Chinook Pass, Highway 410, is known for its awesome Rainier views. But if you stay in your car you'll miss the best part: To see Mount Rainier dressed up in wildflowers, you’ll have to take a hike.
"This will cleanse your soul to come out here. It's good for the soul. It never gets old,” said Craig Romano. We met this guidebook author and hiking expert at the trailhead to the 3.3 mile Naches Peak Loop in Mount Rainier National Park.
“It is one of the most absolute best wildflower hikes in the state of Washington and it's one of my 100 Classic Hikes in Washington,” said Romano, referring to the guidebook he’s best known for.
Late July into August is prime time for wildflower hikes -- this is one of his three favorites:
"One of the things about the Naches Trail, is the accessibility, it's very accessible. You're starting up high, over 5000 feet, just off a paved road, a state highway, anybody can drive up here," said Romano.
This trail has more than just wildflowers: it's part of the Pacific Crest Trail, so meandering road trippers share stretches of this trail with down and dirty through-hikers. It skirts high mountain lakes that are ideal for cooling off. It also has a couple of small waterfall reminders of why this range is called The Cascades. Then there are the show stopping Mount Rainier views, and a glimpse of Mount Adams’ peak as well.
"There's not a bad section on this trail. In that 3.3 miles it's all flowers, it's all views, it's all open,” said Romano.
We saw fields of fluffy fuzz-on-a-stick that looked like something Dr. Seuss would draw: "What we're looking at here is a whole field of pasque flowers - western anemone. These are actually the seedpods that we're looking at,” explained Romano, who emphasized some basic trail etiquette to help keep all of the alpine flowers coming back year to year:
"First of all, especially in fragile meadows, don't leave the trail,” he said. Also, this may seem obvious, but it bears repeating, especially since we passed hikers with bouquets of flowers jammed into their water bottles: “Don't pick the flowers! It's okay for marmots. They’ll eat some, but it isn’t okay for you.” Romano said. Besides, it’s illegal in National Parks.
Romano’s other wildflower hike picks?
"Grand Ridge in Olympic National Park is spectacular.” The highest official trail in the Olympics can be accessed at Obstruction Pass, or Deer Park, and is 15 miles there and back.
“Another place I'd send you is in the Mt. Baker Wilderness, Excelsior Peak, the High Divide, just one of the best flower areas. You’ll hike for four or five miles along this high ridge that’s just carpeted with flowers.” That hike is 8 miles and is so photogenic it made the cover of Romano’s 100 Classic Hikes guide.
Whichever hike you choose, it's a perfect thing to put on your late summer to-do list: hit the trail and find some of flowers.
"I love trails everywhere," said Romano. "Just put me on a trail, I'm happy."