Over the last few years, I have become increasingly more interested in traveling to places of natural beauty. As much as I love visiting cities and seeing incredible architecture, experiencing new cultures, and enjoying the wide range of eating options, there is something about the beauty of nature that pulls at my heartstrings in ways I cannot describe. Maybe it's the fresh mountain air, the vivid colors found only in the great outdoors, or the awe-inspiring views that force me to ponder the meaning of life. All I know is that some of my most enjoyable and memorable experiences have occurred while in the presence of an incredible landscape, a panoramic vista, or a lush countryside.
As I slowly integrate into the world of outdoor experiences, I have begun to realize that here in Washington State, we are so lucky and fortunate to have a wide array of scenic options to choose from. Mike had never visited Mount Rainier, and I had only been once before as a young girl with my aunt. I decided it would be the perfect place to go for my weekend birthday getaway figuring that we could combine beautiful nature with hiking and photography, three
of my favorite hobbies. Little did I know just how mesmerized I would become with a gorgeous mountain they call Rainier.
Day 1 (Saturday, August 2nd)
Having gone to bed late the night before, we ended up leaving two hours later than we had originally planned at 11:00 instead of 9:00. We should have taken I-5 to Auburn, then Highway 167 to Puyallup and then to Highway 161, which would have led us straight to Eatonville. Instead, Mike decided we should take I-5 all the way to Tacoma, then to Highway 7, then Highway 161. Unfortunately, Highway 7 ended up being like Highway 99 in Snohomish and King County, except that it was much worse. It went on forever and ever, through some of the roughest neighborhoods in Tacoma and seemed as though it would never end. After it did finally end, we made a vow never to return to that place.
We finally arrived at the Mill Village Motel (http://www.whitepasstravel.com/) in Eatonville around 2:00 PM. After checking into our room, we headed Southeast to Mount Rainer National Park, first stopping at Copper Creek Inn (http://www.coppercreekinn.com/) for lunch, located just outside the park. I had read
about the small restaurant in Lonely Planet’s Washington, Oregon, and the PNW book as one the “state’s greatest rural restaurants”. It was a small but charming restaurant filled with lots of people. I ordered the French dip sandwich with roasted garlic potatoes while Mike had Paul Bunyan burger with French fries. My French dip sandwich was probably the best I had ever eaten before; absolutely delicious!
After eating lunch, we headed to the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park (http://www.nps.gov/mora/). The entrance fee was $15, which lasted for seven days. At this point, the sun had been battling the thick cloud cover all day, but the clouds seemed to be winning, which was disappointing as we were unable to see the summit of the mountain.
Our first stop in the park was at Longmire, which is the site of Longmire’s Medical Springs that was created by James Longmire in 1888 and now houses several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. This area of the park is what attracted the first visitors to Mount Rainier over 100 years ago. We stopped in at the Longmire museum which explained the history of the park and also had
many different types of animals from the park including a large and scary-looking stuffed cougar. Next door to the museum was the National Park Inn, which was built in 1917 and still houses and entertains travelers today. A word of warning to those who come to Longmire during the busy summer season; it's nearly impossible to find a parking spot, so either arrive early or plan on driving in circles around the parking lot for a long time until you finally find a spot.
We decided to try out an easy trail called “Trail of the Shadows” which was less than a mile in length and circled around the meadow where the original Longmire resort once stood. We were beginning to see a glimpse of the sun towards the end of the hike, so I kept my fingers crossed and hopes up that the trend would continue.
Leaving Longmire, we drove 13 miles Northeast via many switchbacks to Paradise. The Paradise area of the park is a subalpine meadow that is famous for it's incredible views and beautiful and abundant wildflower meadows. I had read previously that this area of the park is the most visited, but I
can honestly say that I was completely blown away by the insane number of people we saw. The parking lots couldn’t hold enough cars, so additional parking had been created along the road for several miles, and most all of the spots were taken. I was disappointed that it was so cloudy and gray out, knowing that the sun definitely wasn't going to come out. We had wanted to try out two easy one hour trails in this area (Alta Vista Summit and Nisqually Vista) but decided not to and wait until the following day due to the lack of visibility and the freezing cold temperatures. For some reason, Mike and I both had forgotten to pack any coats, so we weren’t well prepared that day for cold weather. We did manage to get some beautiful pictures of the remaining snow in the meadows and planned to return the next day and attempt to complete the hikes in sunny weather.
We drove back down to Longmire, and then exited the park. It took about one hour to get back to our motel in Eatonville. We stopped in at the room for a bit and the headed out for dinner.
