Mount Rainier National Park
Plan a day trip to paradise at Mount Rainier National Park.
As a “born and raised” resident of Washington, you’d think that I had spent a considerable amount of time at arguably the most beautiful natural wonder of the Pacific Northwest. Well, you’d be wrong.
After working at Seattle Southside for a combined year and a half, I’ve heard from countless interested parties looking to visit the mountain. People come from all around the world to get up close and personal with our very own natural wonder. Even President Obama, upon flying over Rainier in Air Force One once remarked (I’m paraphrasing here) “The Seahawks are great, but I think you have something pretty spectacular in your own backyard.”
Needless to say, I’d been thinking about taking the trip to Mount Rainier National Park for some time. After thoroughly researching the park, I decided that Paradise would be the place to go. After all, Sunrise wasn’t open yet (it’s scheduled to open July 1) and with a name like Paradise, surely, it would be at least moderately breathtaking.
Tips for Visiting Mt. Rainier
Best Routes to Get to Mt. Rainier
There are a couple different routes to get to Paradise: South on I-5 and Route 7, or east on 164 or 169 and 410. Either way, you are circling the mountain and it will take around 2-2.5 hours. We went east on 169 (Maple Valley Highway) so that we could pass through Black Diamond and stop at the delicious, Black Diamond Bakery. A local favorite for over 100 years, if you can take this route, you must stop here. The restaurant has plenty of classic breakfast options with a great view of Rainier from the window. The bakery has a delectable assortment of donuts, cookies, cakes and Russian pretzels. TIP #2: Eat a hearty breakfast full of protein, not just donuts. Do as I say, not as I do.
From the bakery, we were on our way to the mountain. The drive was dramatically scenic and we had to pull off the road a few times to take pictures. We drove through the small town of Green Water and discovered that they weren’t kidding. The river was emerald green. It was around this time that we started seeing snow along the sides of the road. Yep, it was late June and there was still plenty of compact snow on the ground (not on the road though, don’t worry about that). We drove through valleys and canyons along windy roads and cliff sides that had clearly just experienced a rock slide, but the views were breathtaking. TIP #3: Pull off at 1-3 viewpoints/waterfalls, but don’t spend all day there. There are so many amazing viewpoints along the way, but once you’re in the park itself, there’s no reason to look back.
After passing through the park’s main entrance and paying the $25 fee for a single car (the pass is good for one week), we made our way to a rest stop at…I believe it was Box Canyon. We did a little exploring around the rest area and found a cliff side area with another beautiful view to sit and relax in the sun. Who would’ve thought that there would be such an amazing view fifty yards from a toilet?
Welcome to Paradise
After our rest stop we drove for another twenty minutes until we passed the “Welcome to Paradise” sign and arrived at our destination. We grabbed our trusty CamelBaks filled with water and snacks and walked into the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. Inside, they had maps, food, restrooms, water, and an information center. There was an informative wall that had listed all the hikes at Paradise along with the difficulty levels and approximate roundtrip travel times. We decided on the Alta Vista trail that was listed as a “medium” difficulty with 1.75 hours of travel time, roundtrip.
As for the wildlife, we came across plenty of chipmunks and a few big, fat marmots. We couldn’t believe how close we could get to these creatures (a few feet, or inches in the squirrel’s case). They had obviously grown accustomed to park visitors. They might as well have said “you have to pay the toll,” because they were clearly waiting for us to give them some sort of nourishment, and they wouldn’t back down…
Hiking Mt. Rainier
Visit Mount Rainier National Park! Even if you don’t want to go all the way to Paradise or Sunrise, there are so many great hikes and scenic viewpoints along the way. Pull off to the side of the road and enjoy the fresh air, beautiful views, and fun hikes. Also, remember to bring sunglasses and sunscreen. Force Blake to drive you because he has a wicked-nice Subaru in case you run into any inclement weather. Don’t bring Kris unless you want to get hit by periodic snowballs even when you think you’re safe because you’re right next to a family with small children. Finally, If the marmots kidnap you, their leader’s name is Borgar the Wise and he likes almonds.
We visited the park early in the year and even though the wildflowers weren’t in full bloom and a lot of the trails were snow covered, it truly was the experience of a lifetime. We planned to return even before we reached Paradise, and with Sunrise opening July 1st, we want to try that side of the mountain as well. Until next time, Tahoma.
Mount Rainier FAQs
Is Mount Rainier an active volcano?
Yes. Mount Rainier is considered an active volcano and will erupt again sometime in the future. The last major eruption was over 500 years ago. There was a noteworthy eruption in 1894 where witnesses described seeing small explosions at the volcano's summit.
What is special about Mount Rainier?
At a height of 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest volcanic peak in the contiguous United States and is the highest mountain in Washington State. Mount Rainier is capped by glaciers and has snow year-round at it's highest elevations.
How did Mount Rainier get its name?
Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy observed the mountain while surveying the Pacific coast in 1792 and decided to name the mountain after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.
What is the best time of year to visit Mt. Rainier?
The best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park is July through August, when wildflowers are blooming in the subalpine meadows. This time of year tends to offer warmer, dryer weather that is optimal for hiking conditions.
What should you see or do at Mt. Rainier in just one day?
While 3 days would be better, the top sites for visitors to see in one day include: Paradise, Skyline Trail, and Myrtle Falls.
What are the best tips for visiting Mt. Rainier?
If at all possible, take 3 days to see as much of the park as you can. Check the weather report and bring proper clothing, get an early start, pack a lunch and take a water bottle, print a map or have a map saved to your phone, take your time and enjoy the experience.
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