusty. The view to your left is the Wonderland trail area you just came back from, so you can see the goat herds moving from meadow to meadow at this vantage point.
About The Fire Lookout
As you near the fire lookout, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding area. Explore the exterior of the lookout, obviously, as much as your heart desires. If you’re lucky, a ranger will be there and allow you to peak in. I have yet to be so lucky but do have some very lucky friends.
The Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout was built in the 1930s and was used as a fire lookout until the 1970s. It’s now a historic site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From the lookout, you can see the Emmons Glacier, the largest glacier in the contiguous United States, and the entire Sunrise area of the park.
Viewing the Sunset on Mount Rainier
You should have plenty of time to enjoy dinner and decide where you want to be for the setting sun, which is to your back and right if facing Mt Rainier. The sunset is always unbelievably beautiful.
There is often a herd of goats below the lookout as well. Bring binoculars if you want to see them better, as they’re rather far away. The sunrise is, not surprisingly, on the opposite side of the lookout and lights up the mountain gorgeously as well. You really can’t go wrong with either decision, although there do appear to be fewer morning people in the world than night owls.
Returning in the Dark
It gets cold fast and sometimes windy as well when the sun starts to set. I start putting on my warmer gear as the sun begins setting, just to stay ahead of the cold. Gloves are a definite must, even in the summer. This is also a good time to put your headlamp on.
The 1.3 miles to the junction by Frozen Lake is a little challenging in the dark because of all the loose rocks. But if you’re going for a sunset hike, you just came up in that direction and know where you’re going. With a headlamp and hiking poles, it doesn’t take much time at all. Then you’re back on the common trail and can even see the lights of the parking lot calling to you.
Don’t forget to stop at the bench and star gaze for a while. Look for the Milky Way. And shooting stars too. This is when it’s most important to have brought warm clothes.
What to Bring When Hiking to Mount Fremont Lookout
Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen, as well as a map and compass in case of emergency. It is also important to be bear-aware and carry bear spray. Here’s a checklist of the ten essentials:
- Water – you’ll find yourself drinking more water than normal at this high elevation.
- Healthy snacks – both for energy on the trail and to enjoy as you wait for the sunset
- Warm layers, hat, and gloves, even in the summer. It’s going to get cold!
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and sun hat – There is very little shade on this hike, so bring your own.
- Map, compass, and a backup battery if your phone is also your map & compass
- Bear spray
- Headlamp if you’re going at night and backup batteries
- First aid kit
- Fire source
- Binoculars – you won’t want to miss these views!
Final Thoughts on Fremont Lookout
The Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park is absolutely worth an entire day trip from Seattle. The lookout is both charming and beautiful and the trail offers some of the best views in the park, at sunrise, sunset, or any other time. The wildlife alone, however – marmots, pikas, foxes, black bears, and mountain goats, make this a fantastic trail on its own.
Guest Author: Tammi Kaeberlein
Author Tammi Kaeberlein of Wander Healthy, a travel and lifestyle blog focused on making healthy choices wherever you go, so that you can adventure as long as possible.