|Mount Rainier rises over a carpet of avalanche lilies at Spray Park|
Access: Long and bumpy gravel road to trailhead, $25 Mount Rainier National Park entrance fee
The open meadows of Spray Park are one of the most dazzling subalpine wildflower gardens in the shadow of Mount Rainier; the mist coming off 350-foot tall Spray Falls is literally dazzling when lit by sunlight. Although the trail to Spray Park from Mowich Lake is relatively tame, staying in the forest for the most part, the two destinations visited by the trail are undeniably spectacular, making Spray Park an extremely worthwhile hike in Mount Rainier National Park. The hike delivers many close-up views of the mountain's northwest face both at a viewpoint along the trail itself and at the sprawling meadows of Spray Park.
I hiked to Spray Park on a perfect sunny day in late July weekend when my parents and some family friends were visiting Seattle. We arrived a little too early in the year for the peak wildflower bloom but came just in time to catch the early-blooming avalanche lilies carpet many of the higher meadows. At least a half million other Puget Sound residents settled on a similar decision to make the drive out to the trailhead at Mowich Lake that weekend, resulting in cars parked along the side of the road for a half-mile out from the actual parking lot at the trailhead. We made our way down to the trailhead from Seattle by taking Route 167 south to Sumner, then Route 410 east to Buckley, and finally Route 165 south through Wilkeson and across the ricketty Fairfax Bridge to the fork between the roads to Carbon River and Mowich Lake. The road to Mowich Lake was a long and bumpy 16 mile drive through endless fields of potholes, but was doable for a sedan; on the plus side, the road was easily wide enough for traffic heading both directions. Trailhead parking was more or less impossible on a sunny weekend day nearing peak wildflower times.
The trail left from the Mowich Lake walk-in campground, immediately delving downhill into the forest and reaching a junction in a fifth of a mile. The right fork was the Wonderland Trail; the left fork headed towards Spray Park. We followed the left fork. The trail went across a series of gradual ups and downs, crossing a set of streams on log bridges as the trail made its way through forest and an open creek valley. At times, colorful fungi adorned the forest floor. In general, the trail trended downhill here, reaching the lowest point of the hike just before reaching a talus slope.
|Liberty Cap from Eagle Cliff|
The next mile consisted of a steady ascent up tight switchbacks to the meadow. Towards the top of the ascent, blooming lupine and beargrass began to line the trail. After crossing a creek on a log bridge, the trail came to the lower meadow of Spray Park, a small grassy clearing with Mount Rainier looming to the south.
|Lower meadow at Spray Park|
|Avalanche lilies at Spray Park|
|Blooming avalanche lilies in the upper meadow|
|Mother Mountain view from Spray Park|