I hadn’t been on a trail run in ages and I had seen so many beautiful pics of Grand Park, it was time to give it a go. I had been warned about the dirt road and I was mentally prepared for potholes galore. Bring it on.
- Distance: ~9mi round trip
- Elevation: 1,100ft gain, 5,600ft highest point
- Weather: 80’s and sunny with BUGS
- Commute from Seattle: 2hrs but add 15-20min buffer for the forest road
- Did I Trip: NO SIR
I got a late start, showing up at the trailhead around 10:45am. I immediately walked RIGHT past the start to the trail and kept heading up the road until I noticed fewer and fewer cars and realized… huh, it must be back that way.
The trail was an absolute mud fest in the beginning. Pits of lose-your-shoes mud with some branches tossed across but not enough to keep your shoes clean. Lake Eleanor came up quickly (maybe a mile?) where I immediately made another wrong turn. The trail dumps you out into campsites next to the lake, and you can follow the campsites along the lake, or you can walk through the first campsite to the left where you’ll pick up the rest of the trail. Fortunately this was on strava, so my trail navigation skills are publicly on display.
After the lake, you drop a bit of elevation and pass through some meadows/swamps/bogs before regaining it again. Did I mention the bugs yet? The bugs were BAD. And I was sweaty. So any bug that hit my face stuck to my face. Just get to the fields, just get to the fields, soon it’ll be all flowers and no bugs just get to the fields. Oh here’s a field. With mud pits and cesspools of mosquito larvae. Where the King was born. I assume. Or Queen. Or whoever. Doesn’t matter who.
Past the lower meadows, you get onto this ridge like ramble, and the trees get thinner, and the trail gets drier, and the flowers get denser and the colors get brighter. Avalanche lilies were EVERYWHERE, a promising glimpse of what was to come. I always think back to my friend years ago who was SO excited to show his sister the avalanche lilies at Rainier before realizing it was April, and everything was still under many feet of snow.
Trees got more and more sparse, meadows got larger and larger, and suddenly the top of Rainier was in view. And in the next meadow, ALL of Rainier was in view, and you’re meandering along a narrow trail surrounded by wildflowers and grasses. Lupine, these hot pink paintbrush (I’m used to red and white, not hot pink!), purple aster, yellow biscuitroot, more avalanche lilies. And the meadow is nearly two. Miles. Long. You can ramble through this for hours. You can eve see Fremont Lookout up the ridge directly south!
The only awkward part is passing others. Wildflowers are extremely delicate, and the trail is extremely narrow in some points. If there’s a party to pass, there is no good way to do it.. I ran into a crew going for a peak I don’t remember and passed them by walking next to the trail doing my best to not step on wildflowers and totally got called out for it. I felt so guilty but I honestly don’t know what the alternative would be. They seemed to understand as soon as I was like “I didn’t know what else to do” and I think that’s all you CAN do. Do your best and hope everyone understands you have good intentions. Just sucks because that’s basically admitting that some wildflowers are going to be trampled because of the traffic on this trail, that traffic includes me, and there’s not much we can do about it.
I took a break at the intersection of the Lake Eleanor trail and the Northern Loop trail before turning around to head back. The trip back through the meadows was no less spectacular, but re-entering the trees… yikes. I passed some lucky hikers wearing bug nets while hiking, they were the smartest folks out there that day. I swear the bugs made me run faster. I corrected all my trail mishaps on the way out missing zero turns, and popped out at the car around 1pm despite my late start.
This is an AWESOME trail for a run or a short day hike. Easy navigation, no parking passes to deal with, tons of scenery, just really high bang for your buck. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it. The only downside is the forest road that lasts forever but it wasn’t as brutal as I had expected. In fact, my car matched the foliage, and the views are pretty good too. Buuut I was still pretty happy to be back on pavement by the end.