Howard Peak located in the western side of Mount Rainier National Park is one a number of notable summits in this section of the park known as the Irish Cabin Peaks. The summit of Howard Peak is not often visited and only really known as a destination by many local peak baggers in the area who are attempting to complete the Irish Cabin Peak list. With that in mind Howard Peak is still a very worthy summit to attain and is a special summit in both summer and winter.
That is because the summit of Howard Peak has great views of the surrounding area. The true western summit has some tree and brush like vegetation in place so the views can be partially block. But there is an eastern rock that sticks out which is only slightly lower that contains excellent open views of the surrounding area including an excellent shot of Rainier towering over nearby Tolmie Peak. Also though reaching Howard Peak is merely an off trail walkup with some minor scrambling (Class 2 if absolutely push it) the views down into some of the deeply valleys can be quiet dramatic making Howard Peak a great scenic destination point.
In summer Howard Peak is most easily reached from the Mowich Lake area by using the Tolmie Peak Lookout Trail. Take the well graded Tolmie Lookout Trail to an open downward sloping field just before the Lookout. From the field you should go down into the lupine field. Keep in mind there is no real boot path so you must have a map and compass and be aware of your surrounding at all time. I wouldn’t recommend heading to Howard if foggy. Continue to the gap between Tolmie and Howard in which you will be crossing more fields berry bushes and small tree stands along the way. Be cautious of bears here. Once past the col head up the open ridge all the way up. It will briefly go into some shrubs and forest until reaching the true summit of Howard. I can’t though stress though you have to continue 200 more yards to the east rock on the side of Howard. Though slightly smaller than the true summit, this rock clearly has the better views!
In winter Howard is best approach from Florence Peak. Total distance from the Carbon River Trailhead is about 14 miles so consider either getting an early start or making this a multiple day outing. For best speed and the least amount of effort it is recommended that you bring a good party of 5 in shape and goal minded snowshoers and hikers with you on the trip. Both Howard Peak and Florence Peak have amazing views so make the most of this special trip.
In winter Howard Peak can also be reached by the Paul Peak Trailhead. This summit trip usually involves crossing over both Virginia Peak and Berry Peak and getting close to the summit of Tolmie Peak. You will want to take the Boundary Trail up to the ridgeline and then once on the ridge and start to ascend up the ridgeline toward Virginia Peak. Stay on the ridgeline over Berry and continue to Tolmie Peak. I would recommend an axe if you do this route because there are some areas that can be open and sloping. This is another long trip as well and again will need a number of strong and goal minded hikers and climbers to get to the summit of Howard Peak. Also the road up to Paul Peak many times is not plowed in winter and 4-wheel drive maybe the only way to access this area of the park in winter.
Getting ThereVIA THE MOWICH LAKE AND TOLMIE PEAK TRAILHEAD (RECOMMENDED IN SUMMER. KEEP IN MIND THAT THE MOWICH LAKE ROAD IS CLOSED USUALLY TO AT LEAST MAY AND MANY TIMES MUCH LATER!!!!): Take Route 165 South. It will soon intersect with Route 162. Continue on Route 165 south through the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado. You then go over an older bridge ove the Carbon River. This bridge is beginning to look unsteady and would not be a good place to be during an earthquake. Roughly a half mile over the bridge you will run into an intersection with one road veering right and head up Mowich Lake Road. You want to head up 17 miles up the road. You will run into the self pay area up at the Paul Peak Trailhead about 11 miles up the road. Don't forget to stop here because there are plenty of ranger at the Lake Mowich Campground and they will ticket you if you don't pay.
VIA THE CARBON RIVER RANGER DISTRICT (RECOMMENDED IN WINTER WHEN MOWICH LAKE ROAD IS CLOSED): Take Route 165 South. It will soon intersect with Route 162. Continue on Route 165 south through the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado. You then go over an older bridge ove the Carbon River. This bridge is beginning to look unsteady and would not be a good place to be during an earthquake. Roughly a half mile over the bridge you will run into an intersection with one road veering left and staying in the valley heading to the Carbon River District and another veering right heading to Mowich Lake. Take the road heading to the Carbon River District. Good roughly 5 miles to the gate of the Carbon River District Gate. There will be parking on your right and restrooms on your left.
Red TapeMount Rainier National Park Pass is required at the trailhead. It is $15 for the day and $30 for the year.
CampingBackcountry Permit Required for Camping while in Mount Rainier National Park. For more information please click here
External LinksHere is a good summer trip report on Howard Peak
Here is an excellent winter trip report on Howard along with other peaks
Information on the Backcountry Hiking and Camping at Mount Rainier National Park