46.9282° N, 121.5045° W
IN OUR OPINION, THE CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN LOOP TRAIL IS ONE OF THE BEST HIKING TRAILS NEAR MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK. BELOW IS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS AMAZING WASHINGTON HIKING TRAIL.
We had originally planned on hiking up in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park. But after getting a bit of a later start than we had originally planned, we found the parking lot was unfortunately full and closed for the day.
Well, time for Plan B. Luckily, we were very close to the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort - a place we had already set our sights on (though of course more for skiing purposes than for hiking). So we turned around and headed up to check out the ski area a little bit earlier in the season than we had originally planned.
Now, if you have never explored a ski resort in the summer, let us tell you it is kind of a trip. For starters, they are usually much, much quieter to the point of almost being eerie. It also doesn't help that the ski lifts are all just sitting there, empty, swaying in the summer wind, usually creaking and groaning. The ski runs are still visible but it feels more like a logging operation than an outdoor adventure paradise. Altogether, it is kind of a funky experience.
Luckily though, ski resorts usually have some pretty awesome trails to explore once summer rolls around. In fact, some ski resorts stay open year-round and just switch from offering epic downhill ski runs to offering equally adrenaline pumping downhill runs for mountain bikers.
But in the case of Crystal Mountain, we believe the best way to explore the area is via hiking. And one of the best hikes in the area is the Crystal Mountain Loop Trail.
This 9ish mile loop can be done in either direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). Or, if you don't feel like doing the full loop, you can also cut it in half and either walk up to the top and ride the resort's scenic gondola down or do the opposite and ride the gondola up and hike down (see below for pricing). Whichever way you choose to go, definitely make sure to make your way to the Summit House, which sits at the top of the resort.
The Summit House is not only the tallest restaurant in all of Washington, but it also might just have one of the best views of nearby Mount Rainier. Once you make your way to the top, you can sit in some comfortable chairs and just be spellbound by the sheer size of the monolithic mountain. Seriously, the Crystal Mountain Loop Trail might just be one of the best ways to see Mount Rainier in all of its glory.
So if you are looking to explore this area of Washington and get an awesome view of Mount Rainier (without worrying about crowds of people and full parking lots), then we cannot recommend this scenic hiking loop enough.
Below you will find our full hiking guide on the Crystal Mountain Loop, as well as important information on how to actually reach the trailhead and what to bring with you along the hike.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you don't feel like hiking the full Crystal Mountain Loop then you also have the option to either ride the scenic gondola up to the top and hike down OR hike up and ride down. If you want to ride up, then you will need to purchase a ticket either online (here) or at the base.
| COST TO RIDE THE GONDOLA: it costs $44 per adult, $39 for a young adult (18-22) and $20 for a child (under 18) to ride the scenic gondola up to the Summit House. Learn more about this adventure here.
WHERE: at the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in Washington (right outside of Mount Rainier National Park)
WHAT: a hiking trail, loop
DISTANCE: ~9 miles total; with the option to go shorter or longer
HIGHEST POINT: 6,824 feet / 2,080 meters, at the Summit House (the tallest restaurant in Washington)
GEAR NEEDED: sturdy hiking shoes, a decently-sized day bag, bug spray and sunscreen, plenty of snacks
TRAIL CONDITIONS: mix of dirt road and singletrack trail, forested for half of it, a few rocky sections awesome mountain views
DOGS ALLOWED: yes, there are areas pets can be off-leash (as long as they are under voice control)
PARKING DIFFICULTY: a very well-sized parking lot that is free, has a bathroom nearby
➳ You can explore the full hiking guide (and map) for the Crystal Mountain Loop Trail at this link.
\\ How to Get to the Crystal Mountain Loop Trailhead
The closest sizeable town to the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort is going to be Enumclaw. You will likely pass near or through this town if heading to the ski resort from the greater Seattle area. Enumclaw has all of the necessary goods; including, multiple grocery stores, an outdoor gear store, gas stations and restaurants.
A bit closer to Crystal you also have the small town of Greenwater, which has a couple of outdoor gear shops and outfitters, a gas station and a small general store.
FROM ENUMCLAW, WASHINGTON
It takes about an hour to reach the base area of the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort (where the hike starts) from Enumclaw. Most of the drive will be on the scenic Highway 410 (the same road that leads to Mount Rainier National Park). Right before you enter the national park, you will see a sign for Crystal Mountain and a turn on the LEFT side of the road. Turn there and drive for another 7 miles until you reach the main base area and the large parking lot. In total, it is 40 miles from Enumclaw to Crystal Mountain.
FROM SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
It takes approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes (without traffic) to reach the Crystal Mountain Ski Area and the Crystal Mountain Loop trailhead from downtown Seattle, Washington. The drive is mostly on Interstate 5 until you reach the Tacoma/Auburn area. Then you will drive on Highways 164 and 410 until the turn-off for Crystal Mountain. In total, it is around 83 miles from Seattle to Crystal Mountain.
