Mount Rainier National Park is extremely popular in summer, and many of its trails can get crowded. One lesser-known hiking trail, good for many fitness levels, is the hike up to Bench Lake and Snow Lake from the trailhead near Reflection Lakes.
From the generous parking area on the road to Paradise, the trail starts climbing immediately through mixed forest and meadow up and over the first of several ridges that will be traversed on this hike. Looking behind, views of Mount Rainier are nearly constant from this trail, and wildflowers are abundant in August. The official elevation gain is 700 feet for this hike, but that really means several climbs and descents.
Bench Lake is about 0.7 miles from the parking lot and is worth a short side trip for the view of Mount Rainier from the beach, but it is not easy exploring the shores of this lake due to heavy vegetation. Snow Lake is another 0.5 miles and very worth the extra push. Unicorn Peak makes a spectacular backdrop to the lake, which often has a beautiful aqua color.