Secret Rainier: Hidden Lake, Palisades and a Skull

Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP) is filled dozens of wonderful places less well known and perhaps a bit more difficult to find. Longtime Mountaineers trip leaders, Gene Yore and Mickey Eisenberg, call these places “Our Secret Rainier.” In this installment, they recommend 'The Trail to Palisades'.
Placeholder Contact Profile Mickey Eisenberg
Scramble, Naturalist, and Qualified Youth Leader
June 06, 2017
by Mickey Eisenberg and Gene Yore

This installment of Our Secret Rainier is technically a scramble as it has a portion that is off-trail. But it is a very easy scramble and most experienced hikers would be very comfortable on this route (so long as they had good route finding skills). The route goes by a lovely hidden lake and goes to the top of the Palisades where there are great views of The Big One. Along the way, one finds the mysterious Skull of Marcus. 

The trail to Palisades 

Directions to trailhead: Drive SR 410 4.5 miles south of the Crystal Mountain ski area turnoff and turn right on Sunrise Park Road. Drive 13 miles to Sunrise Point. Park in the large parking lot (elevation 6100’). note: The road to Sunrise generally opens after July 4th but is estimated to open June 5th this year - weather dependant. 

Palisades route description: From the east end of the parking lot, take the Palisades Lake Trail. In approximately 0.3-mile take the right fork (heading north) in the trail toward Clover Lake/Upper Palisades Camp. Continue on the trail, and before reaching Dicks Lake you’ll come to a sign for Hidden Lake (approximately two miles from TH). Turn left on this trail and follow it past the lake. A sign marked “End of maintained trail – stay on stabilized path to Green Park Saddle” marks the boot path to the saddle between Marcus and the Palisades. Stay on this boot path until reaching the end (almost at the saddle 6440’) and find a short path through short conifers heading west. In a short distance (40-50 yards) you’ll come to an open meadow. Once in the meadow, head north toward Palisades. It is best to pass by the rocky scree fields and instead go up mostly dirt hummocks. This slope is gentle. At about 6650’ change bearing to 40-60 degrees. In general, follow best terrain. Once near the summit it may be slightly easier to go beyond the summit and double back on the northwest ridge, as this avoids some thick vegetation.

The Skull of Marcus is easily seen on the final approach to the Palisades. It may be seen on the northwest flank of Marcus above an unnamed lake. It is actually a rocky formation (sorry, it is not a real skull) and is probably been seen in late summer or early fall when the dark ground cover makes the eye sockets more visible. 

Skill level: Easy scramble 
Beauty: 8 on a scale of 10 choose a clear day for this one
Effort: 6 on a scale of 10 
Distance (RT): 8 miles
Elevation gain: 3000’ total gain
Total time: 6 hours
Best season: Mid-July until first snow or road to Sunrise closes
Maps: USGS White River, Green Trails Rainier East
Equipment: Hiking gear (bring map and compass – or GPS)

Comments: This trip is recommended on a clear day. Halloween (if the road to Sunrise Point were open) would be a great day to see the skull. An easy addition to the Palisades is Brown Peak, which would add two hours to the outing. Scramblers may consider scrambling Marcus, which is a moderate scramble and should not be attempted by hikers. Marcus has some steep portions and moderate exposure. 

The definition of palisades is a fence of stakes especially for defense or a line of bold cliffs. The cliffs of the Palisades are not well seen on this route to the summit. To best see them continue on the trail heading to Upper Palisades Lakes. If you have time, the view of the Palisades from the trail is quite amazing.  

Special thanks to Devora Eisenberg for discovering the skull. 

Want to learn more?

Mount Rainier National Park has over 100 climbable peaks (not counting Mount Rainier itself) either within or immediately adjacent to the Park boundary. While most are scrambles (and a few are climbs) there are 15 peaks that are reachable as hikes.

Guide to 100 Peaks at Mount Rainier National Park is available as an enhanced iBook for the iPad on iTunes and a PDF eBook by Mountaineers Books – all royalties are donated to The Mountaineers.

This article originally appeared in our May/June 2015 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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