The sheer size of it alone will be enough to grab your attention on a clear sunny day in Western Washington. If your from around here we’re always saying, “The mountain is out!” You can see it almost everywhere you go. Standing tall at 14,411 feet you couldn’t miss it if you tried. Always capped with snow year around.
I have been fortunate enough to experience Mount Rainier in many different aspects at many different angles and vantage points throughout my life. I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid with family, school field trips, friends and for work. It’s always been my home away from home. For me, it’s just a hop skip and jump away. A short 45 minute drive and I’m at the Nisqually entrance of the park. This is the southern entrance, there are two other main entrances to the park one more on the east side called Steven’s Canyon. The other, actually accesses another part of the park called Sunrise, we’ll talk about this side of the mountain on another day. This entrance is more northeast. Then there are two other entry points as well, but you aren’t driving very far into them by car. Time to bust out the hiking sticks for those ones.
I have always enjoyed starting my day at the mountain in the lower elevations, rather than drive to the top and work my way down. The thick forest full of moss and life living under the canopy of tall evergreen trees, just calls to me. The hundreds of little streams, creeks and waterfalls all from the tall jagged mountain tops above, rushing down the landscape to meet the enormous rivers that feed the Puget Sound. It’s really a majestic moment walking through the lush forest of this towering mountain above.
Mount Rainier is a great place for people of all ages. There is something to do or see for everyone. I thought I would give a broad review of the Nisqually to Steven’s Canyon entrance to the mountain here and later focus on Sunrise and more detailed moments, such as particular hikes, stays at the lodge, restaurants etc.
As your’re driving along, the sights are breathtaking. It doesn’t matter which direction your looking. Through the lush green forest, going up and over bridges with creeks and rivers, views that open up to massive glaciers, views that are long and vast into the distance. The occasional waterfall crashing over a rock wall, right next to the road, splashing to the ground. There is almost always a place to pull off and get out of your car for a look. You won’t be disappointed either. Take advantage of stopping to look. Once you’ve got back in your car and drive, don’t be surprised because you’ll be stopping once again to get out and look at something else. If your adventurous there is many places to pull off and go further to tackle a longer hike. Be sure though if your going to venture out to enjoy a hike, come prepared with the 10 essentials and always check trail conditions and let family or friends know that your hiking that day.
One of my favorite spots to stop and go for a moderately easy hike and sight seeing is at Longmire. Longmire was once the homestead that belonged to James Longmire. It was home to his resort and spa, Mineral Creek Springs. Where today the springs are still there. The trail is called Trail of the Shadows. It’s a one mile loop that goes around wetland through the forest. This is a wonderful hike for younger children as its a self guided interpretive trail with lots of information along the way about James Longmire and the history of this area and how it began.
Longmire has so much to offer for entertainment. There is the Longmire Inn. Cute little hotel. I often see people in the summer sitting on the porch, feet up on the railing taking in the view of the mountain in the most comfortable loungers. Great way to relax, unwind and enjoy a nice glass of wine. Spending the night here on Mount Rainier is definitely a must at least once in your life. Something extremely peaceful and serene about it.
The now museum was constructed in 1916. Telling the tale of what all was once here. There is also a concession cafe’/sit in restaurant and gift shop that sells small gifts and souvenirs. Plenty of parking spaces for all walks of life. Great views, food and things to see.
Continuing up the mountain the trees start thinning, the views reveal sharp mountain tops, waterfalls to be seen in the distance. An abundant amount of mountain birds. The occasional group of deer and even bear. You’ll see marmots, pikas and even fox. There is a plethora of animals up here. I don’t think I have ever been to the mountain and not seen something. The late spring is the best time to see the biggest variety in my opinion. You don’t even have to leave your car to enjoy the wildlife, as its sometimes within sight of the ride.
Once you’ve hit the top, again your’re greeted with a variety of activities. There is the Henry Johnson Memorial Visitor Center. It will offer information about Leonard Longmire and Henry Carter building the road to Paradise in 1892. In 1895 a coffee shop called the Paradise Hotel and tent came were built for services to all the increasing amount of visitors. 1898 John L. Reese combined all operations and named it Camp of the Clouds. While most visitors were happy with the camp they wanted better accommodations and sanitation. 1911 was the first season that horse drawn vehicles were able to make it to the top at The Camp of the Clouds.
