If money grew on a tree in my backyard, I’d dig up that tree and take it with me to Mount Rainier and pay for a room at Paradise Inn during every summer season! I want my ashes scattered here, and what I should be doing is absorbing as much of this mountain as possible; I should be a park ranger, or work in the gift shop. Anything to get me here more than I see it now, which is NOT enough. I used to live in Portland, so I could see it more often than I do now, but I think living at the lodge would work for me.
Mount Rainier National Park was established in 1899 with a bill signed by President William McKinley and passed by congress which made it the fourth national park in the United States (after Yellowstone, Sequoia and Yosemite) and the first park created from a national forest. I like going into the park at the southwestern Nisqually Entrance. Ashford is the nearest town to this entrance on Highway 706. The drive goes on for a few miles before really starting to climb. Along the way, you drive through the old growth forest with an undergrowth of massive ferns blanketing the forest only being interrupted by rivers or hiking trails. Anticipation of seeing the mountain is too much, there are even webcams you can check before you head up to see what the weather conditions are. About 7 miles from the entrance is Longmire Museum, National Park Inn, a campground and Trail of the Shadows. The trail is a one mile loop and some of it is boardwalk because it takes you through the bog and mineral springs in this area. It’s a very easy walk, one elevation with views of Mount Rainier. Christine Falls is another nice stop, there are pull outs on each side of the falls. After the waterfall, there is a one way turn to the right that is well worth taking and parking to stop and enjoy the views, it is called Ricksecker Point. I tried to do a star trail shot from this parking area, but it was pitch black and I was a little nervous being out there by myself, plus a car would drive by and the headlights were aimed right into my camera lens. So none of my exposures were long enough, but I still included the photo in the gallery at the bottom of the page. One day I will get a better shot.
One more waterfall before arriving in Paradise, Narada Falls. There is a pull off so you can park and take pictures. After the falls, take the turn to the left to Paradise, this will take you to the lodge and visitors center parking lot. This is one of the areas that climbers start out who are going to the summit. Adventurous, in shape souls that they are. I’m jealous, but not that ambitious! If you are, there are guide services can teach you the basics and climb with you to the top.
Paradise Inn was built in 1916 and has a perfect view of the mountain, there is also a dining room with a view. There is a very good paved trail system in this area, which can be a little steep starting out from the parking lot, but get up that first little hill and the views are astonishing! Skyline trail to Myrtle Falls and Edith Creek is only about a mile and won’t be regretted. The meadows are very fragile and it is important to stay on the trails and if you go past the paved trails, you should be dressed and prepared for the conditions.
After Paradise, continue on the one way road and get back on the main road through the park, stopping at the parking area right in front of Reflection Lakes. If you have a few days to spend at the park, it is best to get here before sunrise to watch the sun start to put its glow on the mountain, and the lake will be like a mirror. I’ve been here at high noon and have heard people scoff about the name of the lake. Well, at noon, there is wind, and there won’t be a reflection. Here are two pictures in the same direction, one before sunrise and one at about noon. If you would like a reflection of the mountain in the lake, get there early.
On the other side of the road from Reflection Lakes is a trail that is quite steep, but it will take you to Pinnacle Peak. There are many more pull offs throughout the park for trail accesses. Towards the southeastern side of the park, near the Stevens Canyon Entrance is the Grove of the Patriachs trail. This is an easy walk and takes you through the massive trees. Three of us tried to “hug” one of these trees and didn’t even make it half way around the tree! Turn north on Highway 123, then go east on Highway 410 a few miles to Tipsoo Lake. There are more hiking trails around this lake and one of the closest spots to the Pacific Crest Trail which comes into the park just briefly a few times.
The Wonderland Trail is the main trail for the park and loops all the way around the mountain. It is 93 miles long with many campsites along the way. If you go back to the west on Highway 410, then turn right, staying on 410, you can turn left three miles later to go on the road that takes you to Sunrise Visitor Center. This stop offers a vary different view of the mountain and is another starting point for the summit.
Mount Rainier National park offers hiking for every skill level with fantastic views along the way. Streams, waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife add to the majestic beauty of the mountain. A trip to the park is definitely worth a visit and the more time you have to explore the better.