I’m starting to feel like one day is not enough time to spend in a national park. Scratch that—I KNOW one day is not enough time for a national park! Unfortunately, though, sometimes one day is all the time we have to devote to a park, and I’m not going to not go just because I don’t have more time! (Too many negatives? Sorry!) So on my trip to the Pacific Northwest earlier this summer, we carved out one day for a park, and chose Mount Rainier! Don’t expect this to be an all-inclusive guide to the whole park (or god forbid the mountain—I don’t even know how to hike in snow yet, much less summit one of the tallest mountains in America. Baby steps, you guys). That being said, we had a great time at this park and I have a few tidbits of information to share, and lots of photos!!
Confession time: I can’t stop eating donuts. If you had asked me two months ago, I would have told you that I didn’t even like donuts. What is happening to me?! Ever since I came home from the Pacific Northwest, I have been going out of my way to find donuts when I am out and about. Remember that time I went to Savannah last month? I picked an interstate exit at which to stop for gas based on whether or not there would be donuts available. I wasn’t all that excited to visit Voodoo Doughnuts when I visited Portland, but that place broke me.
Picking up from where we left off in Portland, we had had a full day of adventures in downtown Portland, visited the Japanese Gardens in Washington Park, and then had a raucous night with new friends at Brewcycle. The following morning, we woke up somewhat later than planned (because we stayed out somewhat later than planned the night before), and shook off sleep in order to hit the road for our next adventure! Unfortunately hitting the road was much more of an ordeal than we anticipated…not only did we have to ride the rails (aka public transit) to get to the car we were borrowing, we then stopped for gas and picnic supplies, and by the time we were actually headed toward Washington on interstate 5, two hours had slipped by. Yikes. While I had allowed for time for the drive to the park, I didn’t realize how much time we would eat up simply trying to get out of Portland that morning, so our arrival at the park was later than the morning time, which I had originally intended. Nevertheless, I was prepared to make the most of our day in this snowy subalpine region, whether or not we had time for a long hike!
We entered Mount Rainier National Park through the Nisqually Entrance in the Southwest region of the park. The very first thing we did was drive as far as possible in order to scope out the park and decide where we wanted to land! We visited in early May—this is important to know! When researching this park, many seasonal operations list May as the beginning of their season, but beware! We can’t control the weather, so May may not host the same amount of inter-park possibilities as later summer. Our drive ended at Paradise, which was far from what the name implies!
Starting from the Nisqually Entrance, we passed through Longmire on our ascent. We then crossed over the absolutely beautiful Glacier Bridge, which has a view of the Nisqually Glacier on a clear day. Unfortunately the weather was foggy, rainy, and snowy for our visit, but we still enjoyed what we could of the views! The terrain began to change drastically as we continued to drive, from the thick, lush (and wet) forests surrounding Longmire, to walls and walls of snow! Never in my life have I ever seen so much snow! It actually made me a little uneasy to be surrounded by so much snow…that, and the signs warning against possible avalanches. Double yikes.
Is Paradise really paradise?
Giddy with the delight of surrounding snow mountains, we hopped out of the car upon arrival at the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center. We quickly realized, though, that we wouldn’t be entering the center that day. SO MUCH SNOW, you guys! I’m not going to chalk this one up as a fail, because the drive up to Paradise was worth it, and there were restrooms available in the parking lot! I had been wearing a t-shirt under my thin sweater and rain jacket, and changed into a long sleeve t-shirt in the restroom. Not only was it very chilly out, but I was also wet. Wet, cold, and loving every minute of this park—surprises and all! Most accommodations at Mount Rainier are only open seasonally, starting in June. The visitor center at Paradise, however, is open on weekends in the off-season. Most information is available on the national parks website, and I highly recommend checking for road and trail conditions before or during your trip to the park!
Paradise is the park’s hub for all things wintery. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tubing are popular activities in this region. One of the two lodges in the park, Paradise Inn, is also located here. So after stopping in the parking lot and catching some snowflakes on our tongues, we hopped back in the car to warm up, and begin our descent back to Longmire.
Van Trump Trail
We had taken our time on our way to Paradise, stopping to take photos (and yes, I got out of the car on the bridge!), but spent even more time on our return. This time we were looking for possible hiking opportunities. It was already late afternoon, but I was determined to get as much out of this park as I could in the limited time that we had! The trailhead for the Van Trump Trail is on the left side of the road headed toward Paradise and has very, very limited parking. Since we visited on a weekday during off-season, this wasn’t an issue, but it can be a problem during the summer. This trail is 3.8 miles round trip to Comet Falls, but continues past the falls to Trump Peak if you’re interested in a longer hike (the peak adds about two more miles onto a round trip hike). The trail is named for P.B. Van Trump, who is one of the first documented people to stand on the summit of Mount Rainier.
Due to our lack of time (and hunger pangs), we decided not to hike all the way to the falls. There was snow on the trail, and we wanted to be able to see more of the park rather than spend all evening on this trail. However, when I one day return to Mount Rainier, this is a hike I would like to complete!
Lunch at Longmire
I spotted picnic tables and restrooms near Longmire museum, so we set up camp for lunch! I say lunch, but it was almost more like an early dinner, since we were reaching the late afternoon. Learning from my mistake at Rocky Mountain National Park, I made sure we had way more food than necessary, and plenty of water! We checked out the small museum and general store, which are both walking distance from the National Park Inn, which is the only lodging in the park that is open year-round. The Wilderness Information Center is also nearby, but was closed during our visit. The famed Wonderland Trail, which winds around Mount Rainier for 93 miles, crosses through this area. If you were to stay at the National Park Inn, you would only have to walk out the front door in order to embark on a Wonderland Trail journey!
Kautz Creek Trail
After lunch, we ventured to the Kautz Creek Trail, which has a pretty sizable parking lot, especially when compared to the parking at Van Trump. We crossed the road to reach the trailhead, which begins with a nice, short boardwalk to a viewpoint. As I mentioned before, our visit was very cloudy so we were never able to actually see Mount Rainier! We stopped and pretended we could see something at the viewpoint anyway, before hiking on. Kautz Creek Trail leads to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground and is 11.5 miles round trip. The trail follows Kautz Creek for a mile, before crossing over the creek into an old growth forest. There is a steep climb for about two miles up to the south flank of Mount Ararat, before reaching the final destination. We obviously did not complete this trail either.
We did hike about a mile before losing daylight and turning around. Kautz Creek trail was so lush and green! The trees were tall, and every turn brought some new, cool tree or plant. Even though we weren’t able to get a view of the mountain, we had so much fun taking photos of all the beautiful greenery! I’m a huge sucker for magnificent, sweeping views (I still can’t get over Rocky Mountain), but at Mount Rainier we were so drawn in by all the gorgeous details that surrounded us with every step. I knew I loved mountains, but I didn’t know that Mount Rainier would make me fall in love with trees!
Onto the Next City
We trekked back to the car and knew that it was time to say goodbye to this place. The plan was to get dinner in Seattle that evening, but we had long since discarded that idea in order to spend more time in the Washington wilderness! After one last stop at the entrance, we were headed north to Seattle. I had so much fun on my visit to Mount Rainier National Park, but I feel like I hardly got to see any of it, and I am itching to get back to the Pacific Northwest for more adventures! I got to dip my toes into the ocean that is the west coast, and I am actively preparing for a future visit to the Northwest, and hoping to include more time at Mount Rainier in the plans!
Have you been to Mount Rainier National Park? Do you have a favorite trail in the park? Please share any tips you have for my next trip!