Reflection Lakes are not just a popular photography stop. From the lakes you can hike to a stunning cliffside view of the lakes and the Tatoosh range. From there you have the option of returning the way you came, or hiking in a loop around the largest of the lakes.
A difficulty in describing this hike is identifying a starting point. There are two parking lots at Reflection Lakes: a larger one to the west, and a smaller one to the east. There is a paved sidewalk alongside the parking areas, and two access points to get to the Wonderland Trail, which follows the shore of the largest lake. Parking can be scarce on a busy day, and you may not be able to choose where to park.
But since we have to start somewhere, let’s designate the west end of the small (east) parking lot as the starting point. It is here that the Wonderland Trail comes up from the lakeshore to merge with the sidewalk. If you are walking east along the shore trail, as you climb up to the sidewalk you will see a sign with an arrow pointing east, reading, “Lakes Trail. Follow Road 0.2”. This is how we will start.
Walk east on the sidewalk/trail for a quarter mile, passing the end of the largest lake, and a second, smaller lake. Leave the sidewalk for trail at a sign beginning with “Wonderland Tr. Lakes Trail 0.1”, and after hiking 0.3 miles, leave the Wonderland Trail.
Go left at the junction, following a sign to Faraway Rock and “Lakes High Trail”. (The latter is now called “High Lakes Trail” on park service maps.) As the trail begins to climb, the wildflower show can be intense. Depending on the season, the trail may feature lupine, broad-leafed arnica, bistort, rosy spirea, and my personal favorite: Jeffrey’s shooting star. Later in the season, blueberries will be evident.
At 0.6 miles, cross a stream which dries up in summer. Footlogs that got washed downstream are a testament to the heavy flow in other seasons. Continue uphill, passing slopes of blueberries, until at 0.9 mile the trail opens up to a rocky bluff, Faraway Rock. The view to the south is unobstructed, including the Tatoosh Range, Lake Louise 700 feet below, the other Reflection Lakes, and of course the Stevens Canyon Road, winding its way through the park. The parking lot looks so far away!
If you choose to take the 3-mile loop, continue on, passing a small tarn. The flower show continues, with avalanche lilies, magenta paintbrush, scarlet paintbrush, and buttercups, to name a few. At 1.1 miles is another sign, pointing you left onto the Lakes High Trail. These signs can be confusing, since they give mileages to Paradise in opposing directions. Understand that they are written for those who begin at Paradise and head south, looping all the way around Reflection Lakes, then back to Paradise. Hence the signs indicate that the Lakes High Trail “bypasses Reflection Lakes”. Not so for you.
A sign indicates that the trail continuing straight (north) is the Lakes Trail. It is also known as the Mazama Ridge Trail, especially in winter when it is snow-covered.
Go left (west), soon crossing the same seasonal stream that you crossed below (with a different washed out footlog). The High Lakes Trail does not provide a clear view of Mount Rainier. But it does offer a pleasant sun-and-shade traverse with views of the Tatoosh Range, and more wildflowers; the varieties are different over each leg of the loop. Watch for Mount Rainier lousewort, sickletop lousewort, and elephant’s head lousewort.
At 2.2 miles, similarly confusing signs point you both toward and away from Paradise. Ignore that, and simply go left (“Reflection Lk .7”). This section drops gently for a half mile, coming to another junction, and a sign which reads, “Lakes Tr. follows Wonderland Trail past Reflection Lks for .6 miles”. Because we started with a quarter mile of the Wonderland Trail, it is only .35 mile to our starting (and ending) point. If you parked at the western end of the large parking lot, you may wish to exit the trail for the sidewalk. But this lakeshore section of trail should not be missed.