Trip Report    

Intermediate Snowshoe - Mowich Lake

A nice trip up to the great views of Mowich lake hampered by less than ideal road conditions.

  • Snow and ice on road
  • The route was fairly easy due to the snow being fairly firm and a having a premade path to follow.  The grindstone trail was very well marked and easy to follow.  On our way back down as the weather warmed we did see signs of  small wet loose avalanches on steeper slopes.  

    The picture below shows one of the small avalanches we saw.  Notice the very evident pinwheels.  Photo credit Sue Giblin


For a nice way to start the new year our group decided to snowshoe up to Mowich lake.  The drive up the closed and unmaintained park road was fairly uneventful.  The road was snow covered and icy for most of the way.  After entering Mt. Rainier National Park the snow started to get deeper and vehicle ground clearance became a concern.  We were able to make it to the parking lot just outside the gate closing off the road to further vehicle progress.  The parking lot was wide open with only one other vehicle parked at this time.  The first vehicle in our group was able to back into a parking space with out any issues.  When trying to back the second vehicle up it struck a fairly solid block of snow/ice which stopped the vehicles progress.   After digging out the block of snow we found that the second vehicle was stuck pretty firmly with no traction.  After a bit of shoveling, placing tire chains and floor mats on the ground and finally a bit of Mountaineers muscle we were able to free the vehicle.   

Once parked we were all happily surprised to find that the restrooms were still open even during the government shutdown.  Thank you park service for this.

After preparing ourselves properly we set out up the closed road just before nine am.  We were able to make rapid progress up the closed road due to the snow being fairly well packed and a trail being established by others.   It took us about an hour and a half to reach the first section of the Grindstone Trail.  This trail shortcuts the road and will cut a fair amount of distance off the route.  The trade off is it does cut through the forest and goes up steeper terrain.  The trail is very well marked by orange metal rectangles nailed to trees about fifteen feet off the ground.

The start of the Grindstone Trail, notice the orange marker.  Photo credit Sue Giblin

20190101_101121.jpg  It took us just under an hour to take the Grindstone Trail up to the final road section heading to Mowich lake.  We crossed the main road twice on our way up.  Upon reaching the final turn into the lake we were greeted with great views of Fay Peak.  

Fay Peak 


From the road we headed into the actual Mowich lake campground which was covered in a few feet of snow.  Once again the restrooms were still open, thank you park service.  

After a quick stop at the campground we headed to the lake itself to have lunch.  We all bundled up even though the sun was out.  Temperature was in the low 30's to upper 20's in the shade.  We had a great view of the frozen over lake as we ate.  


Once we finished lunch we headed back down the trail.  On our way down we finally encountered the first pair of other snowshoers on the final section of the Grindstone trail just off the lake.  On our way down the Grindstone Trail we probably only encountered three other people besides the first group we met.  Once we started back down the road to the parking lot we encountered larger groups of people.  Most of these groups had dogs running around off leash, one dog did grab one of my snowshoes.  

Due to the amount of people we encountered in the final mile back to the parking lot we figured it may be full.  This was an understatement.  The parking lot was full with vehicles parked every which way and on the road partially blocking it.  The road was further being blocked by  low clearance two wheel drive vehicles arriving and promptly getting stuck in the deeper snow with no traction nor traction modifiers such as chains.  After stowing our gear our group quickly helped in digging out two vehicles.  We then jumped in our vehicles and attempted to make a hasty retreat from the area.  This was hampered by yet more unprepared vehicles arriving and blocking the road yet again.  We finally made our escape from the parking lot and proceeded to head out the now very slick road.   Descent time from the lake to the parking lot was around two hours and twenty minutes.   

On the trail today it took us around five and half hours with a nice lunch break to go from the car to the lake and back.  My gps said 7.55 miles with a total elevation gain of 1,723 feet.   It was a great trip that offered solitude and great views at the lake.  Had this trip been done with fresh snow it would have taken far longer due to having to break trail.  If more snow comes I don't think it will be possible to continue driving all the way to the park even if I brought a higher clearance vehicle.