Dig out your hiking poles and strap your sidekick into the carrier, the Naches Loop Trail is finally open for business. It’s like the everything bagel of family hikes—all you need is packed into one sweet spot. Amazing views? It’s got those. A sweet lake for lunching? Three, in fact. And clocking in around three miles means even the mini-est hikers can make this trek. Adventure on!

Family looking at mountains

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Up, Up and Away
Your Naches Peak Loop adventure starts at the Tipsoo Lake Trailhead, near the back of the Tipsoo Lake parking lot in Mt. Rainier National Forest. It quickly meets up with the Chinook Pass, a noticeably steep climb over the lake and through the forest (hello, switchbacks!) to a cool bridge the kiddos will dig. Lucky for your little one, there are plenty of view-worthy spots to stop where you can smell the mountain wildflowers and your kidlet can rest his or her legs on the first part of your round trip.

Dad and daughter mountain wildflowers

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Once you reach the bridge, things mellow out for the rest of the loop. Know the hardest part is behind you. Just over the bridge, Tipsoo connects with the Pacific Crest Trail (Psst… you can cross this one off your summer hiking bucket list!) and continues the gradual incline around the mountain. There are plenty of picture-worthy overlooks and thrilling views (is that a bear down there?) on this winding trail that eventually leads to a small pond, the first of our two snack stop picks.

Kids on Pacific Crest trail photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Nosh Spots
Once you hit the lake, you’re a little over a third of the way there, the point of no return if heading back is a consideration for your half pint hiker. It’s also a great spot to stop for lunch, a little hydration or snack, so your mini me can gather energy for the last little push up the mountain before heading down, down, down. Dipping your toes in the lake is refreshing on a hot summer day, and a very good reason to pack a spare pair of dry socks for everyone in the fam in your daypack. Psst… expect lots of people to be gathered at this watering hole. It’s a popular stopping stop, one you should definitely include on your hiking itinerary.

kids wading in mountain lake

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

After this reboot, it’s time to get back on the trail and finish the gradual climb around the east side of Naches Peak. You’ll recognize the tipping point (it’s all downhill from here, baby!), by its beautiful view of Dewey Lake (way down there!) and the rocky resting spots that make comfy seats to take in the view. Like the little pond, this is another popular stopping point, and probably the last you’ll take on the trail, so pull out the gorp and let your tiny tot re-energize before hiking the downward slope.

What a View!
All that work the kiddos (and you!) have put in pays off on this last third of the trail. It’s the reason you set off on the loop clockwise. This is the part where Mt. Rainier sneaks up on you with an in-your-face view. One minute it’s pine trees and blue skies, and then you come around a corner, and bam! There’s Rainier. As a noticeably spectacular backdrop, there’s a good chance you’ll find other hikers stopped here, admiring the view. Are you seeing where we’re going with this? It’s family picture time. Make sure you’ve got battery left to get some good ones here!

Kids with Mt. Rainier

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The last third of the trail is an easy downslope back to the parking lot. Just after Rainier, there’s another alpine pond. And even if your minis don’t need a rest, it’s a great place to hydrate before heading around the bend. From there, the trail moves from open meadows back into dense forest until you finally hit the highway you drove in on. The parking lot is on the other side of the highway, and crossing it can be a bit tricky with kidlets, who most likely spent the last mile speeding down the mountain. The trail picks up on the other side of the road, and meanders up around Tipsoo Lake to the parking lot. Hike complete. You did it!

Little girl running trail

 photo: Allison Sutcliffe

What to Bring
Like every good Scout knows, being prepared is a first priority for any outdoor adventure. Mt. Rainier has some unpredictable weather and what can start out as a sunny hike can become a rainy one pretty quickly. Before heading out, check the weather conditions and plan accordingly. But no matter what the weather is doing, we suggest loading these basics into your daypack:

1. Water. A water bottle per person should do it for this quick loop.

2. Snacks or lunch. There are picnic benches at the parking lot, so you can comfortably eat lunch there. But even if you’ve filled up before the hike, it’s good to have snacks on hand to ensure the kiddos have enough power to make it through.

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3. Rain gear. Just in case, ponchos or raincoats to keep everyone dry are a must-have.

4. Sun gear. Just like you need to stay dry, you’ve got keep those UV’s away too. Sunglasses, sunhats and sunscreen should be total tag-alongs on this trip.

5. Kid gear. Wipes, diapers, bottles and anything else your mini me might need for an afternoon should be in your pack.

6. Trash bag. This is a pack it in, pack it out situation and carrying dirty diapers or used wipes in your pack ain’t pretty. A trash bag will help keep everything (and everyone) smelling like roses.

Tipsoo Lake Naches peak

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Good to Know
1. This is a popular hike, especially on a sunny summer weekend. Plan to get to the Tipsoo Lake parking lot on the earlier side to snag a spot.

2. Plan to spend about 3 hours on the trail, give or take, depending on your sidekick’s stamina.

3. Add a Mt. Rainier Park pass to your list of must-haves on this trip. You can get it online or grab one from the ranger station on the way into the park. Psst… if you have a 4th grader, you can get a free park pass for the whole fam!

Mt. Rainier National Park
Tipsoo Lake Parking Lot off SR 410
Online: nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/natches-peak-loop.htm

Have you hiked the Naches Loop Trail before? Are you going to give it a try this summer? Tell others about your experience in the Comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe