Mount Rainier National Park
The last destination on our family trip was Mount Rainier National Park, which is located just a bit to north of Mount St. Helens. Mount Rainier is a gigantic, snow-capped stratovolcano that towers over the landscape and can clearly be seen from the Seattle-Tacoma area. At 14411 feet/4392 meters, it’s the tallest mountain in Washington, and the most prominent mountain in the contiguous United States. The area surrounding the mountain was designated as US’ fifth national park in 1892.
We entered the national park through the Nisqually entrance on the southwest. The $15 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week. Our first stop in the park was Longmire, which has some museum exhibits on the history of the area, and a small inn operated by the National Park Service. Longmire is in the middle of the forest, and one can barely see the top of Mount Rainier from the parking lot. From Longmire, the road starts to wind its way up the mountain, giving increasing better views of the massive, snow-covered peak. Once again, the weather was beautiful throughout the day. There was only one brief period where a cloud got itself stuck on Rainier’s peak, but otherwise it was clean and clear.
The main point of attraction is the aptly-named Paradise, an area located on the south slope of the mountain. At some 5400 feet above sea level, Paradise is probably the highest location I’ve been to so far. Amenities at Paradise include a visitor center and an upscale, historic inn known called the Paradise Inn which is usually booked up months in advance. The chief attraction though is a system of paved trails that runs through the beautiful sub-alpine wildflower meadows with Mount Rainier’s snowy peak in the backdrop. At this elevation, tree growth is stunted and give way to large variety of wildflowers that populate the meadow. Even in late July there was some remnant snow on the ground, but most of the trails were clear. When we visited, some of the wildflowers were blooming, but it didn’t look quite as colorful overall as the tourist brochures. Perhaps visiting a week or two later would have led to more flowers. Still, Mount Rainier’s sub-alpine meadow was a picturesque and serene place to take a little hike. The best photo spot is the one that features Myrtle Falls flowing with the snowy peak in the backdrop.
After a short hike and a short film at the visitor center, we made our way down the mountain and towards the east. There weren’t too many people at Paradise when we arrived in the morning, but by noon the nearby parking lots were full and people had to start parking on the road leading down the mountain. On a busy day, one might have to walk half an hour uphill to get to Paradise due to parking on the road. Driving down the mountain on the Steven Canyon Road was a bit harrowing, since the road was narrow, had tight curves, had no railings and so one wrong move and you can fly off into the canyon. The only way to do get down safely was to drive slowly and carefully.
On the way down the mountain we stopped by Reflections Lake, which we heard was one of the best photo spots in the park because on a nice day you can get a reflection of Mount Rainier on the lake. While the weather was nice, unfortunately it was a little windy, and the waves on the surface dashed any chance of the postcard style reflection photo.
The last area of the park we visited was the Grove of the Patriarchs near the Stevens Canyon entrance. The Grove of the Patriarchs is a patch of old growth forest that has some of the biggest and oldest trees in Washington. The trail there goes into the forest, across a narrow, bouncy footbridge into the Grove where some ancient and massive Douglas-firs and western red-cedars can be accessed with a wooden loop trail. When we visited, many of the large ancient trees have fallen due to storms or old age, but some of these giants still stand tall. Standing beside these trees makes us feel really small.
After visiting the ancient trees, we headed up north out of the park through Route 410 out of the park. There is the Sunrise area on the eastern side of Mount Rainier which is the highest elevation that cars can drive up to in the park, but we were short on time. I’ll probably visit Sunrise if I ever go to Mount Rainier National Park again.
That’s all the highlights of my family trip down to Oregon and Washington. It was a fun trip. We visited some great places that we’ve never been to before, and it’s always nice to be able to spend time with family. There are other places in the two state we would have liked to have visit, but didn’t have the time. I would love to go to Seattle and Tacoma, particularly the Museum of Flight in Seattle. I also never been on top of the Space Needle. In Oregon, there is Crater Lake National Park and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and also the beautiful seaside communities. Hopefully I’ll be back in the area to see some new sights.
My time back on Pacific Northwest in the summer was a fun and enjoyable experience. I wish I had time back home in the summer every year, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen. After two weeks of mostly traveling and relaxation, it’s time to go back to work. I definitely have to put some work in if I want to graduate next year, and I’ll be focusing on getting my research. Of course, all work and no play is not a good way to live, so I’ll probably take some short outings in the area around my university just to spice things up.