The Burroughs Mountain Trail is a hidden gem in Mount Rainier National Park, taking you past sparkling alpine lakes to jaw-dropping views of Washington state’s tallest mountain and its many glaciers, plus panoramic vistas of the surrounding Cascades. If you want to hike this incredible trail for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about the Burroughs Mountain Trail.
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About the Burroughs Mountain Trail
Length: 8.9 miles
Elevation gain: 2,437 feet
Dog-friendly? No, like most National Park trails, you’ll sadly have to leave your furry best friend at home.
Pass or permit: You don’t need a permit to hike on this trail, but you will either need to pay a $30 fee per private vehicle for a week-long entrance pass, alternatively, have a valid interagency pass, like America the Beautiful. This amazing pass gets you into all of the U.S. National Parks and 2,000 federally managed sites for an entire YEAR for just $80!
How to Get to the Burroughs Mountain Trail
The Burroughs Mountain Trail is located in the Sunrise section of Mount Rainier National Park, near the White River entrance in the northeastern section of the park.
The trailhead, near the Sunrise Visitor Center, is a little over two hours southeast of Seattle or three and a half hours northeast of Portland.
The road leading to Sunrise is well-maintained—and stunning!—but keep in mind that it’s only open a few months of the year, usually from the beginning of July through mid-October. Outside of those months, the road is closed and inaccessible, due to heavy snowfall (fun fact—Mount Rainier is one of the snowiest places in the entire country!).
The Sunrise parking lot is large enough to fit about 150 cars, but frequently fills up, especially on weekends in the summer. My husband, Justin, and I last visited Sunrise on Tuesday in August and we scored one of the last parking spots around 11 AM!
Accordingly, I’d recommend getting here bright and early, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend or holiday (as in, preferably before 8 AM). Not only will you be more likely to get a parking spot, but you’ll also avoid getting stuck waiting for hours and hours in traffic to both enter the park and to get a spot in the parking lot (both of which regularly happen!).
Near the Sunrise parking lot, you’ll find both flush and vault toilets, potable water, and a gift shop/snack bar.
When you’re ready to hit the trail, head to the northwest corner of the parking lot.
Pssst… there’s limited to no cell service in the Sunrise area, so be sure to download offline maps on Google Maps and AllTrails before you head to the trailhead, so that you don’t get lost along the way. You'll need the AllTrails+ version of the app to download offline maps. Luckily, you can get a 7-day free trial, PLUS our awesome readers get a sweet 30% off discount for their first year—just use the code “Uprooted30” at check out! If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your AllTrails account to the paid version (I know it took me, like, five years to make the jump), we wrote a whole post about whether an AllTrails+ account is worth it.
What to Expect on the Burroughs Mountain Trail
From the parking lot, follow signs for the Sourdough Ridge trail, up a dusty series of inclines and stairs.
After climbing up for 0.3 miles, you’ll turn left to follow along the Sourdough Ridge Trail. While the trail has a fairly steep incline over the next mile, it’s hard to even notice—to your right hand side, you’ll have breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains to the north and, to your left, fields of technicolor wildflowers and Mount Rainier, looming above.
About one mile into the trail, you’ll pass Frozen Lake, a small lake that seemingly always has a patch of ice and snow along its backside.
I’ve heard that this is usually a pretty good place to spot mountain goats. In fact, when we were hiking towards Frozen Lake along the Burroughs Mountain Trail, three hikers stopped and told us there was a cute mountain goat, sunning himself, right on the shores of the lake. We didn’t see him (as it seems like we’re cursed to never see wildlife!), but you might be more lucky!
Directly past Frozen Lake, the trail will split into four paths—continue straight (or the trail the second to the left) to continue on the Burroughs Mountain Trail, which climbs steeply up a hill.
Two miles into the trail (and some moderate huffing and puffing up the hill), you’ll reach the summit of the first of three mountains found along the trail. The First Burroughs Mountain has a broad, flat top, with spectacular views of Rainier towering over 7,000 feet above. Be sure to look around—can you spot the teeny Mount Fremont Lookout perched on top of a peak off in the distance?
