To be as close to Mount Rainier as possible, without being on Mt. Rainier itself, hike the Burroughs Mountain Trail. Burroughs Mountain Trail is described as a mountain hugging THE mountain. The Burroughs Mountain trail is the highest maintained, non-mountaineering trail in the Mount Rainier National Park.
Less than two hours from Seattle Washington, this popular day hike is just over 3 miles long and offers up-close views of Mt. Rainier’s northeastern slope and dramatic views of Washington’s Cascade Mountains scenery.
This hike takes you through high alpine tundra-like terrain while providing dramatic views of Washington’s largest volcano. Located above the tree line, this trail has astonishing vistas in all directions. It’s a short hike with a lot of rewarding views.
Burroughs Mountain Trail History
Burroughs Mountain Trail is a high ridge formed by ancient lava flow from Mount Rainier. The Burroughs Mountain trail consists of three summits, each progressively higher. Noted for its alpine tundra with plants usually only seen at higher altitudes, the ground cover tightly clings to the rocky barren soil. With snow covering this trail for most of the year, the growing season for any vegetation is very short.
Located on the eastern slope of Mt. Rainier, Burroughs Mountain is named after John Burroughs, the naturalist, who is said to have visited the mountain many times. Born in Roxbury, NY in 1837, Burroughs wrote extensively about his travels out west.
He is best remembered for his influence on the modern conservation movement. Described by all as “quite the character”, Burroughs died in 1931. He is best remembered for his “Nature Essay” in which he quotes “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
Before European expansion into the west, this area was thought to be the home of Native Americans, possibly for thousands of years. In 1963, the National Park Service contracted with Washington State University to study Native American tribes in the Mt. Rainier area. The study found evidence of prehistoric humans inhabiting the area between 8000 and 4500 BCE. No permanent habitation was discovered after that time.
Native Americans used the park for hunting, gathering, and spirit quests. It is thought the park was divided between five tribes along the watershed boundaries. These boundaries are outlined in treaties between the tribes and the USA in 1854 and 1855. In 1931 the Mount Rainier National Park opened the park road and a small visitor’s complex. The CCC expanded the complex in the following years and built the trails leading to Burroughs Mountain. The same trails are still used today.
After five years of effort by conservationists and the newly-formed Sierra Club, Congress finally passed a bill establishing the Mount Rainier National Park in 1899 making it the fifth national park and the first national forest. The bill was signed into law by then-President William McKinley who approved after assurances the land was not suitable for farming or mining and the government would not have to appropriate funds for its management.
The entire park was designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997, in recognition of the consistently high standard of design and preservation of the park. Since its inception, the park receives an average of over 2 million visitors a year. On track for a record-breaking year, the park saw more than 130,000 visitors in the first few months of 2021.
Getting to The Burroughs Mountain Trail
From SR-410, enter Mount Rainier National Park at the White River entrance on Sunrise Road. Follow Sunrise Road to its end at the Sunrise Visitors Center.
Here you will find a snack bar and restroom facilities and the Burroughs Mountain Trail head. There is a park entry fee or you may choose to purchase the annual National Park Pass. Arrive early as the parking lot fills up with visitors on sunny summer days.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
Mount Rainier National Park is a designated wilderness area and as such, has a list of items and activities prohibited on the trails and in the backcountry of the park. Please note the following prohibitions:
Fire – white-gas, iso-butane cartridges, or alcohol stoves are allowed. No bio-fuel fires utilizing woods, sticks, pinecones, weeds, etc. allowed
● Use of firearms
● Bows/arrows or slingshots
● Destroying or disturbing any natural, cultural, or archeological feature
● Feeding, disturbing, or hunting wildlife
● Short-cutting the switchbacks on any trail
● Polluting or contaminating any water source (with soap or human waste, etc.)
● Camping within 100 feet of water (except in designated campgrounds)
● Leaving trash in pit toilets or elsewhere in the wilderness
Also please note the following:
● ALL trash must be packed out
● Anyone remaining overnight must have a wilderness permit or a climbing pass
● Camp only at the site designated on your permit and only on the date allowed
● Be advised that party size limitations and backcountry regulations are strictly enforced.
