Growing up in the Seattle area Mount Rainier was a familiar sight, its majestic snow covered slopes in the distance, providing a stunning background to life in and around the Emerald City. When the Mountain is out Seattle is right up there with some of the most beautiful places on earth.
More than just a pretty picture locals know that you can forecast the weather based on the mountain’s cloud formations and its close proximity to Seattle makes it a great day trip destination. Summer, specifically August, is a fabulous time to visit as the wildflowers will be in bloom blanketing the alpine slopes with a riot of bright color.
At 14,411 feet Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. It hasn’t erupted in 500 years, but it is an active volcano and though hard to believe from the photos it is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
The drive from Seattle is around 2.5 hours and there are a number of small towns along the way. Elbe, population of 29, is one such town. Located at the junction of Hwy 7 and Hwy 706, Elbe is home to the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad and the Historic Elbe Church. The church, only 24 feet by 18 feet, is thought to be one of the smallest functional churches in the world.
There are four main entrances to Mount Rainier National Park. The Nisqually entrance is the closest entrance to Paradise and is open to automobile traffic year round. Mount Rainier is a popular summer destination with both locals and tourists alike and an early arrival will be your best bet for avoiding the long lines at the Park entrances, especially on weekends.
The Road to Paradise
Once we’d paid our park entrance fees we set off on the road to Paradise. With show stopping views in every direction we couldn’t help but stop along the way.
Kautz Creek Nature Trail
Our first unplanned stop was Kautz Creek Nature Trail. This viewpoint is the start of an 11 mile strenuous hike.
Longmire was Mount Rainier National Park’s first visitor center and entrance station. These days it might not seem all that far from the nearby towns you drove through on the way to the Park, but in the 1880s this was a very remote destination.
There are multiple buildings to explore including, a vintage gas station, the Wilderness Information Center, and a tiny museum.
Carter Falls Trailhead
It was hard not to stop every time we saw a great view, but we had to press on. Paradise awaits…
Christine Falls is a two tiered waterfall with a total height of 69 feet. The lower portion of the falls is easily accessible from the road while the upper portion requires a bit of a climb.
Two or so hours after entering the Park we finally arrived at Paradise, which sits at an elevation of 5400 feet. As you’ll see in photos to come the name Paradise is both literal and figurative. The area was given its name by the daughter-in-law of James Longmire who upon seeing the flower filled valley exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!”
“…The most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” – John Muir 1889
The Paradise visitor center and shop are the Park’s busiest and that was no joke. There were people swarming every inch of it. Inside you’ll find an informal restaurant, a gift shop, the ranger information desk, and restrooms. We skipped the crowds and enjoyed our homemade picnic lunch at one the center’s outdoor picnic tables.
After lunch it was time to explore. Whether you are ready to climb the mountain, or just up for a short stroll you’ll find walking and hiking options for all ability levels at Paradise. Our choice of walks was partially determined by the amount of time we had, and as we’d dilly dallied our way up the mountain our time was limited. After consulting with the ranger we decided on Myrtle Falls.
Myrtle Falls and Edith Creek
Myrtle Falls, an easy half a mile walk from the Paradise Visitor Center, is one of the most photographed areas of the park. We were delighted when we saw marmot, multiple deer, and other subalpine creatures along the way.
Reflection Lake is a popular spot for photographers and I was delighted that we found time for a quick stop. Swimming and fishing are prohibited and in my humble opinion rock throwing should be as well.
Our final stop of the day was Tipsoo Lake, where we hoped to see another stunning reflection of the mountain. Unfortunately fires to the east of us created a layer of smog, which completely blanketed the mountain.
According to the National Park website Tipsoo Lake is one of the most photographed landscapes in the country, and even without the mountain’s reflection the area was gorgeous.
There is a short nature walk around the perimeter of the lake which is very worthwhile and accessible to all fitness levels. There were wildflowers blooming here in a variety of colors, but my favorite were these Seuss like fluffs.
Tips & Advice
- Paradise is open year round, but tire chains are required during the winter months when the snow is quite deep.
- During the summer season parking is a challenge throughout the park. The early bird gets the parking spot!
- Dress appropriately, layers are a good idea, use insect repellent and do wear sturdy walking shoes.
