The trail to Bandera Mountain starts out mild and wide, zig-zagging through fir and alder groves with salmonberries and wild blackberries to taste on the way. As it gets higher, steeper and rockier, occasional gaps in the trees offer partial views of Mount Rainier. After about 3 miles of hiking on the Ira Spring Trail, the way to Bandera separates from the trail to Mason Lake, and the true climbing begins.
Scramble straight up the side of the mountain for a quarter of a mile through beargrass and paintbrush flowers. This wildflower field is peppered with sun-bleached tree stumps, the remains of a 1958 wildfire. Mercifully, rocky footholds are plentiful and the climb is short. The trail tops the first mini-summit and offers a staggering view of Mount Rainier and the valley below.
The trail becomes less obvious as it skirts the ridge through alpine forests and rock fields. Continue east to eventually crest the boulder-covered summit of Little Bandera. From here you have the best views of the hike: Mount Rainier on one side and Mount Defiance and Mason Lake on the other. After this, the trail nearly disappears. Continue further along the ridge through the forest to reach the true summit of Bandera Mountain, though there are no views from here because of tree cover.
Note: Bring bug repellent, as the mountain is surprisingly thick with mosquitos.