I had read about a restaurant in town on the Trip Advisor forums called Tall Timbers that was recommended by several people, so we decided to stop in to check it out. When we arrived, the restaurant was slammed and full of locals, so it looked promising although it took them about five minutes to get us seated. The menu had a variety of choices; I requested the charbroiled chicken breast with mashed potatoes, salad, and bread while Mike chose the Taco Salad. We immediately noticed that although the small restaurant was packed, there couldn’t have been more than 30 customers eating, but the four waitresses couldn’t seem to handle the crowd and were easily becoming overwhelmed. In fact, one of the waitresses mentioned to a customer at the counter that she had already had two mental breakdowns that night. To us, it seemed to be more of a matter that the waitresses were working at a snail’s pace; if they had put a little more pep into their step, their jobs would have been much easier.
Dinner finally arrived but wasn’t exactly what we expected from a restaurant with positive recommendations. My mashed potatoes were instant, a classic
sign of lazy cooks and a not so-good restaurant. Although my chicken breasts and Mike’s Taco Salad were actually good, the instant mashed potatoes were so disappointing that they ruined the entire experience for us.
We left and headed back to the motel where we relaxed and watched TV for the rest of the night.
Day 2 (Sunday, August 3rd)
Our plan for today was to leave our motel in Eatonville early around 9:00. We set the alarm for 8:00, but didn’t end up waking up until 10:00. Unfortunately, both of us had about the worst night’s sleep ever. The mattress was terribly uncomfortable and the pillows were practically flat. I think I tossed and turned several hundred times that night. Needless to say, we were both quite exhausted when the alarm went off at 8:00 and decided to hit snooze several times.
We finally left around 10:45. As we had missed the breakfast put on by the motel, we decided to stop at a local bakery called Truly Scrumptious for a quick bite to eat. Mike ordered the “Haus Wrap” which was a mixture of chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing
The mountain is out in all it's glory!
Our first clear glimpse of the mountain at Longmire
all wrapped in a flour tortilla. I requested two croissants and a small chocolate cream cheese bar cookie. Mike stated that his “Haus Wrap” was delicious and I thought my croissants were okay, although the bar cookie was a bit rich.
After eating, we drove our way to the park, first stopping off in the tiny town of Elbe. I took some photos of a small but charming white church that was built by German immigrants who established the town in the late 1800's. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
When we left Eatonville, it was cloudy and overcast, but by the time we arrived at the park, the sun was shining down on us brightly! I was very excited to see the sun as I knew I would be able to get some awesome and beautiful pictures of the mountain.
Being overly excited by the sun, we first stopped at Longmire so I could get some good shots of the mountain. Afterward, we headed up to Paradise. We had reserved a room at the Paradise Inn (http://rainier.guestservices.com/), which is a historic hotel that was built in 1917 and is on the National
Register of Historic Places. As you walk inside of the entrance doors, you are immediately greeted by a tremendous great room with open wood beam ceilings and two huge stone fireplaces at either end, creating a very dramatic effect which evokes the coziness of a lodge. When we checked in, we discovered that our room wasn’t quite ready, so they told us to come back a few hours later.
Instead, we decided to get some hiking out of the way. Our first chosen hike was Alta Vista Summit, which is a 1.75 mile trail that overlooks the Nisqually Glacier and Paradise Park. The initial incline from the Jackson Visitor Center was quite steep and to be completely honest, kicked my ass. There’s nothing like a good hike to let you instantly know what crappy shape you are in! I had to take frequent breaks in order to catch my breath while Mike (as always!) seemed to effortlessly glide up the mountain. We eventually came up to a snowfield with incredible views of the Paradise area. We had to walk over quite a bit of snow in order to catch back up with the trail. We continued to walk uphill
toward the summit, where we were eventually greeted with an amazing view of the jutting peaks of the Tatoosh Range and of the many Paradise trails below us. We walked around the summit for a long time, just enjoying the views and taking lots of photos. We made our way down the hike, later meeting up with a trail that led us directly to Paradise Inn.
Having been gone for over two hours, we figured our room would be ready. When we finally walked into our room, we were shocked and speechless with it's teeny tiny size; it barely had enough room to fit the queen sized bed and was definitely the smallest room we’ve ever stayed in. However, it didn’t lack in the charm department.
