The Silver Forest Trail is a lesser-known and therefore less-crowded alternative at Mount Rainier’s Sunrise. Enjoy mountain, glacier and river valley views along a gentle trail that is mostly out of sight of the bustle of Sunrise.
The trailhead for Silver Forest Trail is shared with the Sunrise Rim Trail, Shadow Lake Trail, and Emmons Vista Overlook. From the southwest corner of the parking lot, about 200 feet east is a large interpretive sign labeled “Sunrise Area Trails”, bordering a service road.
Cross the service road and begin hiking south on the shared trail. At 0.1 mile, the Sunrise Rim Trail branches off to the right. This also leads to Shadow Lake and the Glacier Overlook (also known as Emmons Overlook). Continue straight a very short distance to another junction, where a wooden sign points to the right for the “Emmons Vista Exhibit”. The Emmons Vista is just off the trail.
The view is dominated by the Emmons Glacier, the largest (by area, but not volume) of any glacier in the contiguous United States. The lower part of the Emmons Glacier is covered in rockfall, and so appears brown rather than white. A wall of ice is usually visible where the White River emanates from the glacier’s snout. An interpretive sign explains the historic Osceola Mudflow and its impact on the terrain to the north-northwest, as far away as Tacoma and Tukwila.
Return to the wooden sign. The weathered sign may appear to read “6 miles” to Silver Forest but it is actually 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) to the end of the maintained trail. The forest is not a destination, but the entire journey. The name “Silver” derives from the silvery trunks of subalpine firs and whitebark pines, the predominant trees in the area. If Silver Forest doesn’t seem thick enough to be called a forest, consider that a fire cleared the area decades ago, and trees grow slowly at 6300 feet.
The trail traverses the south face of the slope, with minor ups and downs. You are out of sight of the parking lot and buildings of Sunrise, but can still see vehicles in motion along Sunrise Road uphill from the trail.
Mountain and glacier views remain prominent to the southwest, with additional views of the White River far below to the south. Along the way, seasonal wildflowers include phlox, lupine, alpine aster, mountain daisy, low Jacob’s ladder, dirty socks, Gray’s lovage, agoseris, cinquefoil, globe penstemon, pasqueflower, saxifrage, bracted lousewort, false hellebore, bistort, paintbrush, pink mountain heather, and tiger lily. (These were all seen on a single visit! Bring a guidebook.)
At 1.0 mile, a metal sign marks the end of the maintained trail. If you choose to go farther (recommended), the trail remains obvious, just more rutted and with a few tree branches encroaching. At 1.25 miles, a large flat rock is perched along the ridge top to the right, with a dirt path leading to it. Even though a tree blocks the view of Rainier from the rock, it is still a delightful place to sit and enjoy lunch, before retracing your steps to the Sunrise parking lot. For additional wandering options, the Visitor Center has a “Sunrise Area Trails” map.