In 1916 John L. Reese sold to Rainier National Park Company (RNPC) the construction for the Paradise Inn started. The short construction season they were able to construct the 91,000 dollar first class inn. The timber used for the interior of the building was from dead Alaska cedars that had been from a fire in the Silver Forest just below Narada Falls and had seasoned to a light gray/silver hue. The inn opened in July of 1917. Thirty-seven guest rooms and a dining room with space for four hundred. Tent platforms were built behind the lodge for more space for visitors. Years passed and Paradise had went through many renovations and expansions. 1920 was the first addition to the inn. Then ten years later it would happen again. Another grand opening in 1931 unveiling the new and improved inn. The depression hit the National Park hard. The slowed visitors and revenue coming from the park had things changing the parks look again. Selling off maid quarters and changing operations during the war.
In 1964 Henry M. Jackson Memorial Center was in the works to be added to paradise. The estimated total for this project was two million dollars and would take two years for it to be constructed. At that time this would be the most expensive building in any of the National Parks at that time. They were planning on building this on the sight of the Paradise Lodge. Burning the lodge down was their choice of a quick demolition. The visitor center was complete and open in 1966. That building remained until 2008 when another newer, smaller more efficient building was opened and is there currently today. Equipped with a cafe’, self guided tour, gift shop, sitting area and restrooms.
The landscape here is absolutely paradise everyday of the year. The views of the mountain are breath taking and unobstructed. During the summer months there is ample amounts of wildflowers of many types. Its rolling fields of purples, reds and white with noble trees and the mountain in the distance. The smell of the fresh crisp air is unforgettable. I have always wondered how one could bottle and sell it, because you would make a fortune. The winters there are vast snow fields and hills of snow. Getting around at 5,400 feet in the snow is difficult. If you plan on visiting during winter months and want to leave the parking lot please come prepared.
Continuing on the ride past Paradise heading towards Steven’s Canyon (This route is closed November-April) you go down into and through paradise valley. Keep your eyes peeled. I’ve seen on multiple occasions, bear walking through the grassy area below. Even was fortunate enough to see a mom and her cubs. Pulled over on the hill above the valley. Got the camera out to photograph the family cross the valley. Watching the cubs explore and wonder from their mom was a fun experience. Watching them realize they wandered to far and running back to mom for safety was cute. I had only seen one other bear in the wild before this. Seeing such an amazing sight of a family will forever be something I will remember was a real treat.
You’ll see reflection lake along the way. If the wind is calm when you visit, you will figure out just why its named Reflection Lake. The most amazing and sharp reflection of Mount Rainier shines down on the water. A perfect mirror imagine. I remember seeing that lake long ago, I’m talking in the 1990s. Always said how amazing a photo would be of that lake. Seen it done a million times. Wanting that photo myself, I finally got to take it in 2017. The conditions were absolutely PERFECT. I had wanted that photo for so long. It was a remarkable feeling to be able to check that off my photo bucket list. The goose bumps I got when taking that photo were phenomenal.
The ride continues losing elevation though the forest, passing more hikes, creeks, waterfalls and view points. Heading to the base of the mountain on the opposite side of the mountain is Steven’s Canyon entrance/exit. Before you leave and want one more easy hiking experience be sure to check out Groove of the Patriarchs. Its an amazingly easy fun hike that goes over a suspension bridge through a forest full of Western Red Cedar trees. The cascades oldest and tallest trees. This is a great hike for children. Has always been my girls favorite.
Mount Rainier has and will always be the staple of “home”. It screams the Pacific Northwest, Washington. I look at it or its direction everyday. Since you know, Washington is known for rain. Reason for the term, “The mountain is out!” And the sky hardly ever disappoints. We get some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets with the mountain being a fully willing participant. Aside from my kids, I do believe Mount Rainier falls into second place on most photographed. If you haven’t had a chance to visit before. The next time your presented with the chance of going, do it! Its a great day trip or spending the night.