Many people have seen pristine images of Mount Rainier reflecting off calm lake waters amongst a million trees. That picture of the tallest mountain in Washington was likely taken at the lesser-known Tipsoo Lake or its more well-known counterpart Reflection Lake.
But in the age of social media, these pictures are everywhere, and if you’re visiting Mount Rainier National Park, you’d love to bring home one of these images of your own. I’m here to tell you that you can — and that you’ll get a far far superior vantage point with far fewer people by heading over to Tipsoo Lake.
Tipsoo and Reflection lakes near Mt. Rainier are only separated by 45 minutes of scenic roads and offer two entirely different vantage points of the mighty mountain, which is the highest point in the Cascades Mountain Range. Tipsoo Lake looks West toward Mount Rainier and Reflection Lake looks North toward the mountain.
While cardinal directions are important to the scenery of Mount Rainier, the distance from the mountain, elevation, amenities and sheer area density are key components that separate the viewpoints offered by Tipsoo Lake and Reflection Lake. For those reasons and many more, Tipsoo is one of the many Mount Rainier things to do that you don’t want to miss.
Why Tipsoo Lake Is Better Than Reflection Lake to View Mount Rainier
1. Tipsoo Lake’s Distance From Mount Rainier
Tipsoo Lake, an alpine lake that’s just under 5,300 above sea level, sits about 5 miles from the base of Mount Rainier. Reflection Lake is less than half that distance. That means you can see more of the stunning sharp peaks of Mount Rainier from Tipsoo Lake because there’s more space between you and the mountain.
It really is basic physics. This is also important for those photographers looking for a coveted shot of Rainier reflecting off calm waters, surrounded by towering pines and snow-covered ground or blooming wildflowers. More mountain in the foreground means you’ll see more mountain in the reflection of the lake.
2. Tipsoo Lake Has a Higher Elevation
Tipsoo Lake rests a few hundred feet above sea level in comparison to Reflection Lake, which allows more room for the peaks of Mount Rainier to pop over the sweeping pines. The Chinook Pass, situated about a hundred feet above Tipsoo Lake, offers another unique vantage point that allows you to see much of Mount Rainier completely uninterrupted by trees.
So Tipsoo Lake’s elevation gives it not one but two vantage points at which you can snap a photo of one of the most incredible reflections of Mount Rainier in the entire park. This is compared to Reflection Lake, which is mostly flat all the way around the lake, so you can’t get another higher angle.
3. Tipsoo Lake Has More Comfortable Amenities
The area at Tipsoo Lake is equipped with bathrooms, picnic tables and more parking spaces than its Reflection Lake counterpart. But these extra amenities surely bring more people, right? Ehhh, yes and no.
Let’s get to the parking situation first. Parking was the toughest issue we had at Reflection Lake, as there are a few parking areas that fit maybe 50 vehicles in total. Due to tight roads and blind turns, you can’t park on the side of the road at Reflection Lake and you may feel uneasy backing out of the parking spot you found.
Tipsoo Lake offers two big parking areas at the mouth of the lake, accommodating about 50 cars as well. However, roadside parking is offered from the bottom of the Tipsoo Lake up to Chinook Pass, allowing for about 50 more vehicles to safely park.
Even if there are just as many people at Tipsoo Lake as there are at Reflection Lake, the former also offers a bigger area to view Mount Rainier, which means that more people can be Tipsoo Lake at the same time without you noticing. But we didn’t see too many people venturing from the parking lot to the other side of Tipsoo Lake, which means you may have that beautiful reflecting view much to yourself.
4. Tipsoo Lake Has Better Flora and Fauna
During late July through August, Tipsoo Lake becomes flush with wildflowers — and animals. Wildflowers were just beginning to peak their way through the snow during our early-July arrival, but we weren’t able to see many because they weren’t quite blooming.
Many visitors are able to snap beautiful images of Mount Rainier reflecting off Tipsoo Lake with wildflowers in the foreground, but I’m A-OK with the incredible photos of reflecting Mount Rainier with snow all around Tipsoo Lake.
Important Things to Know About Tipsoo Lake Washington
- You need to get there before noon to beat the cloud coverage that typically rolls in around then.
- Go first thing in the morning to beat the crowds and ensure a calm lake in the foreground.
- Wildflowers begin blooming in late July to early August and it’s a very short season that may not last into late September.
- The Tipsoo Lake hikes are a great way to see different Mount Rainier viewpoints around the lake.
- The Tipsoo Lake hiking trails converge with the Pacific Crest Trail, so you may see some hikers who are almost finished with their long journey from Mexico to Canada.
- It’s a great place to enjoy lunch, but take some extra food and water because restaurants are scarce in Mount Rainier National Park.
Tipsoo Lake Hikes
Tipsoo Lake Loop Trail
- Distance: 0.8 miles loop
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 39 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 20 minutes
Naches Peak Loop to Tipsoo Lake
- Distance: 3.5 miles loop
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 636 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 2 hours
Tipsoo Lake to Dewey Lake Loop
- Distance: 6.5 miles loop
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 1,404 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 3 hours
Tipsoo Lake to American Ridge
- Distance: 15.9 miles out and back
- Difficulty: Hard
- Elevation Gain: 2,680 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 9 hours