FROM PORTLAND, OREGON
Crystal Mountain Ski Resort is around 3.5 hours from downtown Portland, Oregon. The drive between the two destinations is mostly done on Interstate 5 and Highways 12 and 123. To reach the ski resort this way you will have to pass through Mount Rainier National Park. In total, it is 180 miles from Portland to Crystal Mountain.
We don’t believe there is an option to reach the Crystal Mountain Ski Area via public transportation. While it looks like there is a free weekend bus from the nearby town of Enumclaw, we don’t know if it runs during the summer season or just when the ski resort is open for winter adventures.
\\ The Best Time to Hike the Crystal Mountain Loop
The best time to hike the entire Crystal Mountain Loop, and just in the Crystal Mountain area in general, is going to be mid to late summer. During this time of year, you will have a higher chance of hiking without encountering snow, and also have a very good chance of spotting various wildflowers (including some beautiful pink ones).
We hiked the loop at the end of July and found the trails to be very clear and surrounded by different colors of wildflowers. Plus, during the summer, you have a higher chance of a clear day - aka a great opportunity to see Mount Rainier in all of its glory.
\\ What to Bring With You to Hike the Crystal Mountain Loop
Besides the obvious hiking gear of comfortable clothes and sturdy hiking boots (see our recommendations below), you should also make sure to pack bug spray (the mosquitos can be brutal), plenty of sunscreen - especially if you want to hike up to the top of Crystal Mountain itself, a sun hat and sunglasses, a water bottle or water bladder, and some snacks.
If you go all the way up to the Summit House - around the halfway point of the hike - you can refill your water bottle or bladder and also purchase some food (we didn't look at prices). Either way, we would recommend bringing some snacks or a full picnic lunch to the top and eating it while staring out at mighty Mount Rainier.
You will want to wear a pair of sturdy boots that can handle all kinds of terrain: from rocky scree fields to somewhat slick river crossings to just miles of trail pounding. These hiking boots by Vasque seem to be a jack of all trades and therefore should be able to handle whatever the trail throws at you. Recommended hiking boot.
These socks can easily go from hitting the trails to hanging out at camp due to their moisture-wicking properties and slightly elastic stretch. Plus, they are made partially of recycled materials - meaning they are good for you and the planet. Recommended hiking socks from Smartwool.
MOISTURE-WICKING SUN SHIRT
No matter the month (or weather) you are planning to hike in, you will likely want to wear a nice lightweight long-sleeved shirt on the trail. This one by Backcountry works perfectly as your base layer for it is lightweight and breathable enough for hot sunny days, but also insulated enough to still be great when the temperature starts to cool down. Recommended long-sleeve shirt.
This lightweight fleece jacket works great as both a mid-layer for winter hiking adventures or as a solo jacket once the season starts to warm up. Plus, the raglan-style sleeves provide seam-free comfort when you are carrying a heavy backpack. Finally, the fleece jacket is made of recycled fabrics and is Bluesign approved (its sewing is also Fair Trade Certified). Recommended hiking jacket.
While a nice cozy jacket will help keep you nice and warm on those chilly mornings or late-season days, usually the best jacket to have with you while hiking - especially in the PNW - is an easy-to-pack rain jacket. This one by Patagonia checks all of the boxes: it is super lightweight and can pack down into its own little pouch, it has underarm zips that let you vent air even when hiking (and sweating), it has an adjustable elastic draw cord hem that allows fine-tuning for the perfect fit, and finally, it is also Bluesign approved and its sewing is Fair Trade Certified. Recommended rain jacket.
Depending on the time of year, you will likely choose to gravitate towards wearing either full-length hiking pants or a set of lightweight active shorts. We tend to veer more towards wearing pants while hiking unless it is absolutely scorching out - just for the sun protection and less likelihood of getting scratches and cuts from plants. These pants by Black Diamond, are durable enough for all kinds of trails. Recommended hiking pants here.
HIKING DAY PACK
By far one of the most important items in your hiking repertoire is going to be your backpack. Because you will be carrying this bag all day on the trail you will want to make sure it is really comfortable. This bag by Osprey holds 24 liters of gear, while still having plenty of straps to allow it to fit perfectly to your body. Plus, it is made of a nice Durable nylon construction that can withstand tons of trail abuse. It also has a specific place to attach your trekking poles or ice ax if needed. Recommended day pack.
HIKING FIRST AID KIT
This is one of those items that you don't realize you need until it is too late. Luckily, this lightweight pack comes with (almost) everything you could need if an accident does unfortunately occur on the trail. Recommended hiking first aid kit.
Hiking first aid kit for your dog: because you want to make sure your best friend stays safe on the trail as well. This pack is also very