Any activity which damages or disturbs the natural resources of Mount Ranier National Park is prohibited. Follow the above regulations, including the Leave No Trace principles, and maximize your efforts to minimize damage. You will be rewarded with a memorable wilderness experience and know you are preserving a similar experience for generations yet to come.
Navigating the Burroughs Mountain Trail
There are actually three mountains on this ridge. First, Second, and Third Burroughs each take you one step closer to Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma Peak, the Emmons glacier, and Russell Cliff. From here you can see hikers crossing “The Wedge” on their way to Camp Schurman, the base camp where mountaineers spend the night before hiking the mountain’s summit the following day.
The Burroughs Mountain Trail starts from the Sunrise Visitor’s Center parking lot. Please note: even on a sunny warm day, there is often a snowfield into the early summer months when accessing First Burroughs. Use caution with steep snow travel. If this is beyond your hiking skills or equipment, save the hike for later in the season.
Follow the wide, often dusty trail to the top of Sourdough Ridge. The beginning of this hike is treeless and hikers are advised to dress appropriately and bring water and sunscreen. The trail steadily gains 400 feet of elevation in just over half a mile. Follow the trail to the five-way intersection at Frozen Lake.
Continue following the trail towards Burroughs Mountain as it makes its way uphill, finally reaching the broad, open top of First Burroughs Mountain at approximately 7,000 feet of elevation. The tundra-like landscape seems devoid of life but at closer inspection, you can observe thriving plants such as field lupine and partridge foot. Listen for the whistle of the marmots or the squeaking of the pikas as they scurry about.
From here you may choose to continue to Second Burroughs, another 0.6 miles to the unmarked summit. Atop the flat summit, you will find a PWA-style dome-shaped masonry bench. At this point, the elevation is 7,400 feet and the hike is 7.4 miles round-trip with over 900 feet of elevation gain.
Second Burroughs offers awesome views into the Glacier Basin below and expansive views of the park to the north, including Fremont Lookout, Berkeley and Grand Parks, and Skyscraper Mountain. With the time and elevation gain, most day hikers make this the turn-around point. Simply turn around and head back down the trail.
You can follow the trail and return the way you came, or make a loop by following the Sunrise Rim Trail from the top of First Burroughs. This trail follows Emmons Moraine but at 3,000 feet above it. You will pass Glacier Overlook, Sunrise Camp, and Shadow Lake all great photo opportunities. You will arrive back at the parking lot from the south.
This area is home to the mountain goats who travel the terrain in groups of 20-25. They are amazing creatures and fun to watch. Be sure to be on the lookout for deer, chipmunks, pikas, and the occasional black bear who all call this wilderness their home. Bring your binoculars for the best viewing.
If you still have the time and the energy, you may wish to continue to Third Burroughs Mountain, adding another three miles to your hike and another 1,155 more feet in elevation with a very strenuous hike to the summit. This final section is an unmaintained trail, with no views and no protection from the sun. If you persevere, you will be rewarded with astonishing views from the top and the sound of the groaning Mount Rainier so close you think you can touch it!
For more incredible hikes in Mount Rainier, check out our guide to Finding the 10 Best Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
If you’re planning a trip to Mount Rainier and are looking for a great place to stay, look no further than The 6 Best Hotels Near Mt Rainier National Park: Our Picks
Something for Everyone at Burroughs Mountain Trail
Without a doubt, Burroughs Mountain Trail is the most popular day hike in Mount Rainier National Park. Hikers can choose from an easy four-hour hike to First Burroughs or a strenuous 7.5-hour roundtrip to the summit of the Third Burroughs Mountain Trail. With the flora and fauna, abundant wildlife, and astonishing views in all directions, Burroughs Mountain Trail makes a hike through the wilderness exhilarating and entertaining for all.
Next, check out the other top hikes in Mount Rainier outside the Burroughs Mountain Trail by following the links below: