Sunrise to Burroughs Mt. Backpack – Mt Rainier

Mount Burroughs resides on the northeast slopes of Mt. Rainier. Named after naturalist/essayist, John Burroughs, it is actually three progressively higher hill-tops – Burroughs 1, Burroughs 2, and Burroughs 3. It’s one of the most popular hiking destinations out of Sunrise (visitor center). Sunrise itself, is the highest paved road in Washington State and an extremely popular destination for tourists, hikers, climbers and cyclists. There are a number of different trails from the Sunrise visitor center to Burroughs number 1, where the trail becomes an out and back to number 2 and 3.

We were looking for a overnight backpack trip that would be reasonable in length and allow us to drive to and from on Saturday and Sunday. While we have cycled up to Sunrise many times, we’d never hiked the area, so it seemed a good choice. This time of year, all backcountry backpacking (overnight) permits must be obtained at the nearest Mount Rainier Wilderness Center. For this trip, it was the White River Wilderness Center just inside the Sunrise park off of Highway 410. It’s about a 2-½ hour drive from Olympia through Enumclaw, WA.

We arrived at the Wilderness Center around 10AM. We had thought about leaving much earlier, but wasn’t sure because the actual backpack to the camping area was quite short. We didn’t want to arrive too early and end up hanging at camp a long time at the end of the day! As it turned out, we had many camping options to choose from. We ended up selecting Sunrise Camp since that was our original plan. The ranger got us our permit which was $6. One unfortunate thing about Mt. Rainier is they don’t allow dispersed camping except in a small number of areas. All camping must occur in their designated backcountry camps. This protects the area, but also limits options.

Sunrise Camp is only 1.5 miles from the parking lot. This was possibly the shortest backpack trip ever. We parked in the lot designated for backcountry permit holders and set off. Our packs were already packed. The weather was partly cloudy with moderate temperature. We made our way to Sunrise Camp, picked a spot and set up our tent, ate lunch and were off on our day-hike to the Burroughs around 1PM.

And we’re off!
We opted for the group site because no one was expected, and it was more open
On our way to Sunrise Camp
That’s not a nut this squirrel is munching on

As mentioned, there are a few options to get to the Burroughs. We took the most direct route to Sunrise Camp which was down a gravel service road. The ranger informed us that Sunrise Camp was originally accessible by car. So we walked about a mile of gravel road and then ½ mile of trail. The campsite doesn’t have a view of anything but a small meadow, and it sits a couple hundred yards away from Shadow Lake. There is an outhouse for doing your business.

The lake is where we got water (filtered of course). No swimming, no fishing.
Shadow Lake
Not sure if it’s Shadow Lake because it reflects the shadow of its surroundings, or because it sits in shadows, down in a low spot, only getting sun when the sun is high.
The Privy, complete with eternal lock 🤔 Someone had made a mess inside unfortunately. Why/how does that happen?

The hike to 3rd Burroughs and back is about 9 miles with 2,900′ gain and reaching 7,800′ elevation. From our campsite we took the trail leading to Sunrise overlook which ascends a southern facing slope high above the White River. Spectacular views of the White River, Emmons Glacier and Mount Rainier.

Terminus of the Emmons Glacier which is the headwaters for the White River

We kept a solid pace hiking up the Burroughs. By the time we were headed up, quite a few were descending. The entire hike keeps you in view of Mount Rainier. It proved to be a difficult day for photography since we were hiking into/facing the sun. The mountain was ensconced in a lenticular all day. It’s fascinating watching the lenticular swirl. At times it appears it may stretch way out as the cloud stretches away from the mountain, but it always remains just a cap – just a lot of shape shifting.

The lenticular changed shapes, at times looking like a whale, an alligator, platypus, salamander, and other unworldly creatures.

Shortly after getting to the top of Burroughs #3, we had the place to ourself for a short break, before heading down. On the way up, we saw goats, but they were a long ways off. We took the trail to Frozen Lake (not frozen this time of year) and considered walking the 1.5 miles to Freemont Peak but decided to leave it for another day.

Found Snow!
Those little white dots. Goats!
Sometimes, a scene begs to be presented in monochrome.

We got back to camp about 6:00PM. We went to Shadow Lake to get some water and then made dinner. It was dark by shortly after 7:00PM and we tried to stay outside till 8:00, but didn’t make it. We retreated to the Zpacks Triplex and warm up in our bags. Some folks walked into the site around 8:30PM and were apparently going to set up camp next to us. I’m guessing, non-permit holders. I made it known we were there and awake, and mentioned that there were numerous campsites on the other side of the trail. They went over there.

My Dinner
Jean’s Dinner
I liked the name!

We took a leisurely morning. I was going to get up to Sunrise viewpoint for civil start (blue hour just before sunrise), but accidentally snoozed too long. I got up there shortly after sunrise, and the light was already hitting the mountain and clouds. But there was a lot of cloud cover east, and the mountain was mostly covered, so I actually didn’t miss much. I got a few shots, but not quite what I was hoping for. Back to camp and we had breakfast, packed up, and took yet a different trail back to the parking lot. It was misting a bit as we hiked, the surface clouds were starting to burn off. By the time we got to the Sunrise Visitors Center (closed for the season), the Mountain was starting to show itself.

Sunrise!
Sunrise visitor’s center, closed for the season.

We’ll be back to explore more areas out of Sunrise.

You can view these photos and more by clicking this link. All photos are the copyright of Ronald Jones. All Rights Reserved.

Do you have a favorite hike out of Sunrise?

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