Crystal Peak Summit, by Dave Newman
Crystal Peak (not the nearby Crystal Mountain Ski Area) is a moderately challenging hike that will reward you with views of everything that makes Mount Rainier National Park so amazing. This 4 mile hike to the fully exposed 6,596 ft summit will take you through switchbacks, alpine meadows and snowfields with the eye candy backdrop of Mount Rainier. If you are looking for a day hike in Mount Rainier National Park then this one should top your list.

My friends and I chose Crystal Peak as a great way to stretch our legs after the flight from Massachusetts. We pulled into the parking lot off Highway 410, just inside Mount Rainier National Park, excited to get moving after spending so much time traveling across the country. Our plan was to climb the 3,100 feet from the parking lot to the summit via the only trail and spend some time breathing the fresh mountain air before descending. 

Crossing with style
The trail begins by crossing a small but energetic stream on a sturdy log bridge. The air cooled by a refreshing 10 degrees near the stream. This was a nice feeling on that warm and sunny summer day.  
The smooth and even trail created an immediate contrast from the rock strewn, root dominated trails of the northeast. The path was so smooth and well defined that it would be very hard to get lost on this route. The first few miles are in the trees with a moderately ascending pitch that meanders through the forest via a series of switchbacks. 
Mount Rainier looking bright
A few breaks in the trees gave us a glimpse at Mount Rainier. This was particularly exciting for us since we planned to climb Rainier a few days later.
We reached the only junction on the route at mile 1.5 with 1,025 feet of climbing behind us. From here one can hike 1.6 more miles to Crystal Lake or go 2.5 miles, and just over 2,000 feet of climbing, to Crystal Peak. We choose to seek the peak. 
The extremely well defined trail continues under shaded tree cover until it emerges on an exposed traverse. This is when the tree cover gets sparser and the views become amazing. 
The trail continues as a series of short switchbacks in a fully exposed alpine meadow with a front row seat view of Mount Rainier. It was hard to keep my eyes on the trail and not stare about the greatness that is Mount Rainier. 
We encountered a short but interesting snowfield as we approached the summit. The footing was solid here but trekking poles were nice to provide added stability as the trail traverse a steep slope.
A few steps from the summit
From here we took on a few more switchbacks until the rocky approach to the fully exposed summit. 
View from Crystal Peak
The 6,595 ft summit of Crystal peak treated us to 360 degree views that included Crystal Lake, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. Amazingly we had the summit to ourselves and we had only encountered a few other hikers during the ascent. 
Jumping with Mount Rainier in the background
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and took in the scenery as a reward for a hike well climbed. 
We descended via the same trail. We took our time as Mount Rainier was in full view for much of the descent. The smoothness of the trail was very pleasing on the joints. We reached the parking lot feeling excited, happy and in total awe the greatness of Mount Rainier National Park.