|Avalanche lilies along the trail in Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Mount Rainier National Park entrance fee required
Indian Henry's Hunting Ground is a remarkable wildflower meadow to the southwest of Washington State's Mount Rainier that is perhaps one of the most underrated hiking destinations in Mount Rainier National Park. While lacking the name recognition of Rainier wildflower parks such as Paradise, Summerland, or Spray Park, the Hunting Ground puts on an equally colorful and lush wildflower show and as a bonus, typically sees only a fraction of the visitors that trample to those other spots. What the Hunting Ground lacks in wide, open grassy spaces, it makes up for in wildflower density, pretty ponds, and a historic ranger cabin along the Wonderland Trail. This hike is absolutely phenomenal when avalanche lilies bloom; visit during mid-summer to catch this unrivalled show of Northwest natural color. The catch? The Hunting Ground is a substantial day hike in from either Kautz Creek or Longmire, a much tougher destination to reach than many of the other previously mentioned wildflower hotspots.
I hiked this trail with a friend on a reasonably nice July day; although we had initially made plans to head to the North Cascades, overcast weather in the Sound and the promise of clear skies in the Paradise webcam drove us south to Mount Rainier. From Seattle, we took State Route 167 and then SR 512 south to Puyallup, exited onto SR 161 and followed it south past South Hill, Graham, and Eatonville to the junction with SR 7; we turned left and followed Highway 7 to Elbe and continued on Highway 706 from Elbe towards Mount Rainier. Passing Ashford, we entered the park and came to the Kautz Creek Trailhead, on the right side of the road, about 4 miles from the park entrance. There were maybe 40 or so parking spaces at the trailhead, which was ample considering that trail traffic was fairly low.
From the parking lot, we crossed the road and started off on the Kautz Creek Nature Trail boardwalk; following the boardwalk for just a few yards, we came to a trail junction to the right for the trail to Indian Henry's. We took the right fork, leaving the boardwalk for a wide, gentle trail through the forest. The first mile of the trail was nearly flat as it cut through the forest adjacent to Kautz Creek. At the end of the first mile, the trail descended slightly to cross through the sandy creekbed of Kautz Creek, crossing the creek itself via a well-built log bridge. Here, we caught our first view of the mountain (and our only view of the mountain uncloaked- Rainier decided to at least partially hide beneath the clouds for the rest of our hike).
The first mile of the hike illustrated the power of flooding and mudflows: Kautz Creek is perhaps best known for a massive 1947 mudflow triggered by heavy rains that buried the Longmire-Paradise Road. Sections where the creekbed is threatening to undercut the trail underlines the fickle nature of the creek and the fast-paced geological change that occurs in the park. Mudflows and floods play an active role in the park landscape and park access: in recent years, multiple glacial outburst debris flows have charged down Tahoma Creek, causing the long-term closure of Westside Road, and a 2006 flood on the Nisqually River destroyed a campground at Longmire. When Rainier erupts in the future, volcanic mudflows known as lahars will pose a major threat not just within the park but also to communities along the rivers leading out from the mountain such as Orting and even major Puget Sound cities like Tacoma.
After crossing Kautz Creek, the trail delved into an old growth forest (one cedar was almost four feet in diameter!) and began a steady uphill climb. Soon, reaching the base of Mount Ararat, the trail embarked on an at times steep switchback ascent through the forest.
|Massive cedar on the climb up to the Hunting Grounds|
|High Rock and Sawtooth Ridge|
|Mount Adams comes into view|
|Field of daisies in the Hunting Ground|
|Mount Adams rises above Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds|
|Mounts Ararat and Rainier rise above Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds|
|Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds|
|Tatoosh Range and Goat Rocks|
|So many lilies!|
|A carpet of avalanche lilies|
|The Patrol Cabin at the Hunting Grounds|
|Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds|
|Flowers at the cabin|