The Sunrise area occupies a high subalpine plateau showcasing the northeast side of Mt. Rainier. Getting here is half the fun; a long series of switchbacks takes you 11 miles up from Highway 410, past the White River entrance station and through tall evergreen forests along the river before finally emerging into subalpine meadows offering all-encompassing vistas.
Because of the rain-shadow effect, this side of Mt. Rainier gets far less precipitation than the western side, and the vegetation reflects this: grasses, sedges, and even whitebark pine are common here.
The Sunrise area is home to large numbers of elk during the summer and fall. Elk are not native to Mount Rainier National Park but were brought here from Yellowstone and other parts of the West between 1903 and 1933; around 1,500 of them now inhabit the park.
Located at 6,400 feet, the log cabin Sunrise Visitor Center (360/569-2211, ext. 2357, July–early Sept. daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m.) houses natural history displays and has viewing telescopes where you can check out Mt. Rainier’s glaciers, including massive Emmons Glacier, largest in the Lower 48. The interpretive staff leads daily nature walks; stop by the information desk for times and destinations. Not far away is Sunrise Lodge (July–Sept. only) with food and gifts, but no lodging.
Many trails head out from the Sunrise area, including sections of the Wonderland Trail and shorter hikes to nearby lakes and mountains. The White River Hiker Information Center (at the entrance station, daily late May–Sept.) has backcountry and climbing permits, along with maps and other information. Shadow Lake Trail is one of the most popular, a three-mile jaunt that departs from Sunrise parking lot, drops to a rim overlooking the White River Valley, and then follows that ridge to Shadow Lake. Return via Frozen Lake and Sourdough Ridge.
To get to Mt. Fremont Lookout from the Sunrise parking lot, follow the trails to Sourdough Ridge and Frozen Lake, then branch off to the north. The mountain is 7,181 feet high, a gain of 1,200 feet. This well-marked six-mile path takes about three hours round-trip.
For Dege Peak, start between Sunshine Point and the Sunrise parking area; this one-mile trail climbs 7,006-foot Dege Peak in the Sourdough Mountains.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition