Beautiful Mount Rainier National Park, located almost in our backyard is a site to behold. Only 1.5 hours from Seattle, this was our nation's 4th National Park and was created in 1899. Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascade Mountain Range and is a popular peak to summit, with over 10,000 people a year giving it a try. While we did not attempt to climb the mountain, we did spend a wonderful three day weekend enjoying this lovely park. As we live so close to Mt. Rainier, we chose to spend our weekend focusing on just the East side of the park - the lesser trod side of the park. We found this area to be equally beautiful, if not more beautiful than the more popular west entrance to Paradise. Here is how we spent our time enjoying this amazing National Park.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
OHANAPECOSH VISITOR CENTER & HOT SPRINGS NATURE TRAIL
Day 1: Find a place to camp! For us we choose to stay outside the park at Packwood RV Park & Campground. This campground provided us with full bathroom and shower facilities that I prefer to have available when tent camping with a young child. With a three year old running around - you never know when a shower might come in handy! If full showers and bathrooms are not important, then I would highly recommend staying at the Ohanapecosh Campground located inside the National Park.
Upon arriving to Mt. Rainier National Park, the first stop we made was at the Ohanapescosh Visitor Center, this is a great place to start out. Read some of the exhibits, talk with the rangers and get your passport stamp! Right from the Visitor Center there is a small trail - the Hot Springs Nature Trail. This is a nice flat, easy 0.4 mile trail that is easy for anyone and takes you out along a small Hot Springs.
After returning from this trail, we headed a bit north into the park to our next stop to see Silver Falls. This short 0.6 mile trail takes you out along the Ohanapecosh River to a great of Silver Falls. This 40 foot high waterfall can be accessed via couple different hikes, but the shortest one is from a small parking spot just south of the Steven's Canyon Rd. From here it's only a 0.6 mile walk - well worth the effort to see this beautiful site!
GROVE OF THE PATRIARCHS TRAIL
Next stop was on the Steven's Canyon Rd at the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail. This 1.1 mile hike is one of the more popular hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park, with little to no elevation gain - it is easy for any level of hiker. Following a wooden boardwalk, this hike crosses the Ohanapecosh River onto an island in the middle of the river where a giant grove of trees stand. These ancient Hemlocks, Douglas Fir and Cedars are thought to be over 1,000 years old and some are over 300 feet tall. On our way back, we stopped to play around a bit in the beautiful Ohanapecosh River - we couldn't resist dipping our feet into this crystal clear water! Although quite cold as it's coming straight from the glacier melt, this didn't deter our son at all who had a blast splashing and throwing rocks here.
After drying off, we continued driving the Stevens Canyon Rd towards Box Canyon - along the way was a beautiful pull off area offering phenomenal views of the Mt. Rainier itself. Our first actual view of the mountain since entering the park earlier in the day. Even as a local who sees views of Mt. Rainier quite often, looking upon this beautiful mountain never gets old! The next stop along Stevens Canyon Rd was Box Canyon. For another quick hike, the Box Canyon Loop Trail (0.5 miles) was another great place to enjoy the beauty of this area. Looking down into the canyon 180 feet below, the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River has carved out this unique narrow canyon.
HWY 410 NEAR CHINOOK PASS
After enjoying the views of this area, we headed back Stevens Canyon Rd towards Hwy 123. Heading North on Hwy 123, we continued up the East side of Mt. Rainier National Park to our 5th and last short hike of the day. Five hikes in a day? No problem at all when they are all super short! Located along the eastern edge of Mt. Rainier National Park near Chinook Pass on Hwy 410, this area is great for just driving and enjoying the scenic views!
Hiking around Tipsoo Lake is an absolute gem! This beautiful sup-alpine lake offers a quick 0.5 mile trail around the shoreline of the lake, with meadows of wildflowers in the summer months and Mt. Rainier looming in the backdrop providing for some amazing scenery! After finishing the hike, make sure to stop at the viewpoint area that overlooks the entire Tipsoo Lake area - absolutely stunning!
Day 2: Venturing just east of Mt. Rainier National Park, we headed to the Crystal Mountain Ski Area for the morning. Located just six miles from the Northeast Entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park, this is a great summer destination to take in the gorgeous mountain views. During the summer months, gondola rides are available with prices ranging from $20-$30, and free for children under the age of 4. After a 10 minute gondola ride to the top, you are met with panoramic views of Mt. Rainier and evens views to distant mountains such as Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Baker on a clear day. Once at the top, enjoy a meal at the Summit House Restaurant, hike one of the numerous trails or just enjoy the views!
NACHES PEAK TRAIL
For the afternoon, we returned back to the Chinook Pass area and hiked the Naches Peak Trail. This 3.2 mile loop trail was our favorite hike while visiting Mt. Rainier. This great trail offers a bit of everything, walk thru a sup-alpine forest, gaze upon meadows of wildflowers, enjoy the view of Dewey Lake below and take in the amazing views of Mt. Rainier. For the best views it is recommended to hike his loop in a clockwise direction allowing for the mountain to be in front of you. Remember though - hiking in Mt. Rainier means you are hiking in bear country. We happened to see a black bear crossing the trail right in front of us. Definitely cool to see, but make sure you give plenty of space and do not approach the bear. It is also recommended to make noises and announce your presence as you hike along these trails - one common way is to just keep saying ' Hey Bear' so that you don't surprise them! Or another option is to hike with a toddler - EVERYONE will hear you coming, no need to worry about surprising anyone!
SUNRISE POINT OVERLOOK
Day 3: For our last day visiting Mt. Rainier National Park, we spent the day visiting the Sunrise area. While not quite as popular as Paradise on the west side of the park, Sunrise does receive a large amount of visitors and car lines can be very long during the busy summer months, especially over the weekends. So we choose to save this location to visit on a Monday hoping to avoid some of the crowds. Up bright and early, we first headed to Sunrise Point Overlook - this is a must stop for some great photo ops and just to soak in the beautiful scenery!
Continuing on towards the Sunrise Visitor Center, we arrived and were in complete awe of the beauty surrounding us! What an amazing area! With a number of hikes to choose from in the area, we choose to hike the Sunrise Nature Trail (1.5 miles). This short but breathtaking hike was just stunning! Walking thru wildflower meadows and gazing out at Mt. Rainier provided for some absolutely amazing views. This trail is a must-do for anyone visiting the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier! After having a picnic lunch at Sunrise and checking out the General Store, it was time for us to head home. Luckily we live quite close to this beautiful area and hope to return many times to keep enjoying this majestic park!
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!
Day 1: Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, Hot Springs Nature Trail 0.4 miles, Silver Falls 0.6 miles, Stevens Canyon Rd (Grove of the Patriarchs Trail 1.1 miles, Box Canyon Loop Trail 0.5 miles), Tipsoo Lake Loop Trail 0.5 miles, Chinook Pass Summit
Day 2: Crystal Mountain Gondola (opens at 10am, $25 per person, children free), lunch at the Summit House Restaurant, Hike the Naches Trail Loop (3.2 miles)
Day 3: Stop at Sunrise Point Overlook to enjoy views, Sunrise Visitor Center, Sunrise Nature Trail (1.5 miles), and if time the Emmons Vista Overlook (1 mile)