The lollipop shaped Alta Vista Trail is relatively short and since it is paved, it has a nice easy surface. Going at a steady pace with lots of breaks will help ensure that people at any ability level can make it to the top!
There are two reasonably convenient access points for getting on the Alta Vista Trail. From the lower parking areas before you get to the Jackson Visitor Center, the Alta Vista Trail starts right from the northern edge of the parking lot near the circular planters. Alternatively, if you are starting from the Jackson Visitor Center, take either Avalanche Lilly
or The Skyline Trail
west for a short distance until you reach the signed Alta Vista Trail itself.
Hike through partially wooded open slopes past the spaghetti bowl of trails near the base. Soon the chaos of the visitor center area recedes and you approach the "head" of the lollipop where you must choose which branch to take. There is often a sizable snowfield amid fields of wildflowers here. Taking the loop in the counterclockwise direction points you directly at Rainier for up-close views of this behemoth. Contour around the hillside, sometimes crossing small patches of snow.
At the northernmost tip of the lollipop, the Alta Visa Spur
Trail keeps going north to join the Skyline Trail
. Ignore this spur and turn back south for some wonderfully scenic ridge-top travel. From here views of Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier are great. Marvel at the views down into the valleys and south towards the rugged Tatoosh
Range. Descend the rocky hillside with a couple of switchbacks and arrive back at the base of the lollipop where the two Alta Vista branches diverged. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking area using the "stem" of the lollipop.