A short loop trail appropriate for all ages and abilities, this little walk provides an opportunity for anyone to appreciate the history of Longmire while immersing themselves in nature. It can also act as a mellow warm-up for the steep Rampart Ridge Trail.
From the Longmire Ranger Station area, cross the main road to find the trailhead beginning just on the other side. A right takes you on a half mile stroll to the junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail, but you'll want to bear left. Although the trees obscure the evidence, a sign marks an old hotel’s site, a part of Longmire Medical Springs Resort. The resort was established in 1890 by James Longmire, an explorer and settler of the West.
Turning right at the junction with the Trail of the Shadows, quickly approach the first rock-ringed hot springs, Soda Springs. In winter, the springs are the only water around that’s not frozen and snow-covered. Many of these springs temperatures range from 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. These springs were once thought to have healing properties, and Longmire’s resort was a huge attraction for tourists hoping for relief from a variety of ailments. Visitors paid eight dollars per week to stay at the resort and bathe in the springs.
Continue past the springs to visit a small log cabin. The cabin is a restoration of the one Longmire’s son Ecaine built in this spot as housing for the Longmire Hot Springs Resort staff. Ecaine continued the tourist business inspired by the hot springs after his father’s death in 1897, but the family business began to taper off when Mount Rainier was designated as the nation’s fifth national park in 1899, and it ended in 1915 with Ecaine’s death. Soon after, the property was sold to the park.
Follow the trail a little farther to reach a second spring, named “Iron Mike,” for its rusty color. Water now at the springs began its journey high up on Rainier and gradually filtered down into the ground and down the mountain. Warmed by geothermal heat, the hot water dissolves iron as it passes through underground rocks and earth. Next, the hot water mixes with colder groundwater before appearing in the spring. As the dissolved iron in the water is exposed to air, it oxidizes, literally rusting in the stream.
Don't miss a little marsh viewpoint just down the trail and to the left. Glance down from the view to see a travertine mound by the creek. A sign explains how these mounds form: various mineral forms of calcium carbonate are deposited in layers alongside the stream as they crystallize. As the water rises up from underground the change in atmospheric pressure, along with other factors, changes the water’s temperature and content. Minerals that had been dissolved solidify and are then left on the stream bank to form layer after layer and eventually mounds of mineral rock, called travertine.
From here it’s just a couple minutes of walking to the junction with Rampart Ridge. To do the full loop trail, head up the steep trail to the right and continue circumnavigating the marsh for the last 0.2 miles back to Longmire.
Throughout your hike, look out for Pacific Northwest fauna. Two frog species, the Pacific tree frog and coastal tailed frog, make their homes in the damp meadows encircled by the trail, using standing water like ponds and faster-flowing streams, respectively, as breeding grounds. Pacific giant salamanders can also be found on the forest floor or in the water.