My daughter and I were fortunate enough to be able to be spend 2 weeks traveling the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2019. The majority of the trip we had no agenda but to seek out adventure wherever we could find it.
The one thing that we had planned out though, was visiting Mount Rainier National Park. We always knew we were going to end our trip here so we made sure to book our hotel in advance.
There are several entrances to get into the park but we took the way that passed through Yakima, WA. Yakima Valley is very fertile and known for its miles and miles of wineries and apple orchards. It was a beautiful drive through the valley. We also stopped at a local farmer’s market pop-up tent to stock up on apples and fresh produce to snack on.
Before entering the actual park we wanted to channel our inner Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) and hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail! The PCT is a long distance hiking trail, stretching over 2,600 miles along the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain range.
We took the trail head at Chinook Pass Overlook, a quarter mile loop where we gazed on some of the best views of wildflowers you will ever see.
Once we entered the park we headed toward Paradise, famous for its breath-taking views and wildflower covered meadows.
On the drive toward Paradise, make sure to check out Reflections Lake. It’s worth the 3 mile drive to see one of the most photographed areas in the park. There is a nice 2.75 mile moderate hiking loop that will give great views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
The visitor’s center and Paradise Inn is also located in this area. I would recommend checking out both and talking to the guides at the visitor center who can recommend different hikes and trails at your level. There is a nice gift shop located upstairs at both the visitors center and the inn. The inn also has a nice lounge where you can grab a beer and enjoy a great view of Mt Rainier. Parking can be slim, so be prepared to wait for a spot.
Since we only had the weekend to explore the park, we decided to do a lot of short distance hiking trails for the majority of our trip.
Near the Paradise Inn, we took the Nisqually Vista Trail, which is a nearly mile long loop trail. We had a great view of Nisqually Glacier and caught glimpses of some awesome wildlife.
We then took a nearby trail to Myrtle Falls (wheel chair accessible), a short out and back trail. This trail offered one of the most breathtaking views we came across on our journey.
Another trail close to the inn is the Alta Vista Trail, a 1.8 mile loop that has gorgeous views of the river. It is easy to combine these small hikes together and they are all close to the inn and visitors center. These trails are usually heavily trafficked.
The Trail of Shadows is an easy loop trail a little under a mile that takes you through a beautiful forest. The trail head is across from the Longmire Ranger Station, which was a cute place to check out if you have time.
The trail gives you a rich history lesson on the Longmire family that once settled there. There were many natural hot springs which attracted many people for centuries from all over the world, hoping the springs would heal their ailments. As a result, The Longmire family built a resort here to house all of these travelers.
Here on the trail you pass an old cabin that has been restored where the staff once stayed before the family ended up selling everything to the park. Look out for frogs! Two types, the Pacific tree frog and coastal tailed frogs habitat here. On this trail you will get a nice teaser of the Pacific NW fauna that you will soon be in awe with.
Christine Falls and Narada Falls are two of the prettiest and most easily accessible waterfalls in the whole park. If you’re not much of a hiker but still like to enjoy nature, these falls are for you.
To get to Christine Falls, take the Nisqually entrance of the park and drive 10.7 miles just past the Comet Falls trailhead to a small parking area. A short set of stairs leads to the falls overlook.
Gypsy Mama Bear Tip:
- If you plan to hike the Comet Falls Trail, then you will pass these falls on your hike to so I would recommend doing these in one visit.
The Narada Falls are just 3.3 miles further down. We hiked in a small picnic and enjoyed lunch gazing at the falls. Remember, parking can be sparse but there is a nice viewpoint and short trail for the full view of the falls (just be careful, it can be wet and slippery).
Twin Firs Loop Trail– A MUST SEE! It’s a short, easy 0.4 mile loop the whole family could do and trust me, it is worth it! You will get a kink in your neck from looking up so often at the mighty evergreen trees.
You will leave being a true tree hugger! My daughter and I couldn’t link hands hugging the trees, they were so big (I wonder how many people it would take?!).
Take a deep breath on the hike and smell all that cedar! Lots of beautiful ferns to look at as well to make this one an instant favorite. From the Nisqually entrance of the park drive just past the Kautz Creek trailhead and facilities to the Twin Firs Trailhead, on the left side of the road.
Comet Falls & Van Trump Park Trail. – Comet Falls is a 4 mile round trip hike, but if you continue on to Van Trump Park Trail, another 2 miles is added.
The whole hike there are stunning view of multiple waterfalls and wildlife. There is also a neat log bridge that crosses Bloucher Falls, which in itself is a real treat. Once you get to that log bridge…keep going, you’re almost to the grand finale…Comet Falls!
These are heavily trafficked areas but the trail never gets crowded. In fact, we had Comet Falls to ourselves for a while. If the parking lot is full there’s no additional parking nearby so you have to time this one perfectly.
Comet falls is one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring waterfalls and was accompanied by a gorgeous rainbow.
If you choose to keep hiking on to Van Trump Park Trail, you will get an awesome view of the peak of Mount Rainier.
Once you get to the end of Van Trump, there is a sign that indicates end of the trail.
You can continue on past the point of maintained trail to continue up the mountain toward the summit. We hiked to the snow line but decided against going any further because we did not pack in a heavy coat or crampons to hike on the ice.
Once you see the peak, turn around and you can also spot Mount St. Helens. It was so neat seeing two historic mountains on one trip. We had a nice picnic in an area that was not maintained, but it gets a bit chilly so bring a jacket.
There are multiple entrances to the park and simply driving the main roads have wonderful views of Mt. Rainier and other gorgeous scenic outlooks. Driving through the park would be great for your first day to get to know the layout of the park or your last day once your legs are tired from hiking.. There are lots of pull-offs and photo opportunities, but again, parking can be an issue on busy summer weekends.
We stayed at a cute bed and breakfast right outside the park called Alexander’s Lodge. It had a very charming outdoor area, great breakfast, friendly staff and they even have an urt you can stay in. There was a cute local restaurant called Copper Creek that we ended up going to for two nights in a row .
Mt. Rainier National Park is filled with adventures! The variety of trails will take you to stunning waterfalls, meadows of wildflowers, snowy mountain peaks and giant evergreen forests. Whether you enjoy hiking, photography, sightseeing, history or nature, there is something unique here for everyone! What will your adventure be?
Gypsy Mama Bear Tip:
- Summer weekends are the park’s busiest times. To avoid crowds, I would recommend exploring during the weekdays. Off-seasons would be good too, but the park gets a ton of snow fall so certain areas may be closed.
Every good and perfect gift is from above. James 1:17
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