Unicorn Peak/South Side

A 50 foot, mid 5th class, rock climb on sound rock on the south boundary of Mount Rainier National Park. Views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and sometimes Mount Hood. Ice axe and crampons often needed in July to climb up steep gully just beyond Snow Lake. Times: 4-6 hr trailhead to summit. Consider traversing to The Castle instead of descending the climbing route. A great first alpine climb.

getting there

Drive into Mount Rainier National Park, Nisqually entrance, and drive towards Paradise.  Take the turnoff to Ohanapecosh and follow about 3 mi to the Bench Lake Trailhead (about 1 mi past Reflection Lake).

If doing the Unicorn-Castle Traverse, leave a car at Reflection Lakes on your way to the Snow Lakes Trail head to avoid a mile of road walk at the end of the traverse.


Hike the Bench Lake Trail 0.5 mi to Bench Lake, and then 0.75 mi to Snow Lake (4,678 ft). Pass Snow Lake, drift right onto boulder field and head up steep gully into a basin. Continue onto a steep snow or scree field. Continue up headed southeast to the notch at about 6,500 ft. When there is no snow, keep far left and above the scree, where a climber's trail exists. Cross the notch and continue up to the left on easy snow or 50 feet of Class 2-3 rock to the ridge. Follow the ridge to the false summit and on to the base of Unicorn. 

In early summer the step from the notch to gain the summit ridge can have a large moat.  An alternate ascent to bypass this step is to head east from the notch 0.5 mile staying below rock faces on your left to a large gap in the face. Head up through the gap and continue north to the summit ridge. This alternate is steep and has loose scree above the gap when the snow has melted off.


The tower is 50-70 feet tall with several short rock climbing route options. The most common is the direct south face (mostly Class 4 with some 5.6 moves).  Another good option is the slightly longer south east route (just around corner) which is mostly Class 3-4 with a 5th class move.


Descend the Climbing Route

Descend the climbing route. One long runner is needed for a 50 m rappel from the summit.

Traverse to the Castle

Follow the ascent route back to the base of the steep snow below the ridge notch and head southwest to gain the ridge that runs from Unicorn Peak to The Castle.  Follow the moderately angled snow ridge to the base of The Castle.  The normal route ascends the middle of the face to gain the ridge 50-60 feet to the north of the true summit. However, there are a number of low 5th class variations that can be made to reach the summit ridge to the climbers right of this route.  Once on the ridge scramble south traversing to the true summit, class 3.  Note it is very exposed in places and most students will want a rope for this traverse.

Descend via a short rappel to the base of the face.  Return to Reflection Lakes by descending SE 1/4 mile and scrambling down a short class 2 face to the slopes south of the Castle/Pinnacle ridge and following the climbers path at the base of the rock face west to the maintained trail at Pinnacle/Plumber saddle. Follow this trail back to Reflection Lakes.

If the slopes to Reflection Lakes are still snow covered, a much shorter, and enjoyable descent can be had by heading directly down NNW from the base of The Castle to Reflection Lakes. 


Unicorn Peak/South Side

Trailhead to Summit 4-6 2,600
Summit to Trailhead 2-4

Unicorn-Castle Traverse

Trailhead to Unicorn Peak 4-6 2,600
Unicorn Peak to The Castle 2-4 1,100
The Castle to Trailhead 1-2


Standard alpine equipment.


  • The road may not be open before late May—check with Rangers. If not open, park at Narada Falls, and allow time for the extra 6 mi approach.
  • Hard snow may linger in steep gully well into July.  Bring ice axe and crampons.
  • The approach to Unicorn is an abysmal steep, chossy and loose scree strewn exercise and is NOT recommended once snow cover has melted off.
  • Suitable Activities: Climbing
  • Climbing Category: Basic Alpine
  • Seasons: May, June, July, August, September, October
  • Weather: View weather forecast
  • Difficulty: Basic Alpine Climb, Strenuous 1, Technical 1
  • Length: 5.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 2,600 ft
  • 6,917 ft
  • Land Manager: Mount Rainier National Park
    Mount Rainier Wilderness
  • Parking Permit Required: National Park Entrance Fee
  • Recommended Party Size: 12
  • Maximum Party Size: 12
  • Maximum Route/Place Capacity: 12
Green Trails Mt Rainier East No. 270

Upcoming Activities

Basic Alpine Climb - Unicorn Peak/South Side

Climbing Trip
*** READ LEADER'S NOTES*** This activity opens 5/9/20 and all emails sent before this date
Difficulty: Basic Alpine Climb, Strenuous 1, Technical 1
Sat, Jun 13, 2020
Prerequisites, Leader's Permission Required
3 participants on waitlist 0 leaders
Registration closes Jun 4
Olympia Branch

Seattle MAC - Alpine Climb - Unicorn-Castle Traverse

Youth Youth activity: Mountaineers Adventure Club
An Alpine Climb lead by volunteers and/or staff for MAC! This trip has prerequisites. See
Difficulty: Basic Alpine Climb, Strenuous 1, Technical 1
Wed, Jun 24, 2020
No Prerequisites, Leader's Permission Required
6 participants 2 instructors
Registration opens Jun 1; Instructor registration open now
Seattle Branch
Trip Reports

This is a list of titles that represent the variations of trips you can take at this route/place. This includes side trips, extensions and peak combinations. Not seeing a title that fits your trip? Log in and send us updates, images, or resources.

  • Unicorn-Castle Traverse
  • Unicorn & Castle Traverse
  • Unicorn Peak & The Castle Traverse

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