Hiking Extravaganza~ Mt. Rainier National Park

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir

He could be the perfect specimen, this “King of the Cascades”, with those chiseled features, that steely cold gaze, and that red-hot core. Seeing him clearly for the first time, I was smitten! And we were blessed with several clear days where Mt. Rainier’s imposing form rose above the surrounding peaks. Our hikes found me time and again under his spell, as Terry left me trailing far behind, taking photos.

With a total of six days to experience Mt. Rainier National Park, we managed to squeeze in four good hikes and a couple of shorter treks. Hikes were chosen to allow us views of glaciers, some of the park’s most sought after waterfalls, and subalpine meadows bursting with color.  Here are our top four ranked hikes:

1) Skyline Loop, via the High Skyline Trail

Length: 5.5 miles   Elevation gain: 1700′   Rating:  Strenuous

Prepare to get your heart pounding the moment your feet touch the trail. Even if the elevation didn’t take your breath away, the views certainly would.  Hiking up to Panorama Point, you can hear the mountain groan as you pass by constantly shifting glaciers.  Bring binoculars and you may glimpse climbers at the overnight camp preparing for an early morning summit or a group making their final ascent.  We saw both and silently cheered them on.

And at the end of the trail one final surprise as a beautiful bouquet is strewn beneath the glacier-shrouded throne of Mt. Rainier, like a Monet canvas.

The trailhead begins at Paradise, known for its grand views and wildflower meadows. An average of 680” of snow falls here each winter and it typically lingers until July. The National Park Service says that this is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is regularly measured. A world record snowfall of 1122″ was set here during the winter of 1971/72.  This exceptionally warm winter changed the landscape, leaving Paradise with less than 5 feet of snow in March instead of its normal 14 feet.

Paradise Visitor Center is the most popular destination for visitors to Mt. Rainier and the only center open when we visited the park.  The orientation film was great and the exhibits very informative.

On the same grounds is the historic Paradise Inn, built in 1916 and opened for business in 1917. The timber used for the interior décor of the inn and the furniture was cut within the park.

2) Comet Falls/Van Trump Park Trail

Length: 5.6 miles, out and back   Elevation Gain: 2200’   Rating: Strenuous

Located near Longmire in the southwestern part of the park, this trail takes you by one of the tallest waterfalls in the park – Comet Falls, plunging 320’ into Van Trump Creek. We sat along the Nisqually River on the return trip, basking in the glow of summer sun and serenaded by rushing water. Boots were off and feet plunged into the icy water…heavenly!

3) Sunrise Rim Trail/Burroughs Mountain

Length: 6.5 miles   Elevation Gain: 2000’   Rating: Strenuous

Located at Sunrise, the highest point accessible by vehicle at 6400’, this was a recommendation by a Park Ranger.  I must admit that sections of this hike left me a bit weak in the knees as the trail became narrow on the side of Burroughs Mountain, steep and sloping precariously towards a 2000’ drop-off down a shale strewn cliff.  It is one of those hikes where it is wise to focus on every step, but it was oh so exhilarating.  Clear views of glaciers and glacial-fed lakes obliterated all other thoughts.  When we were stopped from going any further due to snow and ice, we took a side tour past Frozen Lake and onto Sourdough Ridge for our return back to Sunrise.

Sunrise Point, on the way to Sunrise, offering 360° views of snow-capped peaks.

4) Glacier Basin Trail

Length: 7.5 miles, hiking part of the unmaintained trail   Elevation Gain: 1700’   Rating: Strenuous

Trailhead located at the White River Campground, south of Sunrise. Beautiful wildflowers waved in the breeze as we hiked the trail, with views of White River, and on this day, shrouded views of Mt. Rainier.

All trails we hiked were rated strenuous as the elevation gain occurred within  a short distance, which made the trek back sweet!

Those that didn’t make the cut:

Silver Falls Trail – From the Ohanapecosh Campground, where we stayed, this 2.5 mile hike takes you to Silver Falls and past a small hot springs area.

Wonderland Trail – 93 mile trail encircling Mt. Rainier.   We hiked 3 miles of it while staying at Cougar Rock Campground to visit a small NPS museum at Longmire.  On our return trip we met a woman who had one mile of the Wonderland Trail left to hike. To say she was on a high is an understatement as she shared her near accomplishment with us, Terry got a high-five from her.

Next up:  The colors and sounds of Mt. Rainier National Park

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38 thoughts on “Hiking Extravaganza~ Mt. Rainier National Park

  • Wow…Wow…Wow…I am speechless. And that is a hard thing for me. Your photos are absolutely amazing. I love the very first one. John Muir is one of my favorite people.

    The mountain is enough beauty to last forever, and you throw in a gorgeous waterfalls. I am not sure I would have ever completed with hike. I would just sit and be in the glory of the land. Outstanding.

    • Thanks so much Marsha. I have to say that Mt. Rainier is up there with some of my all-time favorites NP’s. The hikes, although all rated strenuous, were pretty easy on the return side as the elevation gain was all front-loaded.

  • We were there a couple of years ago and loved hiking the Skyline Trail with the gorgeous views and carpets of wildflowers. It does look like a Monet painting! We’ve been wanting to spend more time in Rainier—your descriptions and beautiful photos of the hikes you did are giving us even more incentive to return. (Although I’m not so sure I could do the Burroughs Mountain trail with the steep drop-offs that you describe.)

    • Mt. Rainier has become one of my favorite NP’s Laurel, although we have many more to see. The Burroughs Mountain trail gave both of us pause, especially when we had to come down that steep portion. The Skyline Trail was amazing!

    • Thanks Sylvia and I believe you are anything but lazy. Since we only had a week to enjoy the park, we had to press on. Terry said the drill sergeant had returned! 😉

  • Okay, now this post is just ridiculous. I don’t think there is enough room for all I would love to say. I had to enlarge every photo so I didn’t miss a thing. I just love the photo with the mountain, spread of wildflowers, and the fall!! Wow!! You both look like happy hikers. Good to see you both have poles and Terry’s aren’t dragging behind him:)

    That was some major climbing, what a great workout! But like you said, it was sweet coming down:) So nice that you had lots of time to get in so many hikes. Thanks for sharing your hikes:) We’ve never hiked there, instead we rode the chairlift up and watched the skiers in July!

    • We have been a bit early on many places we have gone this summer but the crowds aren’t as great so it works for us. Have you been to this park Lisa?

    • Although parts of the hikes were in the forest, there were plenty of open vistas. The views and wildflowers were just amazing. Mt. Rainier has become one of my favorite NP’s.

  • Luann no wonder you were smitten. These photos could be straight out of National Geographic! I love chance meeting with the woman hiker near the end of her epic accomplishment. There is something about sharing those feats that is so joyful and energizing.

  • Ah you have outdone yourself with your photos this time. It seemed like the perfect time for photos and walks and I bet both were exhilarating! The first quote as well was fantastic and so true, it conjures up many an idea for a poem or story.

    • This park is absolutely beautiful Ste J. And I am always happy to give you food for thought, as I, along with so many others, will benefit. 🙂

  • Fabulous hikes accompanied by fabulous photos. Stunning!!! I may need to reconsider next summers destination. The PNW is looking more alluring with each of your posts 🙂

  • Wow! You are really making a good case for going to Mt.Rainier NP. It looks awesome. All the hikes looks great and I wouldn’t be able to choose only one to do. What a stunning area. We get pretty cheap flight to Seattle from here so now I have put Mt. Rainier NP on our wish list:)

    • Can you tell I fell in love with Mt. Rainier? I would love to go back in the winter but can’t seem to convince hubby of that yet. 🙂

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