After dropping our things off, we decided to try out another hike. Being a huge fan of lake hikes, the High Lakes Trail just South of Paradise sounded very appealing. It’s a 2.7 mile loop that goes around Reflection Lake and many other small lakes and also has a great view of Louise Lake and the Tatoosh Range. Apparently, Reflection Lake is one of the most photographed spots in the entire park
due to its beautiful setting with the mountain sitting directly behind it. The initial part of the hike was easy, with little to no elevation gain. However, about ten minutes in, the ascent became very steep, and once again, I was forced to take many breaks due to my inability to breath properly. We quickly came upon a ridge where we had a beautiful view of Louise Lake and the Tatoosh Mountain Range in the background. From here, we continued to walk uphill, and at one point, had to cross a large piece of wood that was laid across a waterfall. We normally wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing the wood except for the fact that the wood was nearly split in two. Luckily, we both made it across just fine. We eventually walked across many snow-filled meadows that allowed for beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, which I definitely took advantage of by taking lots of photos. There were also several points during the hike that we lost the trail due to snow blowouts from previous avalanches. However, we always managed to figure the right way to the trail. We finished the hike in about two hours and then
headed back to the Paradise Inn.
We were both quite hungry at this point, so we decided to eat dinner in the restaurant located inside the hotel called the Paradise Inn Dining Room. We had seen the menu posted outside the restaurant and saw several entrees that looked promising. When we walked in, the restaurant had several tables open, but we were told it would be a 30 minute wait. We figured that the tables we saw must have been reserved for larger parties, so no big deal. However, after waiting for over 30 minutes, we thought something might be wrong. Mike decided to ask how much longer it would be, and was told it would be an additional 25 minutes…WHAT? On top of the 30 minutes we had already been waiting for? We didn’t have much choice though as the dining options in the park aren’t plentiful.
Our pager ended up going off almost 25 minutes later on the dot. We were seated and I decided to order the Coq Au Vin while Mike requested the Grilled Pork Chop with Sweet Onions and Herb Butter. We also ordered a small cup of Seafood Bisque. As we had
waited practically an hour to be seated, we figured we would have to wait forever for our food to arrive. However, much to our surprise, the soup came out about five minutes after I ordered it and our entrees followed much too close behind about one minute later. It became clear that the kitchen staff had an assembly line going with every single entrée waiting to go; not exactly my idea of fresh or quality. My Coq Au Vin ended up being a piece of chicken with a white alfredo like sauce and a medley of vegetables. For those of you familiar with Coq au Vin, you know it’s traditionally cooked in a red-wine sauce, so this "attempt" of a creative change to a classic French dish was quite strange to the both of us. Mike’s pork chop stuffed with onions was good, although I could have sworn his mashed potatoes were a mix of the real stuff with instant potatoes. Surprisingly, I actually liked the seafood bisque, even though it was a tomato based soup which generally isn’t my cup of tea. Mike and I ended up trading dishes and he finished my fake Coq au Vin while I
ate his half-fake mashed potatoes. Bottom-line, we wouldn’t recommend this restaurant unless you have no other options. The food was only okay, and the prices were a little steep for the quality and lack of authenticity…yes I know, I'm still stuck on the Coq au Vin, but we just didn’t understand!
After dinner, we headed back up to our room and relaxed before settling in for bed.
Day 3 (Monday, August 4th)
On our final day at Mount Rainier, I had wanted to get an early start as we knew driving over to Sunrise would take at least 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, although we slept much better than the night before, we were awoken very early by the sounds of young children running and screaming in the hallway. Many of the guests in the lodge were families so it wasn’t exactly the quietest environment. We ended up sleeping in later than we had wanted since our sleep was disrupted so early but finally left right before 10:00.
As we walked out to our car in the parking lot, we noticed the large number of hikers huddling together in groups. These weren’t your average everyday
hikers like Mike and I; these were the most serious of hikers who had on more hiking gear than I even realized existed. I assumed most of them were probably going to actually hike all the way UP the mountain as they all had huge backpacks on with lots of supplies. I was quite impressed with all of them and even somewhat mesmerized and inspired knowing that some of them would most likely make it to the summit. Wouldn’t it be such an amazing feat and accomplishment to actually hike all the way up to the 14,411 foot summit? It’s something you could actually brag about for the rest of your life and something that your future grandchildren would even be impressed by! As much as I would someday love to do that, the reality is that I probably never will; if I put my mind to it and focused entirely on that, I know I could. However, with as many other things as we have going on in our lives, I just can’t imagine making the time for all of the training that would encompass. Maybe someday...