For even better vistas, continue on to the Second Burroughs Mountain along a rocky trail that gains almost 100 feet every 0.1 mile (i.e., be prepared to get your butt kicked a bit). But the views from the top of the Second Burroughs are worth it and even more spectacular than from the first. There’s lots of large, flat rocks at this summit that are perfect for resting upon, taking a breather, and soaking in the sights of Little Tahoma, the perky little peak on the south side of Rainier, and the Winthrop Glacier.
The vast majority of day hikers turn around here, but if you’re up for the challenge, continue down to the saddle and on to the final Burroughs Mountain. As you descend down the slope, you’ll run into a fork about 3.2 miles into your hike, the left of which will take you to Glacier Basin.
If you’re feeling adventurous, consider tacking on a backpacking stay at the Glacier Basin Camp (permit required), which would add about four miles round trip to your hike. Justin and I have stayed at a handful of the backcountry camping sites around Rainier, like the one you’ll find along the Summerland Trail, and Glacier Basin is easily one of our favorites!
If you’re just enjoying the Burroughs Mountain Trail as a day trip, though, continue on to the right. Along the trail, the land will start looking much more like a barren tundra than the wildflower fields you passed along the Sourdough Ridge Trail, and the path will get even steeper, gaining 800 feet in elevation over the next mile.
Once you reach the top of the third Burroughs Mountain, all that work will be well worth it. This trail provides some of the most jaw-dropping vistas of any of the incredible Mount Rainier hikes, with unencumbered views of Rainier’s pink and purple slopes and otherworldly looking glaciers (they look so cool… get it?!), which you might even hear crack and crumble down the mountain. Bust out your binoculars or telephoto lens to try to sneak a peek of a teeny tiny climber on the Inter Glacier overhead, one of the last stops before mountaineers summit Rainier.
When you’re done taking in the spectacular views, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
This trail can also be done as the slightly longer 9.5-mile Burroughs Mountain Loop Trail. Along this route, you’ll generally follow the same trail, but, upon the return trip after summiting the three Burroughs, you’ll turn right at the junction 6.9 miles along the trail and follow along the Burroughs Mountain Trail. Continuing on, you’ll pass the Emmons Glacier Overlook and Shadow Lake, before looping your way back to the Sunrise parking lot. You can see the full trail map for it here.
When to Hike the Burroughs Mountain Trail
Given its location on the northern side of Rainier, the Burroughs Mountain Trail tends to have a pretty short season, with the trail being snow-free usually from July through September.
Through mid-July, you’ll often find snowfields along the trail’s steep slopes so bring along microspikes and proceed with caution if you’re visiting early in the summertime—the trail will still be there if you come back later in the season!
As noted above, the road to Sunrise is usually only open from the beginning of July through mid-October, so it’s inaccessible in the winter.
Tips for the Burroughs Mountain Trail
- Bring lots of water and sunscreen. The trail is basically completely exposed to the sun the entire time, so be sure to bring lots and lots of water and lather on that sunscreen.
Justin and I each take these comically enormous Nalgene bottles everywhere (no joke, a ranger at the start of the Burroughs Mountain Trail stopped to congratulate me on having such a large bottle of water). As for sunscreen, we LOVE this brand—it smells like a Hawaiian vacation in a bottle.
- Pack some warm layers. Given the high elevation along the trail, it can get a bit chilly, especially on the second and third Burroughs or when you’re descending down the trail. Pack along a cozy sweatshirt or fleece (I love my Patagonia zip-up) to keep nice and toasty.
- Don’t feed the wildlife. Okay, so you know how I said we never see wildlife along the trail? We did see TONS and TONS of chipmunks here—all of whom seemed incredibly eager to share our snacks with us. Friendly reminder to follow all of the Leave No Trace principles, including keeping the wildlife wild—and not feeding them!
The Burroughs Mountain Trail is seriously one of the most beautiful hikes in Mount Rainier, so I hope you love it as much as we did. Do you have any questions about the trail? Let me know in the comments below!