Even when Mount Rainier National Park's Westside Road was open, the western slopes of Mount Rainier were the mountain's most remote and protected areas. With the Westside Road's official, and what appears to be permanent, closure in 2007, the park's western side is now only accessible to backpackers, which makes the area ideal for those hoping to avoid the crowds at Paradise and Sunrise.
Of all the destinations on Mount Rainier's west side, the turquoise waters of Lake George and the lookout tower at Gobbler's Knob are the most accessible and provide the most dramatic views of the 14,411-foot stratovolcano.
If you arrive early at the parking area for the Westside Road's locked gate, look up at the rugged eastern face of Mount Wow, as mountain goats are known to frequent this rocky face around dawn. Once on the trail, you'll follow the closed and unmaintained Westside road for 3.7 miles before you make the steep ascent up to Lake George. An additional 1,200-foot climb through a thick forest of noble fir (Abies procera), Alaska yellow cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis), and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) leads to the exposed and very rewarding Gobblers Knob Lookout Tower.*
* Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Gobblers Knob Lookout Tower is one of four fire lookouts in the park. The others are located at Tolmie Peak, Mount Freemont, and Shriner Peak.
Note: Be sure to reserve and pick up a wilderness permit, which is required for all backpacking within the park, especially if you plan to overnight at one of Lake George's six backcountry campsites. Should these campsites already be booked, you can plan to hike an additional 1.6 miles to Goat Lake in the Glacier View Wilderness (outside of the national park), which does not require camping permits.