My national park tour continues! Last weekend I drove to Mount Rainier National Park, about two hours from Seattle. The glacier-capped volcano is the center of the nation’s 5th oldest national park. It’s a hiker’s dream, and I was thrilled to spend a day among the jaw-dropping scenery.
Of all the fire mountains which like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.John Muir
For the second time in the past month, I set an early alarm to get up and drive a couple of hours to a national park. Much like the early-morning drive to Crater Lake National Park, with such gorgeous scenery along the way, the trip to Mount Rainier flew by.
I arrived just after 9:00 a.m. and there were only 10 or so vehicles ahead of me at the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park. Pro tip: get to a national park as early in the day as you can! When I left around 3:00 p.m. the lineup of vehicles was half a mile long.
After driving about 10 miles into the park, I finally saw Mount Rainier. WOW! Believe it or not, I had not seen it up to this point. It’s possible to see Mount Rainier from a few places in Seattle when the clouds are gone and the sun isn’t too bright. The downtown skyline photos I’ve seen with Mount Rainier in the background are unbelievable. But I have not had the pleasure yet. I’ve learned the phrase “the mountain is out today” is a common one here in Seattle. In fact, there’s even a website with real-time views! (because of course there is.) ismtrainierout.com
My main goal for the day was to journey to Paradise. Seriously. Paradise is the name of the busiest and most dramatic area of the park, full of majestic views and wildflower meadows. Back in the late 1800s park pioneer James Longmire’s daughter-in-law proclaimed “Oh, what a paradise!” upon reaching this mile-high valley. The name stuck.
I hiked the very-steep 4.1-mile Skyline Trail from the Paradise Inn to Panorama Point. This very popular trail took me a little over 2.5 hours up and back down. With a 1700-foot elevation gain, I took many breaks—anytime I would start to hear my heartbeat. Luckily there were always gorgeous views to enjoy while catching my breath.
The weather was completely sunny and around 70 degrees the entire hike. Even with lots of sunscreen and wearing sunglasses, I still ended up with my trademark raccoon eyes! Since it was a three-day holiday weekend for many, there were a lot of families—people of all ages, really. I was amazed at how many young kids were hiking. I wish I would have started my hiking passion earlier in life; I would definitely be in better shape!
Once I reached Panorama Point, I spent quite a bit of time just soaking it all in. At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range and the most glaciated peak in the continental United States. In fact, it has 25 major glaciers that adorn the mountain and 36 square miles of permanent snowfields and glaciers.
There were a dozen or so volunteer park rangers hiking along with all of us tourists. They were doing late-season sign removal and prepping the trails for winter. In a couple of weeks, all park roads will be closed for winter except for the section of the road I took from the park entrance to Paradise.
After I hiked back down to the Paradise Visitor Center, I drove around to other areas of the park that were open. The Reflection Lakes area was stunning. The main road through the park, Stevens Canyon Road, was closed not long after the lakes for October road construction while park attendance is lower and before the snow falls. This meant I couldn’t get anywhere outside of the southwest quadrant of the park. But what an amazing day it was!
I’ve created a photo gallery of favorites from my trip to Mount Rainier. Enjoy!