One might think that there would be a lot of sheep at a place called Sheep Lake, but alas, there aren’t. Instead, as you hike to Sheep Lake, you will have to be satisfied by wildflowers, glaciers, and maybe the occasional bear.
The hike to Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap is located on part of the Pacific Crest Trail near Chinook Pass, hugging the area between Mount Rainier National Park and the Snoqualmie National Forest. The trail-head begins at the closest parking lot near Chinook Pass on the Chinook Pass highway (Route 410), but it can also be reached from the Tipsoo Lake parking lot, via the Naches Peak trail, going westward.
The largely unmarked trail leads 2.5 miles gently upwards, through thin pine forests and fields of wildflowers. Sheep Lake itself is not distinguishable in its beauty, but it provides a good spot for fishing and offers hikers a nice respite before approaching the trail to Sourdough Gap. Although many people choose to turn around after reaching Sheep Lake, progress onward! The trail to Sourdough Gap leaves from the eastern edge of Sheep Lake, and winds more steeply upwards, soon affording hikers with views of Mount Adams on a clear day. After almost a mile of a gradually steep climb, you will be presented with spectacular views of the surrounding south Cascades – including Mount Adams and Mount Mt. Helens. Just before reaching Sourdough Gap, you will finally be able to peak at Mount Rainier’s impressive Emmons Glacier.
But wait, that’s not it! If you are feeling slightly adventurous, continue along the dirt trail on the backside of Sourdough Gap for about .25 mile. Here you will find a sign announcing you’ve entered Mount Rainier National Park and you’ll finally get those impressive views of Mount Rainier (plus views of the Crystal Lake’s turquoise waters).
At 7 miles roundtrip and only 1100 feet of elevation gain, this trail is family friendly, not too difficult, under two hours from Seattle, and contains just about all the elements you hope for in a hike – minus the sheep.
In short, this hike is amazing. Go check it out! Additional information can be found at the Washington Trail Association’s website here.