“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:
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.
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!
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.
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