Mt. Rainier - the highest peak in Washington State stands tall at 14,410 feet and is the focal point of one our nations most beautiful National Parks - Mt. Rainier National Park. Visiting this park in any season is true delight but fall is actually our favorite! Colorful golden leaves, crisp cool air, gorgeous mountain views and multiple waterfalls provide for a spectacular day trip. Below is how we spent a beautiful fall day exploring Mt. Rainier National Park - specifically the the west side of the park from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire to Christine Falls.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
NISQUALLY ENTRANCE TO KAUTZ CREEK
Entering thru the Nisqually Entrance (which is the west entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park) can involve quite a wait, depending on when you visit the park. In the summer months, the lines can be hours long to enter the park. For us, visiting on an sunny October weekend still involved about a 45 minute wait to enter the park. To avoid these wait times, try and visit on a weekday or get there super in the early in the morning. After waiting, we were super excited to begin exploring! Our first stop of the day was at Kautz Creek. This beautiful spot involves a short trail that provide your first views of Mt. Rainier upon entering the park. The Kautz Creek Nature Trail not only provides beautiful views, but provides for some great informational exhibits about the area. For those wanting a longer trail, the Kautz Creek Trail also connects out to longer trails such as the Mirror Lake Trail, the Wonderland Trail or Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.
TWIN FIRS TRAIL
Next stop of the day was of the Twin Firs Trail - this 0.4 mile walk provides for a quick introductory walk thru the old-growth forests found in Mt. Rainier National Park. Look for giant douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar as you walk this short but scenic trail. To visit more of these giant trees - visit the Grove of the Patriarchs of the east side of the park. To read more about visiting the east side of Mt. Rainier National Park - Click Here.
TRAIL OF THE SHADOWS
Continuing on, we stopped next at the Trail of the Shadows. This 0.7 mile loop trail also offers numerous informational exhibits along the way and offers a great family friendly walk filled with a bit of history of the area. Dating back to the 1890s, forty-nine springs were discovered in the Longmire area, and travelers flocked to the historic, now gone Longmire Springs Hotel to soak in the thought to be 'therapeutic' hot springs. Today, the hotel is now gone, only a sign remains. As you continue walking the loop trail you will pass numerous springs and even the oldest structure within Mt. Rainier National Park - the Longmire Cabin. This small one room cabin was once used by the staff that worked at the Longmire Springs Hotel. This area is also a great place to see wildlife, we were lucky enough spot a couple of deer along the trail!
Named for James Longmire who first homesteaded and ran the Longmire Springs Hotel here, this area was the initial headquarters for the park when it became a National Park in 1899.
Today, the original headquarters that were first built in 1916 houses the Longmire Museum where you can learn more about the history of the area. In addition, the Longmire area includes the Wilderness Information Center which offers wilderness permits and backcountry camping information and for those looking for lodging within Mt. Rainier National Park, the National Park Inn is open year round and is one of two hotel found within the park. Also of interest in Longmire is the Longmire Suspension Bridge - first built int 1920, this bridge used to lead to the Longmire campground which today is no longer in use. Today the bridge provides great views around the Nisqually River and provides access to park administrative buildings.
CARTER FALLS & MADCAP FALLS
Home to over 150 waterfalls - Mt. Rainier National Park is a waterfalls enthusiast's dream! Many are over 300 feet tall and are either easily accessed close to a roadside or can be hiked out to via differing lengths of trails. We choose to spend the bulk of our day hiking the Carter Falls and Madcap Falls Trail. This three mile roundtrip hike with 660 feet in elevation was a super fun hike that included two waterfalls, and a fun (although slightly icy) log footbridge over the Nisqually River. At the start of the hike, you will first cross the Nisqually River - the views upriver toward Mt. Rainier provide a scenic view as you start your hike. The bridge over the river tends to wash out quite frequently during the late fall into winter months - so make sure the log footbridge is intact before you start this hike. As we were hiking late in the fall, the bridge itself was slightly icy in some areas and we had to be extra careful crossing! Especially as we were hiking with our three year old son! Once across the bridge, walking along the trail was an explosion of color! The yellow, orange and red of the autumn leaves created a beautiful scene along the Paradise River as we made our way to the waterfalls. Upon reaching Carter Falls, spend sometime enjoying the 53 foot waterfall - even if it is slightly covered by trees. Then continue onto Mapcap Falls, this 34 foot waterfall is only about 100 feet above Carter Falls and should definitely be included with any hike out to Carter Falls.
Possibly one of the prettiest waterfalls you will ever see - Christine Falls on Van Trump Creek is an absolute must when visiting Mt. Rainier National Park. After finishing our hike to Carter Falls and Madcap Falls, we decided to end our day by visiting Christine Falls. The view of the lower falls is framed by the Christine Falls Bridge and provides for absolutely gorgeous picture taking opportunities. The entire waterfall is about 69 feet tall, but is broken into two separate sections of 32 feet and 37 feet. There is a small amount of parking on either side of the bridge at Christine Falls, the upper falls can be viewed from on top of the bridge and to see the lower falls walk down the short path to the viewpoint below the bridge. The views are breath-taking! Also note-worthy is the small un-named falls that are right along the road as you are parking near Christine Falls. These falls are worth a quick picture as you can stand right next to them and feel the misty spray - on the day we visited, the small roadside falls was actually starting to ice over for the winter providing for a unique icy view!
Interested in planning your own trip to Mt. Rainier National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
One Day in Mt. Rainier National Park: Enter thru the Nisqually Entrance, stop at Kautz Creek Trail, quick walk at Twin Firs Trail (0.4 miles), hike the Trail of the Shadows (0.7 miles), stop and explore around the Longmire area (National Park Inn, Longmire Museum, Longmire Suspension Bridge), hike to Carter Falls and Madcap Falls (3 miles), end day at Christine Falls.