- Keep your eyes out for wildlife, but keep your distance. We saw everything from buzzy bees and fawns to marmot, rabbits and even a heard of elk.
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Are We Adults Yet
Looks like a great trip, adding Mount Rainier to my travel bucket list!
Wow this place looks wonderful and almost majestic! I’m definitely adding this to my trip list 🙂 Love your pictures as they capture the essence of nature and its surroundings
Thank you so much! It is a very majestic feeling place. I plan to go back for another visit the next time I’m in the Seattle area!
Paradise indeed. I can’t believe in my 6 years of living in Seattle, I never stepped foot up to Mount Rainier National Park. Clearly need to rectify that. Soo seriously stunning. You lucked out with such wonderful weather and very little fire smoke. Great tips and wonderful pictures Hilary! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles
Erin, I was feeling the same way when I finally again went after years of not going. It had probably been 12 years. It was a wonderful day. My only regret was that I couldn’t pack more in.
Such a beautiful National Park! Would love to visit one day and find out more about any German history here – the church says “kirche” which is German. You were lucky to grow up near here! So beautiful! #FarawayFiles
I certainly was lucky! I always knew it was lovely, but really appreciated just how lucky this last visit.
Hilary, this really looks like the most amazing place and very accessible for all levels of fitness. I feel this is something I definitely need to add to my ever-growing wish list of places to visit in the PNW. #FarawayFiles
Yes! It must be on your list, but I do hope you’ll find your way to Southern California first. 😘
Absolutely gorgeous day trip, what a perfect day out and back to sleep in your own bed! Thanks for all the useful tips on when to go. I cam almost feel the clear crisp air. Thanks for spring on #farawayfiles
It was such a lovely day! I’m always happy to get back to my own bed! Ha ha!
I didn’t realize you grew up near Seattle. I did as well. Mount Rainier National Park is so beautiful. It has been years since I’ve visited but I’d love to go back with my kids since I know they’d love it. #farawayfiles
I loved growing up in the Northwest though I admit that I wouldn’t live there now. I love SoCal even more, but I do enjoy our visits!
WOW! That scenery looks absolutely incredible. I love that there’s a place called Paradise – certainly seems to live up to the name. Are there huts on the Kautz Creek Nature Trail where you can stop to grab something to eat, or do you need to take lunch with you? (11 miles is a decent hike!) Also, how long would you recommend in the area? Looks like there’s a lot to do.
The scenery takes your breath away! It feels like a paradise. The animals must feel that way too because they were everywhere!
Sorry, also – is the trail open year round, or just in summer?
There aren’t any places to get food other than the visitor centers, so bringing your own is a must. Some areas are open all year round, but tire chains are required depending on snowfall. I remember going in the winter when I was a child – a very different experience!
Mount Rainier National Park looks amazing, you’re certainly at one with nature there. Hopefully it was as tranquil as your photos portray. #farawayfiles
It is an amazing place! There are quite a few other people sharing the area, so I’m not sure tranquil is the exact right word, but it’s pretty special.
The views are stunning! I’d love to see all the wildflowers – and a marmot! Can you walk to the top (if you have enough time) or is it strictly for experienced climbers only? #farawayfiles
To the top of Mount Rainier? No, it’s a serious climb, but experienced hikers can go pretty far.
Your photos are magnificent! What a stunning spot. Such incredible beauty and sounds like it was a good time of year to visit too. I love the look of Reflection Lake. Those mountains in the backdrop are magnificent! Such vibrant colours. What a spot! #farawayfiles
Thank you! Yes, Mount Rainier provides a stunning backdrop doesn’t it? It’s hard to get a bad photo in such a lovely place.
Wow, what a gorgeous scenery! I’ve heard Mount Rainier is beautiful place, but your photos just blew me away. Looks amazing – indeed a Paradise! #FarawayFiles
Thank you! Even having been there before I was still blown away by how lovely it is! I’ll definitely find my way back for further exploration…
We love a national park! I have a new goal in life to visit them all! This one I hope will be one
Of our next ones
That’s a great and ambitious goal! We’ve been visiting a lot of them these past few years and it’s such a wonderful experience. Mount Rainier is one of my favorites.
Wow, great post and fantastic photos, Mount Rainier looks and sounds amazing, especially those pretty wildflowers, would love to visit one day 😀
Thank you so much! It’s a very worthwhile destination!!