“Of all the fire-mountains, which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest in form.” – John Muir, 1906.
The drive from Nisqually at the southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park leads through a thick forest. Although trees will be our first impression of this park, we fully expect Mount Rainier to dominate it. Arriving at Cougar Rock Campground we found a new pay system that enables campers to pay campsite fees by swiping a credit card at the kiosk without the need to designate any particular site number. We could pay for however many days we wanted on the way in and then go pick a site, as opposed to picking a site and then returning to pay. Seemed efficient to us. This was also the first campground where we nearly wrecked the camper due to some significantly sharp turns and huge tree trunks – beware navigating these loops!
After setting up camp we headed to the Longmire Museum to obtain some information about the park and to plan our visit. Perusing through the park newspaper we found this amusing tidbit: “While limited recreational marijuana is now legal in Washington State, possession of any amount of marijuana or other legal drugs remain illegal in Mount Rainier National Park and all federal lands.” Don’t mess with the National Park Service!
Next we set out for the visitor center at Paradise, considered to be the most popular destination for visitors. For good reason as it offers some of the best scenery in the park along with a nice view of Mount Rainier from the parking lot if it is a clear day. Parking is limited, FYI.
Although the weather at Mount Rainer can change rapidly and unpredictably bringing clouds and fog the sun shone brightly and the sky was clear as we hiked the Skyline Loop via the High Skyline Trail. It’s 5.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1700 feet. A very intense 1700 feet, we might add!
But the views! Well sometimes you just have to experience it to fully appreciate the grandeur of nature. Mount Rainer, Nisqually Glacier, the Tatoosh Range, the Muir Snowfield, snow bridges, valleys, streams, an abundance of wily marmots, rock clusters, wildflowers and lakes and on and on. If you only have time for one hike in Mount Rainier any of the trails from the Sunrise Visitor center will suffice! Panorama Point is a destination on its own, but we headed even higher on the Skyline Trail to stand on the trail head to Camp Muir to ponder the climbers that attempt to and reach the 14,410 foot summit of Mount Rainier imagining that one day perhaps that feat might be ours.
The descent took us into some beautiful meadows covered in wildflowers and then over a bridge to absorb the clear waters of Myrtle Falls with a Mount Rainier back drop.
Later in the day we drove over to the Sunrise visitor center which is the highest point in the park that can be reached by vehicle, and where we were able to view the eastern much more glaciated and snowy side of the mountain. Mount Rainer has the largest number of glaciers on a single peak anywhere in the contiguous United States, including Emmons Glacier, which is its largest glacier by area. We realized that our afternoon visit could have been better (for pictures!) if we had arrived earlier in the day and paid a little more attention to the name “Sunrise”. On the way back to camp we stopped for a short trip to Reflection Lakes. Another wow.
Up next: Crater Lake National Park