Discover Washington: Mount Rainier | The Seattle Times
An active volcano 14,410 feet above sea level. The highest restaurant in the state. Wildlife, views and flowers. And plenty of places to sleep, whether you dream of an A-frame Airbnb shaded by the forest or a chic-rustic cabin. This road trip takes you to Mount Rainier, the region’s premier natural destination.
As the snow recedes on Mount Rainier, visitors advance – and the crowds are likely to swell this summer. Consider getting a head start on bookings now, as bookings this spring have so far been higher than normal. One of the many benefits of being a Washington state resident is that your location allows you to quickly visit Mount Rainier on weekdays or arrive early in the morning or later in the day.
Start the day at Crystal Mountain Resort, located 132 miles southeast of Seattle, for a first view of Mount Rainier and the first hike of the day. Starting May 28, visitors can take a quick ride on the cherry red gondola from Mount Rainier at 2,400 feet to the top of Crystal Mountain (Friday-Sunday in June and daily in July and August). On board, keep an eye out for eagles, lupine, and magenta brushed wildflowers, as well as mountain dwellers such as foxes, black-tailed deer, and Roosevelt’s elk.
At the top, refuel at Washington’s highest restaurant – 6,872 feet, to be exact. Hot dishes at Summit House Restaurant include truffle fries; wild game chili with bison, elk and beef; and veggie wraps with arugula and chickpea and black bean curry. On a clear day, meals are served with a view of Cascade Mountain – including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Mount St. Helens.
It is possible to descend via the hiking trails, while keeping an eye out for a squealing yellow-bellied marmot (also known as a ‘whistling pig’) or a moose looking for lunch (no, don’t. give him none of your leftovers).
The resort also hosts horse riding and an 18-hole disc golf course. And in July, Crystal Sky Camp will open as a 6,000-foot-high glamping experience, complete with canvas tents, king-size beds, hot showers, and a wood-burning stove. Public bookings are limited to special event weekends only – for example, the next July 4th.
The four main entrances to Mount Rainier offer peak passages: Carbon River, the northwest of the mountain; White River / Sunrise northeast; Stevens Canyon to the southeast; and Nisqually to the southwest.
Entrance openings depend on the state of the mountain pass road, which can vary from day to day. White River / Sunrise along State Route 410 / Chinook Pass is the closest Mount Rainier entrance to Crystal Mountain and provides access to the mountain’s winding roads, as well as flatter hikes and open grasslands for those who prefer an easier walk. However, accessibility may be limited as long as the roads are not snow-covered.
One of the main draws on Mount Rainier is the day-long hiking trails, and they range from gentle hikes suitable for young families to stays of several miles. Hikers can choose from a menu of sites, including 1,000-year-old trees (at Grove of the Patriarchs Loop), hot springs, over 150 photogenic waterfalls, mountain views, glaciers, rainforests, lakes, flower fireworks and even the occasional mountain goat. The Washington Trails Association and Visit Rainier are good sources of information regarding the selection of hikes, taking into account the age, abilities and abilities of your group.
Summer hikers are treated to the vibrant wildflowers that bloom in the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier, due to the short growing and breeding season at higher elevations. White, yellow, purple and pink flowers blanket the green meadows as the snow melts and the trees recede along the top of the mountain. Check out the National Park Service’s Wildflower Status page for what’s coming up, as well as the NPS Tree Checklist for Forest Hikes.
Winding roads connect Hwy 410 to Hwy 123 to Stevens Canyon Road (bring a paper map or download one offline). Along the way, you can pass the national park campgrounds. They offer one of the more affordable approaches to a mountain holiday – but it’s a bit of a competitive sport when it comes to reservations. The largest campground, Ohanapecosh, opens at the end of May.
Indeed, part of the charm and excitement of visiting Mount Rainier is sawing logs on a sleepy volcano. At around 5,400 feet above sea level amid subalpine meadows, the 121-room Paradise Inn is slated to reopen at the end of May. Built in 1916 and recently renovated, the hotel features modern amenities like telephones and internet. But there’s no need to scroll through Buzzfeed lists when a hiking trail hatch is literally outside the hostel’s door.
Paradise is also home to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, the largest center in the national park. When open, the Visitor Center offers information on the geology, flora and fauna of the mountain, as well as a short film on Mount Rainier. While visitor centers are currently closed due to COVID-19, park rangers are stationed outside the Jackson Visitor Center on weekends and can offer advice on hiking options and other information. .
Heading back down the mountain, the 1880s Longmire Museum is located at the southwest entrance to Nisqually at 2,700 feet (check opening hours). At the foot of the mountain, the 25-room National Park Inn is currently open in Ashford. Like Paradise Inn, it’s very, very rustic – no TV, phone, or internet – in keeping with its early 20th-century origins as a split-cedar two-story hotel.
Note: Accessibility of roads and features of Mount Rainier may vary with seasons and COVID-19 restrictions, and you will need a National Park pass. Refer to the Road Condition page for what’s open and what’s not, and check out live mountain webcams for weather and parking. Cell phone coverage can range from spotty to non-existent, so be prepared by downloading maps offline before you go. Wear masks when entering hotels, restaurants, and businesses, and don’t surrender if you are sick.
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