Mt. Rainier is the trip I took this Summer that I have been most excited to write about. It is a unique park to me because it was the one I visited the most growing up. It was also the first park I visited at the end of 2013 when I decided I wanted to see the parks. I had experienced Mt. Rainier in small pieces over the course of thirty years, but this was my first time really getting to know it.
Growing up in sight of Mt. Rainier shaped my idea of what a mountain should be and for years had me calling the mountains in California hills. The surprising thing about Mt. Rainier is that it looks smaller the closer you get. I drove up to Washington in August, said a quick hello to my family and then headed for Mt. Rainier. The park is too big to see in one trip, so I chose to visit the Longmire-Paradise area.
I had my tent set up in Cougar Rock less than two hours after I left home, which made me regret all those years I was so close and yet rarely visited Mt. Rainier. My campsite in Cougar Rock was my favorite in any National Park. The way each site is designed, I felt like I had my own apartment. I was aware of people around me, but rarely saw anyone.
I got an early start the next morning and drove up to Paradise, the name of which I remember even as a kid thinking was over-the-top, but I had never seen it when the wildflowers were in bloom. Now it feels like an appropriate name. I hiked the Skyline Trail, which is deceptively steep. I was walking through wildflowers toward Mt. Rainier when suddenly I was surrounded by snow. At the edge of the wildflowers, I came across a marmot who was too busy eating plants to notice me.
There was a detour high on the trail to avoid a dangerous snow field, but somehow I missed the trail. Not for the first time this Summer. With a little snow hiking and rock scrambling, I was back on the trail again. I decided to take a shortcut back to the visitor center on the Golden Gate Trail and was happy I did. More wildflowers! And beautiful views of the mountain. I came home with 100 pictures that all look the same.
After spending time in so many National Parks, I was surprised by how undeveloped Mt. Rainier is. There are minimal services at Longmire and Paradise.
My mom and step-dad Randy arrived the next morning to spend the day with me. We decided to hike the Carter Falls trail. There are warnings and reminders at the campground that you are on an active volcano, but crossing the Nisqually River at the start of the Carter Falls Trail is what drove it home. You can picture the rivers of mud. The trail continues along Paradise River until you reach Carter Falls. The Falls are beautiful, but the vantage point is not ideal. We still had a great time and my mom was very excited to find out she was briefly on the Wonderland Trail. I was too.
We stopped at Longmire Museum where we learned about Fay Fuller, the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier. I took home a postcard of her for inspiration. That afternoon we sat on the porch at National Park Inn, which is not on the level of Crater Lake, but it still a fine porch. Then we walked the Trail of Shadows, which covers the history of Longmire, before eating dinner at the Inn.
The next morning I went back to Paradise to explore some of the side trails. I followed an unmaintained trail so I could get even more pictures that all looked exactly the same. Next I headed to Reflection Lakes. I knew why the area was called Reflection Lakes, but somehow was still surprised to see the mountain so perfectly reflected.
I was planning my return trip while we were still on the porch in Longmire, so I will be back.