As we began the long drive to Sunrise, we quickly ate
some bagels for breakfast. Initially, the drive went quicker than I had expected as we drove through countless switchbacks and saw more views than I can ever count of the beautiful Rainier. We stopped multiple times in order to take as many photos as we could. About 45 minutes in, we had to stop suddenly as we noticed a large line of cars ahead of us. I had read that due to the short season of good weather in the park, most of the roadwork is completed during the heavily visited summer months. We had to wait about 15 minutes, and then the long line of cars was led by one of the worker’s trucks several miles down the road. We continued to drive on our own until only five minutes later, when we came to another complete stop. This one was much longer and there was quite a bit more work going on. As we had just been stopped a few miles back, we were slightly agitated that it was happening again, but we figured it wouldn’t last that long. However, you can understand our feelings of frustration when 45 minutes later we were still sitting and waiting. Several
people had gotten out of the cars and walked up to the workers to find out what the deal was, but none of them could ever seem to get a straight answer. After waiting almost an hour, we were finally able to go. I was quite irritated that I had wasted so much time sitting in the car when I could have been hiking at Sunrise instead; oh well, I guess patience truly is a virtue that I still have much to learn about.
When we finally reached Sunrise, I knew that the entire wait was well worth it as I had never seen such beauty in all my life. The Sunrise area of Mount Rainier is at 6,400 feet and is the highest point in the park that you can reach by vehicle. As it was completely clear and sunny out when we arrived, the views of the mountain were absolutely breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Added to the dramatic backdrop of the mountain was the intensely colorful wildflowers that filled the never-ending meadows. It was truly a spectacular sight and I was so glad that we decided to come to the park in August instead of July as I
knew the flowers had just begun to bloom. I also found it refreshing that Sunrise was filled with about 1/10 of the number of tourists compared to what we had seen at Paradise. Apparently, the long drive from Paradise detracts most of the tourists from visiting which is essentially important to the environment and atmosphere at Sunrise as it keeps it peaceful and serene.
Aside from the gorgeous views, the real reason for coming here was to enjoy some hiking! Prior to our unplanned stop, I had wanted to complete a hike called “Sunrise Rim” which is 5.2 miles long and includes 1000 feet of elevation gain. This hike sounded extremely interesting to me as it included a walk along the ridge of a mountain, several views of lakes, and a view of Emmons Glacier. Mike wasn’t as optimistic as I was about being able to finish the hike, but I had hoped that the guidebook was accurate in describing that it would take about two hours to complete. However, when we arrived at Sunrise we picked-up a trail guide and it indicated that the trail would actually take about three hours to complete; this was disappointing to me
as I was hoping to be able to make it all the way around.
As we started the hike, we were both shocked by the temperature; it had to have been in the 70’s, which seemed rather hot for 6,400 feet! Aside from the warm temp, we also began to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. That coupled with the fact that there was very little shade made the hike more difficult than I had imagined. We walked along the trail for about an hour, when Mike said he just couldn’t take anymore of the bugs. We hadn’t thought to bring any bug spray with us, so I didn’t really blame him. We turned around and when we finally reached the parking lot, it was close to 3:00 PM, so we deiced to hit the road. We had a long drive ahead of us and wanted to make it home by a decent time as we both had to work the next day.
From Sunrise, we headed North out of the park and eventually stopped in Enumclaw for an early dinner. I had found several recommendations for restaurants in guidebooks, but none of them ended up panning out as
they were either closed or no longer open for business. As we were driving through the historical park of town, we saw a few places that looked promising, so we decided to park the car and take a closer look. We ended up deciding on a little placed called “Panini Café”, which is an Italian eatery. As it was around 4:00 PM, there were no customers inside the restaurant but we chose to stay anyways. We figured a sleepy little town like Enumclaw probably did not often have packed restaurants. We both decided to order a Panini; mine included ham, provolone, and a pesto cream cheese; Mike’s had peppers, American cheese, ham, turkey, salami, olives, red onions and a mustard cream sauce. Both were delicious! We also decided to spring for dessert as the pie display in front was too enticing to ignore so we ordered two slices of chocolate lush pie which were really yummy!
After leaving the restaurant, we arrived back home about 45 minutes later.
I enjoyed every moment of our stay and visit to Mount Rainer National Park. We were so fortunate to receive sunny weather on two of the three days we visited
because it provided clear and gorgeous views of the mountains. I was pleasantly surprised with the large number of hiking options the park contains; it was difficult for me to understand how some people only spend a number of hours in the park. We were there for 2.5 days and I don’t feel as though we were able to fully enjoy it as much as we could have if we had stayed longer. The park is truly huge and has so many different things to see and do. In terms of local trips, I will add Mount Rainier to the list with the Oregon Coast as a place we could return to time after time without ever running out of things to do. We are already planning on heading back in 2010 for three nights and hope that we will luck out in the weather department again!
On the next few pages you will find just a sampling of the many photographs I took during our stay at Mount Rainier National Park.
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