Mt. Rainier National Park

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The recent visit to 2 National Parks with our nephew, Chris, inspired us to explore other places to visit while our garden continues to flourish in spite of us. August is a lovely time to visit higher altitudes, and 14,400′ Mt. Rainier was slowly shedding its snow pack in favor of fields of wild flowers. Even better, the word was that the mosquitos hadn’t been particularly troublesome. The camper was ready and so it was off to Portland for a night with Peace Corps buddies and we reached the Park late morning of day 2 of our adventure.

Mt. Rainier National Park is close to both Seattle and Portland, and mid-week visits were recommended to avoid crowds. After a beautiful drive through a thick forest of old growth Douglas firs, hemlocks, and cedars, we entered the park at  the Longmire Visitors Center. After a snack on the porch of the Longmire Inn, gazing at the remarkable mountain crowned with a lenticular cloud, we hiked a short stretch of the Wonderland trail to Carter Falls. To get to the trail, there’s a short connecting path via a large (but rickety) log that crosses the raging Nisqually River. The rumble of basketball-sized boulders being tossed about beneath the surface of the grey, glacier-fed water inspired a fleeting thought of what that current would do to my head were I to lose my balance crossing the 30′ span.

Returning in the afternoon, we continued up the mountain to the Cougar Rock campground for the first of 3 nights. The next morning, we followed Lynn and John’s suggestion and parked at the Paradise picnic area that provided us access to all the hiking trails as well as a great place to enjoy an evening meal in our popped-up camper (without returning to an unremarkable campground).

Our hike began on the Nisqually Vista trail, from which we continued up the Dead Horse Creek trail that merged into the High Skyline trail leading up to Panorama Point (6,800′). Along the way, we checked out the Moraine trail but settled on a snack rather than slip on the intimidating snow banks. After lunching at Panorama Point with a crowd  of 30-40 other hikers, we figured we might as well finish the 5.5 mile loop since we’d made it that far. (Returning the way we’d come would have been problematic due to the steady stream of  folks heading our way on the trail so off we went, eventually reaching 7,000′ before beginning our descent.)

The finish was icy but beautiful, with wildflowers blazing in the lower elevation. We were also introduced to the terrain we’d explore the following day on the Lakes trail. The final half mile was like walking in an outdoor mall, and the visitors’ center was mobbed. Eating at our quiet picnic area was a pleasant reprieve from the crowds.

The Lakes loop takes hikers from Paradise Reflection Lake and then returns up to Paradise. We hiked the Lakes trail about half way, ate lunch with a fine view of Mt. Rainier to the north and the spiky Tatoosh range to the south. Faced with a steep down and then long up-up back to Paradise, we opted to head back in the direction we came, blessed with a magnificent Mt. Rainier calling us home on every turn of the trail. As an added perk, we’d left our car on the Paradise Valley Road at the 4th Crossing trailhead, and avoided dealing with the freeway hikers on the Skyline route heading back to Paradise.

Having visited most of the hiking trails in the Paradise region, we opted to return to another section of the Wonderland trail passing by Narada Falls. From there, we hiked to Reflection Lake, took the obligatory photo of Mt. Rainier reflected in the mirror-like water, and returned along the Wonderland trail (honoring the Herculean efforts by Alicia, Mo, and Stacey who’d hiked the entire Wonderland Trail (93 miles around Mt. Rainier) a couple years earlier.

Slug love. Click for more…

Having satisfied our visit to the Paradise vicinity, we drove out the southeast corner of the park and camped at Ohanapekosh campground near the Stevens entrance on Hwy. 12. What a lovely setting for just chilling out in super-sized campsites nestled among massive trees. Before departing the next morning, we hiked the lovely 3 mile loop to Silver Falls and saw our first ever sighting of Banana slug love. Their genital opening is near the head and they posture themselves in a yin-yang position—sometimes staying like this for hours. Shameless voyeurs, we cleverly documented the event and carried on in pursuit of other exciting sightings.

We left the national park and overnighted at the Iron Creek campground hidden in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This was another “sleeper” that features massive trees (a couple Douglas fir with 8′ diameter bases clocked in at 600 years old) and a lovely 1.5 mile trail that encircles the entire campground. Moss clung to the lower branches of just about everything, resembling an earlier visit to Fern Canyon state park (south of Arcata, CA, where they filmed Jurassic Park). The location of iron Creek was on Road 25 en-route to the eastern entrance to Mt. St. Helens National Monument that is, quite simply, breathtaking. More on that later.

So here we had another way to enjoy the wonderful northwest, with 3 National Parks recently visited. We may try to squeeze in Mt. Lassen Volcano NP (3 hours south of Ashland) for a PB.

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