Rainier’s Emerald Ridge Trail

If you are looking for a day hike on Mount Rainier that will seriously test your hiking skills then this hike is for you. I am an experienced hiker and this hike tested me, big time! The Emerald Ridge Trail to Tahoma Creek offers unmaintained trails, glistening rivers, flowing waterfalls, a swinging suspension bridge, gorgeous wildflowers, and sweeping Mount Rainier West and Tahoma Glacier views (at the summit). Then as you descend, you will discover the geologic wonders of andesite rock columns as you finish your hike back down the West Side Road to your parked car.

The 13.7-mile loop is for very experienced hikers only. You start at the West Side road parking lot. For those who might be interested in hiking this challenging loop here is the hike in pictures:

Enter at the Nisqually Entrance (follow your GPS toward Ashford, WA) to Mount Rainier National Park. After paying for your day pass (ours was $15) continue through the park and then take the first left onto West Side Road:

After three miles up the West Side Road, park your car at the gate cutting off the road. Then start your roughly one mile hike on West Side Road toward the Tahoma Creek Trail head:

Early in your hike on the West Side Road you get a sneak peek of a mountain top peak:

Continue your hike on West Side Road:

Look for the trash can or red trash can bag on the right that marks the Tahoma Creek Trail start:

Enter the Tahoma Creek Trail where you are warned that the trail is unmaintained (although we saw signs of the Tahoma Creek Trail being maintained in places during our hike):

Continue your hike on the Tahoma Creek Trail:

Look for rocks piled on top of one another as you hike. This signals how to follow the trail:

There are a lot of precarious places on the Tahoma Creek Trail including this bridge:

Sometimes on the Tahoma Creek Trail you have to climb over rock piles:

The Tahoma Creek Trail has you going from the river to the forest and back and forth again in a steep up and down maze:

Along the Tahoma Creek Trail you get to climb through sketchy scree:

And on the Tahoma Creek Trail you get to climb under logs:

Then you are treated to a breathtaking waterfall:

Next, you cross another log bridge:

On a short detour from you hike instead of going left to follow the Emerald Ridge take the trail on the right and walk across a suspension bridge bridge that is straight out of the movies (go one at a time or else the bridge will sway):

Now you follow along the Emerald Ridge on the Wonderland Trail:

The trail toward the summit is an uphill trail climb:

Dotted with wildflowers:

As you wind through (dreaded) switchbacks your hamstrings are screaming, but the reward at the top is stunning:

And at the summit you are treated to rolling wildflower hills where we stopped and ate lunch:

Now you follow along the ridge as you start to descend (go ahead and sing this song from The Sound of Music as you follow the trail along the steep ridge line:

And get one last glimpse of the wildflowers:

As you descend follow the South Pullayup Trail (this side of the hike is filled with scree most of the way, murder for feet! You’ve been warned. You can always go out and back instead of roundtrip):

On the South Puyallup Trail you see more waterfalls:

And you get to cross another precarious bridge:

By now your feet are really tired from all the scree (my “dogs were barking” already and we had a ways to go still!):

But your screaming feet aren’t as noticeable when you hike the South Puyallup Trail by the andesite rock columns (breathtaking and huge in person!):

Shortly after the andesite rock columns, your hike follows the Round Pass Trail and then dumps you back out onto the West Side Road. As you exit the trail turn left and climb up the gravel hill and follow the road for four long miles back to your parked car.

About the Hike:

  • Roundtrip loop: 13.7 miles
  • Elevation Gains: 3141 feet
  • High Point: 5644 feet
  • Hiking time: 8 hours
  • GPS Map: 269

Map of the Emerald Ridge Loop Hike (with hike highlights in red):

If You Go:

  • Be sure to apply sunscreen during the hike and keep hydrated by drinking LOTS of water.
  • Douse yourself in bug spray several times during your hike, the mosquitos on the South Puyallup Trail are relentless! I forgot to put bug spray on the back of my neck and now I’m paying the price.One word: Itchy!
  • Wear properly sized hiking boots (hiking boots for the Emerald Ridge hike are mandatory in my book) and make sure your feet are up for the challenge. The amount of scree on this hike will seriously test the feet of the most experienced hikers. My feet THROBBED with five miles to go, it wasn’t pretty. :(
  • Bring along a complete first aid kit that includes ibuprofen and moleskin to help out any foot blisters and feet / knee pain you might endure during this hike.
  • Be prepared to get lost. Carry a compass. Make sure your pack has plenty of food and water, headlamps, emergency blankets, waterproof matches, fire starters, and extra clothes. And carry pepper spray in case you encounter a cougar (pepper spray has proven to deter cougars when sprayed at close range).

Keep an eye out for mountain goats on the ridge line as you near the parking area.

Photos: CopyStrands