Mount Rainier: Cayuse and Chinook Passes, and Wildlife!

I got up early on Saturday and drove my bike toward Mount Rainier, parked on a forest service dirt road, and then rode into the national park, coming out the other end.  I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve ridden a bike inside a national park (North Cascades Nat’l Park is ends at the road, divided into two pieces), which was a little bit of extra fun.

Cayuse Pass has been open for a while, but Chinook is still closed – they’re hoping to have it opened this week.  But the road itself is bare.  You can ride all the way to Yakima, if the spirit moves you.

I rode a little beyond Chinook Pass, by Tipsoo Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail, then turned back.  (My turn-around point was at the trailhead for the Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap trail, which looks like it’s been getting snowshoe use.  Beautiful place in the summer.)  Coming back down, the road that had been closed off with a sign and a few cones, at Cayuse Pass, was now chained off with a sign about avalanche blasting east of the pass!

On the way up, I passed a group of backcountry skiers, grinning ear-to-ear, who pointed the mountain goat out.

This came to 40.6 miles round trip, with 3,700 feet elevation gain. Cayuse Pass sits at 4,675 feet, and Chinook Pass is 5,430 feet.

Welcome to Mount Rainier

Entering the national park on Route 410. To the left are some maps.

The Mountain

The White River flowing from Mount Rainier, with a lenticular cloud forming over the summit. “When Mount Rainier wears a hat, bad weather follows.” Sure enough, the rains came a few hours later.

Road Closed at Cayuse Pass

Cayuse Pass, at 4,675 feet above sea level. I couldn’t get a picture of my bike in front of the sign saying as much, because it was buried under the snow. The closed road leads to Chinook Pass.

At Cayuse Pass, SR-410 makes a sharp turn, heading toward Yakima, and meets SR-123 which continues south through the park. The road up is closed. There were a lot of cars here, and people congratulating themselves on their trip, skis and bikes still at hand. I stopped briefly to make sure this really was my destination, Cayuse Pass. The people I met were animated and jovial, and encouraged me with news that the road is free of snow all the way up. I had secretly hoped to climb both passes, but didn’t think it would be possible that day.

Wildlife on Mount Rainier

A mountain goat, giving me the evil eye. Both of us appreciated the road closure for the lack of traffic.

Snow, and more snow

Entering the hairpin turn section below Chinook Pass, cliffs and tree tops stick out here and there above the snow line.

Near Chinook Pass

Part of a switchback to the left, and mountains surrounding Rainier to the right. The clouds are graying, as the weather starts to turn foul.

Below Chinook Pass

One of the sweeping turns below Chinook Pass. There are no words to describe just how much fun these hairpin curves are at speed.

Proud of having finished the climb

My bike, just below (and to the east of) Chinook Pass, and about to descend. A water purifier hangs from the rails of my saddle.

Snow at Chinook Pass

15 feet or more of snow at Chinook Pass, and the park exit.

My bike, resting from the climb, preparing for the descent

High among the high peaks, near the Pacific Crest Trail.

Still among the peaks

A wider view of the peaks near Chinook Pass.

As wide as I can go

Wider still, a 180-degree panorama of the peaks and the ocean of snow (or so it felt) near my turn-around point.

I’m not going to recommend this route, because I think the southern approach to the pass is more scenic. But if you’re interested in giving it a try, the map and elevation chart will be useful.

My route to Cayuse and Chinook Passes

My route to Cayuse and Chinook Passes.

Elevation chart

Elevation chart, based off my Garmin data, with altitude corrections.


Temperature, as measured by my Garmin Edge 800. I’m not sure if the sawtooth/stair step pattern was due to sun-breaks, cold air sinking in the valleys which I moved across, or from unreliable Garmin readings?

Finally, a few more pictures.

Clouds blowing across the summit

A close-up view of Rainier’s massive summit, with clouds moving across the glaciers.

Snow and cliff

My bike leaning against the snow bank below Chinook Pass. I shared another version of this photo without the bike, above.


Snow on the ground, and a distant valley between the surrounding mountains.

Tunnel vision

Tunnel vision. I like this photo, but I’m hard pressed to explain why.


7 thoughts on “Mount Rainier: Cayuse and Chinook Passes, and Wildlife!

    • It turns out they are! Much better than on Mount Baker, when I learned they don’t work when they’re wet…

      You should come out here some time, and visit Rainier. And that some time should be in late July or early August. I stopped at the Sourdough Gap / Sheep Lake Trailhead because, well, it’s a magical happy place, one that brought back memories of hiking with friends, losing count of the species of wildflowers, being amazed that the meadow floors were stained blue from all the lupines… And what a difference a few months makes, like another world! 😉

    • What was the Paradise ride like, and which side did you approach it from?

      That was on my list this year, but I got a flat along the way, before I came into the park. I had just switched to tubulars, and wasn’t able to repair it. ;(

      I’ve been daydreaming about better weather, too. If you haven’t brought your bike out to the east slope (Cle Elum, Teanaway, Leavenworth, etc), you should give that a try starting around April. Summer comes early out there.

  1. Pingback: Two Week Road Trip: What are the "must sees" in Seattle and Washington? - Page 7 - City-Data Forum

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