No visit to Southwest Washington would be complete without first addressing the mountain in the room.
No matter where you are in the region, it’s likely you’ll catch a peek of Mount Rainier if you climb high enough as it looms over the Pacific Northwest.
Southwest Washington is a prime gateway to one of the Northwest’s most picturesque and expansive national parks, making Mount Rainier a perfect getaway for those wishing to escape for a prolonged day trip or some extended time with nature.
Of course, the mountain itself is probably the most recognized landmark in all of Washington state, and it’s the background picture on most state license plates for good reason. The 14,410-foot peak is an active volcano that is surrounded by lush forests, alpine meadows and abundant wildlife.
The mountain itself presents quite the challenge for climbers and can test even the most hardened hikers, but most people will be best served to simply visit areas such as Paradise, Longmire and Ohanapecosh and marvel at the enormity and beauty of the peak.
Mount Rainier is part of a scenic region of the Cascades that separates the east and west sides of the state, making the mountain more than just a destination in its own right, but an outdoors haven for anyone whose heart calls the hills and peaks of the region home.
If you’re using the Nisqually entrance, your best bets are going to be a series of short yet scenic hikes. Summertime is perfect for many of the hikes along the Longmire to Paradise corridor due to the alpine wildflowers and beargrass that will bloom.
There are multiple hikes that will take you to areas where wildflowers abound, including the Bench and Snow Lake Trail, which is accessible from Stevens Canyon Road; Lake George, which sits just east of the Nisqually entrance; Pinnacle Peak and Rampart Ridge, which is immensely popular with families and provides a 4.6-mile loop through forests, offering views of the expansive forest below.
A simpler yet equally majestic hike can be taken from the west end of the Paradise parking lot, as the Nisqually Vista Trail takes hikers and casual walkers alike on a trail through flower fields and up to a prime viewing spot for the Nisqually Glacier.
Feeling ultra-adventurous? Grab a backpack, some water, trekking poles and your most rugged hiking gear and take the 8-mile round trip from Paradise to Camp Muir and back. The 10,000-foot mark is the highest you can go on the mountain without a climbing permit. Mind your tracks, though; bring a GPS or compass to orient yourself as getting down is tougher than getting up.
A full list of hikes, along with detailed information on how to obtain a permit for climbing Mount Rainier, is available on the National Park Service’s Mount Rainier website at nps.gov/mora.
While hiking and touring the Mount Rainier region is best reserved for the day, when it comes time to wind down there is no better respite than a place of rest in the outdoors with the stars as a ceiling and the wind and wildlife providing a soundtrack for a night’s sleep.
Mount Rainier National Park offers plenty of resources for campers, from full-service campsites to backcountry areas where the most intrepid outdoorsman can pitch a tent.
The Cougar Rock campground in the southwest section of the park is open from late May to late September, offering 173 campsites; Ohanapecosh in the southeast section offers 188 sites; and White River offers 112 sites. All these campgrounds offer water, restrooms and fire grates; RVs and trailers are welcome, but visit nps.gov/mora for maximum length allowances.
Reservations are also required at Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh.
For those wishing to camp in the wilderness, a permit is required. Pick one up from any of the visitor centers throughout the park.
The 93-mile Wonderland Trail offers opportunities for wilderness camping, offering the opportunity to cache food at several points along the way. Other trails in the high country areas make for pristine camping conditions — but remember, you can’t start fires in the Mount Rainier wilderness.
For a list of maps and other resources with which to plan a camping trip, visitnps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/maps.htm.
Mount Rainier National Park provides several programs led by park rangers designed to inform and educate visitors.
Summertime at Paradise is prime time for several ranger programs, including the following: the Subalpine Saunter, which takes visitors from the visitor center through an exploration of the ecology of the Paradise area; Nisqually Vista Walk, which leads from the visitor center to the area of the Nisqually Glacier; and the Paradise Inn Evening Programs, which offer a smorgasbord of speakers, topics and activities. Ask about those at the Jackson Visitor Center or the Paradise Inn front desk.
Rangers also lead the popular Take a HIKE! With a Ranger program at Longmire, trekking from the Paradise River forest to Carter Falls in an excursion just over two miles.
For visitors checking out the Sunrise and Ohanapecosh areas, evening programs are also offered. Topics vary each night, according to the National Park Service.
From Interstate 5, Mount Rainier is best accessed by taking U.S. Highway 12 to Morton then bearing north on state Route 7. Head north into Elbe, then take state Route 706 east all the way to the park entrance. A National Park Pass is required; for more information visit nps.gov/mora. Additional information can be found online at visitrainier.com.