Encased in more than 35 square miles of snow and ice and originally known as “Tahoma” to the Klickitat Indians, Mount Rainier is the most beautiful backdrop any national park could hope for. “The mountain is out” takes on special meaning with your very first glimpse of the highest peak in the Cascade Mountain Range. Seeing the summit can prove elusive at times since magnificent Mount Rainier makes its own unpredictable weather.
Mount Rainier is also an active volcanic peak, but thankfully there’s no indication it will erupt any time soon. But even when molten lava is not a concern, Mother Nature can still inflict damage. In late 2006, fierce winter storms caused disastrous flooding, landslides, and closed many roads in the park. It took a while, but most of the damage has been repaired. Some of the campgrounds are now short a few sites, and one campground was completely lost because of the washouts, but your experience won’t be dampened-nothing can tarnish those stunning views of the 14,410-foot mountain.
More than 140 miles of road loop through the park, so there’s always a waterfall, lake, or mountain vista ahead. Take advantage of the many roadside parking areas and hiking trails to admire the views, snap photos, and watch deer and marmots nibbling their dinner. Even if you stay at one of the park’s campgrounds (reservations strongly suggested for both RV and tent sites) and don’t need a room or a restaurant meal, stop at the National Park Inn anyway-just for the view. The wide covered front porch is a good place to admire the evening alpenglow on the south face of Mount Rainier. The porch’s rustic, yet comfy chairs are made for lingering as long as you’d like. A museum and a well-stocked gift shop are next to the Inn.
Paradise is not only a state of mind at Mount Rainier National Park, it’s a real destination! Perched at an elevation of 5,400 feet, panoramas from Paradise are incredible on a clear day-the snowy summit seems close enough to touch! Originally built in 1917, historic Paradise Inn’s rustic interior and furnishings are simplistically beautiful. Huge stone fireplaces at either end of the spacious lobby make warming up on chilly day a real pleasure. The recently renovated upstairs guest rooms are small, and in the European tradition, most have a shared bath and shower down the hall, but the views and the ambiance can’t be beat. Paradise’s fine dining restaurant is a welcome treat after a long day of hiking, and the gift shop is filled with unique Northwest art and other souvenirs.
The brand new Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise opened in October 2008 and is the best place to learn about the geology, glaciers, flora, fauna, and hiking trails-everything you need to know about Mount Rainier and the surrounding Tatoosh Mountain Range. The new visitor center is more sustainable and less expensive to operate than the former visitor center and includes a book/gift store and snack bar. To get a little closer to the Nisqually Glacier which you might see out the windows, pick up a trail map at the visitor center or ask a park ranger to recommend a trail. Serious mountain climbers attempting the 8+ mile trek with 9,000 feet of elevation gain to Mount Rainier’s summit, team up in Paradise, so you’ll likely see these gear-laden mountaineers in the trails. Plenty of “Don’t be a Meadow Stomper” signs remind everyone to enjoy the lovely wildflower meadows from the paved trails only. The wildflowers are especially abundant in July and August, but so are the crowds.
If first-rate scenery and outdoor recreation are high on your list, you’ll definitely be headed in the right direction if you visit Mount Rainier National Park.