Hike to Crystal Lakes and Sourdough Gap

Washington Crystal Lakes Trailhead, Mt. Rainier National Park

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Hike with views of beautiful alpine lakes and a chance to capture Mt. Rainier from Sourdough Gap. If you choose only to hike to Upper Crystal Lake, the hike is 6 miles with a 2600' gain.

The trailhead to Crystal Lakes is just a few miles from the entrance arch to Mt. Rainier National Park, and is an excellent hike to get yourself acquainted with the area. Although there's a decent amount of elevation gain, the trail maintains a fairly steady uphill grade throughout, so you won't encounter anything incredibly steep. For a shorter hike, stop at Upper Crystal Lake or, for a longer hike, continue upwards another mile for awesome views over the lake basin from Sourdough Gap. Be prepared for some snow on the trail in the spring, and wildflowers in the late summer.

The trail begins by crossing a wooden bridge over Crystal Creek, then steadily climbs upwards through the forest. Here and there are gaps in the trees where you can get incredible views of Mt. Rainier to the west. The light on Rainier is best in the morning, so start early if you can! At 1.5 miles in, you'll come to the junction with the Crystal Peak Trail - this is a great hike for another day, so keep it in mind for the future. Stick to the left, though, to stay on the Crystal Lakes Trail.

Another mile on you'll come across a second junction where the trail splits for Lower and Upper Crystal Lake. Lower Crystal Lake is only about 100m down to the right, so even if it's not your final destination it's definitely worth a stop. It's the smaller of the two lakes, but is a beautiful little spot to take in the view or have a quick rest. Continuing on, you'll reach the upper lake in another half a mile. The trail opens up into a large lake basin surrounded by mountains, including Crystal Peak to your right. You won't be able to see Rainier from here, as it's blocked by Crystal Peak.

There are several great spots here to stop and have lunch, sunbathe, enjoy the view, etc., but if you're feeling up for it you should continue on to Sourdough Gap. Follow the trail along the lake to the left (heading northeast) for 0.1 miles until there's an obvious Y. The trail to the right will continue along the lake, while the trail to the left will take you up to Sourdough Gap. The trail climbs 600ft in one mile, reaching the ridge top east of Crystal Lake. From the ridge top, continue on the trail another 100m to meet the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), then go south on the PCT another 200m to reach Sourdough Gap. This is a great spot to finish your hike and turn around, though it will be hard to leave the view!

Getting there: Take 410E from Enumclaw - about 36 miles on you'll reach the Mt. Rainier NP boundary and drive under the arch. Look for obvious pullouts on the road at just over four miles past the arch - the trailhead sign will be on the east side of the road. No permit/entrance fee is necessary in this area for day hiking, though you'll have to leave your canine friends at home, since this is within the National Park. Keep in mind that 410 between Enumclaw and Naches (Chinook Pass) is closed in winter, and check with WSDOT for updates on the road.

Pack List

  • 10 essentials
  • Camera
  • Water
  • Food/snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking poles
  • Layers for higher elevation at the lakes
  • Rain gear
  • Microspikes (seasonally)
  • Gaiters (seasonally)
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Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Spring, Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



8 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3200 Feet




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