The Clearwater Wilderness, which sits within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, received wilderness designation in 1984 and contains almost 15,000 acres.
Serving as the northwestern outpost of a wilderness complex within Mount Rainier National Park, the Clearwater Wilderness is centered around the Clearwater River. The Clearwater River descents from the heart of the wilderness area, rushing through acres of pristine Douglas Fir, Western Red, Alaska Cedar, and Western Hemlock.
Although there are just 5 named peaks in the Clearwater Wilderness, the surrounding wilderness complex contains recognizable summits like Norse Peak, as well as well-known wilderness areas like William O. Douglas, Tatoosh, and the Glacier View Wilderness.
Clearwater’s incredible rivers and lakes are fed by the abundant rainfall and snow this area receives, particularly from October to May. The area is known to receive up to 25 feet of snow each year, most of which won’t melt until well into July or August.
Bearhead Mountain, the highest point in the Clearwater Wilderness, towers high above the Clearwater river, reaching 6,079-feet in elevation. The second highest summit, Pitcher Mountain, which sits at the northwest corner of Mount Rainier, sits at just under 6,000 feet in elevation and serves as a relatively popular challenge for local hikers and climbers looking for an off-trail scramble with moderate elevation gain.
Although this wilderness area is significantly smaller than other wilderness areas in the area, its proximity to Mount Rainier makes it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly hikers. Meadows surrounding Bearhead Mountain, Celery Meadows, and Summit Lake tend to draw the most visitors, particularly during July and August when wildflowers blanket the landscape. However, cross-country travel is notoriously difficult, and remote alpine lakes and summits are difficult to access due to a lack of maintained trails, thick vegetation, and limited roads.
Bearhead Mountain is one of the few well-marked and moderate treks found in the Clearwater Wilderness. The trail, which leads to an old fire lookout site, meanders through lush old-growth forest, stunning meadows, and features stunning views of nearby Mount Rainier (on a clear day). Hikers will enjoy a variety of wildflowers in the summer including beargrass, paintbrush, and lupine. During the Fall, this trail provides a spectacular display of fall foliage. At the summit of Bearhead, Rainier will sit to the south, the Olympics to the west, and Mount Baker can be seen in the distance (to the north). Bearhead Mountain can be combined with the trek to Summit Lake, for adventurous travelers looking for a multi-day trek in the backcountry.
Sharing a trailhead with the beloved Bearhead Mountain Trail, the Summit Lake trail climbs through a young forest before entering large stands of fir and hemlock trees. After ascending a series of switchbacks, an unmarked trail leads to the secluded Twin Lake, which ironically is just a single lake. Further up the trail, the trail climbs the ridgeline and emerges from the woods to the shore of Summit Lake. From there, hikers will often continue via a loop trail that winds around the lake and up to the top of Summit Lake Peak. The trail to the summit is rugged and steep but offers incredible views of Summit Lake and Mount Rainier.
The clearwater trail, a strenuous 8.1-mile trek, begins at 4,200 feet at Martin Gap and ends at 4,320 feet at Forest Service Road 7720. This trail is much more primitive than those listed above and requires crossing three creeks and the Clearwater River. However, it’s an excellent adventure for those with significant hiking and navigation skills, and weaves through the heart of the Clearwater Wilderness.
Known as a gateway to Mount Rainier, Enumclaw sits in a pastoral region between plateau farmlands and the Cascade Mountains. Sitting in the shadow of the treasured Mount Rainier, Enumclaw is known as a community of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Enumclaw is nearby miles of hiking trails, as well as lakes and streams and a variety of winter recreation options during winter months. The town itself is charming and offers a variety of restaurants, shopping, and accommodations.