HIKE DESCRIPTION: Bearhead Mountain doesn’t turn up in many guidebooks about hiking around Mount Rainier National Park. Perhaps the authors are trying to keep this stunning view of Mount Rainier to themselves.
On an early July evening, I parked among a half dozen cars at the Summit Lake Trailhead and headed up the trail. Everybody I encountered along the way was on their way back from Summit Lake, a popular hiking and camping location thanks to its own beautiful views of the north side of Mount Rainier.
Once I took the Bearhead Mountain cutoff less than 1 mile up the trail, I didn’t see another soul for the rest of the evening. A smattering of colorful wildflowers were in bloom in a few areas.
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The route starts on Trail 1177. In less than 1 mile, at Twin Lake, turn right on Trail 1179. In another 1.3 miles turn left on Trail 1179A and continue upward to the peak.
Bearhead’s summit, at 6,089 feet above sea level, offers a view of Mount Rainier’s Liberty Ridge and Willis Wall.
The route to the top was well marked, as are options for side trips, including Summit Lake.
DIRECTIONS: Follow state Route 165 through Wilkeson and Carbonado and over the Fairfax Bridge to the intersection with the Carbon River Road. Veer left on the Carbon River Road and continue to Forest Road 7810, just before Mount Rainier National Park. Turn left and drive over the Carbon River, then continue about 6.4 miles to the end of this especially bumpy road (follow the sign to Summit Lake).
DIFFICULTY RATING: 3 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult).
MILES ROUND TRIP: 6.2.
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,640 feet.
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR: July-October.
MAP: Green Trails 237-Enumclaw.
PASS: Northwest Forest Pass.
ALSO: Bugs can be a nuisance on this hike. East Bearhead Mountain can easily be added to this trip, making for a roughly 9-mile hike. However, traveling between the peaks via the rocky ridge isn’t advised. The safest route requires descending, then following an unmaintained trail to the intersection with the ridge on the southwest side of East Bearhead. An off-trail scramble is required to reach the summit. This route shouldn’t be attempted by hikers without scrambling and route-finding experience. Both peaks are part of The Mountaineers’s “100 Peaks of Mount Rainier National Park” described in Mickey Eisenberg and Gene Yore’s 2013 ebook. Dogs are permitted on the trails to Bearhead Peak if they are on leashes. There are no geocaches hidden along the trail.