Rising to 14,410 feet, Mt Rainier stands as a beacon in the Cascade Range and a gem in northwestern Washington state. In 1899, the mountain and the surrounding land became the 5th National Park. As always, the interests of capitalist of the time fought hard against the creation of the park and, as was also often the case – renowned conservationist John Muir headed the Sierra Club’s effort to victory.
Weather is king here and will have control over your adventure. As a matter of fact, your experience will most likely change throughout your visit as clouds roll in and out of the area. Always check the forecast before you head in. Our last visit was in the middle of summer and many of the most popular trails were still closed because of snow.
The park is only about 60 miles from Seattle so it’s a great day trip if you are up in the emerald city. It’s always exciting to be there on a clear day when the ‘Mountain is Out’. Of course, to really get the feel for the Park, you’ll want to spend more than a day wandering.
Today, we are going to focus on 3 “don’t miss” areas of the park.
The most popular of the 3 is Paradise. This aptly named area is truly stunning. Here you can tour the Visitor Center and really get the lay of the land as well more on the history of the park and potential threats of the area – did I mention that Mt Rainier is an active volcano?
The Paradise Inn is a short walk from the visitor center and is a beautiful example of Parkactecture and one of the Great Lodges of the West. The public areas include a collection of chandeliers – each with a different handpainted shade featuring flora from the area.
The Skyline Trail is a 5.5-mile round trip loop with the trailhead in-between the visitor center and the Paradise Inn. The elevation gain is 1450 feet and you can reach 6800 feet in elevation. On our visit, there was so much snow that the trail was closed from Panorama Point – but the view from there was incredible! This hike starts off steeply but levels out after a bit, and hey, there’s a lot to take in so that gives you a chance to rest up as you climb! Before you get to Panorama Point you’ll pass a junction for Pebble Creek and Camp Muir. This is the point where summit-bound climbers leave you as they continue their trek up the Muir snowfield to reach Camp Muir for the night. You’ll be followed by playful marmots all along the way. Even though we were thwarted by snow and couldn’t hike the entire loop, we felt as one with the mountain and recharged.
Next, we head east down the mountain on the Stevens Canyon Road. You’ll pass Reflection Lake, Box Canyon, and many trailheads for another time! Near the end of the road prior to hitting State Route 123, you’ll see the Grove of the Patriarchs. Carve out an hour or so and take a hike through towering, thousand-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees. Walk the trail to discover the grandeur and peace of this area.
Our third stop is Sunrise, located north, off of State Route 123. Here the elevation is 6,400 feet and you’ve reached the highest point that can be traversed by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park. The season here is possibly even shorter than that of other areas with the Visitor Center open from only July to early September. This area is alpine and spectacular.
There are many hiking options here – we opted for the 3-mile Frozen Lake Loop Trail. This moderate hike offered up great views of the Mountain along with excellent vistas down onto the tundra around the area. As we approached the lake we got caught in a little storm but thankfully, we were prepared for weather – it was actually pretty awesome to be out in it as it passed through. Sunrise is a completely different experience than Paradise and if time and weather permit, one not to be missed.
Mt Rainier is one moment of Wandering Zen after another. The fresh mountain air, the pristine water, the bountiful summer wildflowers are all just the start of an incredible experience. Put this one on your of your ever-growing list and be forever Wandering But Not Lost!