Located only 1.5 hours from Seattle, Mt. Rainier National Park was our nation's 4th National Park and was created in 1899. Named for the highest mountain in the Cascade Mountain Range - Mount Rainier stands tall at 14,410 feet and is the focal point of one of our nation's most beautiful National Parks. Visiting this park in any season is true delight but visiting Mount Rainier National Park while there is still snow on the ground provides for a unique and rewarding experience for those that choose to visit during the off-season. We spent a day exploring the sights from the Nisqually Entrance to Paradise to Reflection Lake during the month of May and wow - what a spectacular day trip! Bright blue skies, crisp cool air and glistening white snow provided for an amazing day of exploring Mount Rainier National Park.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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 May weekend still involved about a 15 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. Entering from the Nisqually entrance, a log arch built in 1911 welcomes you to Mount Rainier National Park and is the only park entrance that stays open year round.
Driving thru the park you will enjoy numerous views of the mighty Nisqually River. Originating from the Nisqually Glacier on the south side of Mount Rainier this river provides for some stunning scenery throughout Mount Rainier National Park. Flowing west to the towns of Elbe and Ashford outside the boundaries of the National Park - the river connects into the Puget Sounds 81 miles downriver.
One of the most beautiful sites in Mount Rainier National Park is the stunning 176 foot Narada Falls. Reached by a short but steep walk, the viewpoint can be tough to access during the non-summer months as snow usually remains on the ground until late May. We happened to visit in May and yes there was plenty of snow still on the ground - making for a slippery, quite treacherous walk down to the overlook. I would not recommend this for most people if there is snow on the ground! We definitely ended up on our bottoms a few times as we made our way down! A little pain equaled huge gain though as the snow surrounding Narada Falls was a stunning site to take in!
For the highlight of our day, we arrived to Paradise - Mount Rainier National Park's most popular area. Complete with a Visitor Center, Paradise Inn, Paradise Ranger Station and the Paradise Climbing Information Center, this area is truly spectacular and offers break-taking views of Mt. Rainier. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center was built in 2008 and offers a great place to stop and learn a bit about the history and geology of the area through the displays and exhibits or take in a short video about the park if you have the time. Depending on the time of year - the Visitor Center also offers a place to come inside and warm up while you enjoy the mountain views thru it's massive windows. Visiting in May provided us with a different experience than we've previously enjoyed in the summer while visiting Paradise - normally the area is perfect for various levels of hiking - on this visit it was all about the snow! With the area still covered in snow - we had a blast playing in the snow and enjoying the winter views of the area. It was even so warm on this Spring day we didn't even need a jacket - snowball fights and no jacket needed - fun times!
Our last stop of the day inside Mount Rainier National Park was Reflection Lakes. Named for the lakes that typically reflect Mount Rainier, with the snow still present there was definitely no reflection but the views over the snowy expanse were still stunning! In the winter this area makes for a great place to do some snowshoeing both around and across the lake. When we visited in May, the lake itself was just starting to thaw. If you happen to visit this area in the summer months - try to arrive early as Reflection Lakes is very popular and finding a parking spot can be very difficult.
TOWN OF ELBE
Home to about 50 permanent residents, the town of Elbe is a great place to pair with a visit to Mount Rainier National Park. Railroad enthusiasts will love this small town that was once home to the Mt. Rainier Railroad. Today you can enjoy a meal inside an old train at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Co. or even spend a night in a caboose at the Hobo Inn. Sadly the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum which used to run train rides through the area is currently closed - it is unknown at this time if they will open back up - but fingers crossed they can bring back this historic train ride.
Interested in planning your own trip to Mount Rainier National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Spend a snowy Spring day in Mount Rainier National Park: Enter the park via the Nisqually Entrance, stop at the overlooks along the road to take in the views of the Nisqually River, take the small walk down to see Narada Falls, arrive to Paradise - stop by the Visitor Center then play around in the snow! Last stop of the day - visit Reflection Lakes.