Correction: This article has been updated to correct a passage on horse usage within the Mount Rainier National Park. Horses, while not permitted on most trails, are permitted on the Laughingwater Creek Trail and on parts of the Pacific Crest Trail. The rules around pets and service animals have also been clarified in the article.
In last month’s column, we took a virtual hike on the Wonderland Trail, the iconic 93-mile loop that circles the mountain. In this final run of All Things Mount Rainier, let’s dig into other ways to enjoy the grand national park that lies in our backyard.
Do you want to stay overnight in or near the park? If so, planning is crucial.
To book campground space at the park’s Ohanapecosh, Cougar Rock, or White River Campgrounds, see https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm.
Reservations for The Dalles and Silver Springs Campgrounds, just outside the park in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, can be made at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232298.
If being pampered is your style, Visit Rainier, “The Official Site of Mount Rainier Tourism,” maintains a full list of lodging options at https://visitrainier.com/lodging/.
And if you want to experience the historic, rustic features of the Paradise Inn or the National Park Inn at Longmire, check out https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/lodging.htm.
With an average of two million visitors per year since 2016, consider these tips to beat the crowds.
First, visit the park mid-week whenever possible. Avoid visiting on weekends if you can, but if you must, enter as early as possible—the park is always open, save for emergency closures. Arriving late in the day, especially if a full moon or night hike appeals to you, works well, too. My wife Valerie and I encountered a Cascade red fox AND a mama bear and her cub a few weeks ago on an evening hike near Shadow Lake.
Second, remember that Sunrise (open July to October) and Paradise (open year-round) receive the largest concentrations of visitors. If you arrive midday during the weekend, brace yourself for packed parking lots, bustling visitor centers, and long restroom lines. Once you move onto the trails, especially those less traveled—ask a ranger for suggestions—you’re likely to find the solitude you seek. If the Paradise/Sunrise crowds are tolerable, be sure to explore the exhibits, completely upgraded in recent years. The visitor centers (still closed when this column went to press but sure to open soon) are a great starting point for the Junior Ranger Program. It provides all sorts of activities aimed at kids ages 5-13, but is open to people of all ages. My daughter-in-law, a national park geek of the highest order, is a Junior Ranger.
Speaking of rangers, don’t miss your chance to join them for guided hikes and evening talks. COVID continues to limit programming, but be sure to check on your next visit.
Now let’s take a hike! There are nearly 300 miles of trails at Mount Rainier, of all lengths and for all fitness levels. My dog-eared copy of Ira Spring’s and Harvey Manning’s 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park inspired me to hike all of the park’s mapped trails; there are loads of similar guides that have followed in Spring’s and Manning’s boot prints. Valerie and I recently revisited the Silver Falls Trail near Ohanapecosh, a great family hike, with our neighbor and her three kids.
The summer melt out is in high gear at the mountain, and that means the wildflower season is upon us. Almost half of the park’s visitors come the for the annual wildflower extravaganza, one of the world’s most spectacular displays. Snowpack depth and the melt out rate makes it difficult to predict the bloom’s peak, although it generally falls between late July and early August, lasting but a few weeks. The park’s trail conditions web page usually includes status reports.
The Paradise area is ground zero for wildflowers (and crowds), so arriving early and mid-week is the key. Many hikes at Sunrise meander through the subalpine meadows too, usually with lighter crowds. To savor the wildflowers with fewer people, try the Spray Park area out of Mowich Lake (avoiding weekends if possible), or the upper reaches of the Shriner Peak or Eagle Peak Trails.
If you’re a dog owner and Sparky loves to hit the trail with you, here’s the tricky part: depending on the jurisdiction, dogs are welcome on some trails but prohibited on others. Here’s the scoop: Dogs are prohibited on all trails within Mount Rainier National Park with one exception, but generally permitted on U.S. Forest Service Trails.
Within the park, Dogs on a leash no longer than six feet are permitted only on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) portion of the Naches Peak Look Trail near Tipsoo Lake. They are not, however, allowed on the non-PCT sections of the Naches Peak Loop Trail within the park.
Pets are allowed in campgrounds and a few other designated areas in the park, but must always be on a leash six feet long or shorter and under the control of their owners. Owners must also dispose properly of their poop. For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/pets.htm.
Can you hike with your pup at Paradise, Sunrise, or the Carbon River Road? Sorry, no (service dogs excepted). How about the Suntop Lookout, Greenwater Lakes, or trails in the Crystal Ski Area? You bet you can! The secret is learning the boundaries and regulations for each area. For more information, check out Washington Trails Association’s Hiking with Dogs in Washington: 5 Things You Need to Know at https://www.wta.org/go-outside/trail-smarts/hiking-with-dogs-washington-5-things-you-need-know. And for that matter, bookmark WTA’s website for the state’s most comprehensive trail information and updates.
As for other four-legged creatures: Saddle and pack animals, such as horses, mules and llamas, are only welcome on the PCT and on the Laughingwater Creek Trail from Highway 123 to the PCT near Carlton Pass. Otherwise, they are prohibited on park trails. Three Lakes Camp is also open to stock animal use. For more info, visit: https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/stock-use-guidelines.htm.
Trails for horses do abound in the adjoining forest land. Connect with the Washington Horsemen at http://washingtonstatehorsemen.org/trails-and-pleasure/ or the Visit Rainier website for information about horseback riding trails in the area.
There are opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the park, too. At Sunrise, ask rangers for tips on a good view of the Emmons Glacier, starting place of the White River. At milepost 59 on State Route 410, use the wide parking area to enjoy views of the river as it rumbles past. More accessibility information can be found at https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm.
As I’ve written previously, volunteering at the park is a great way to deepen one’s relationship to Mount Rainier and help steward the mighty mountain. This summer, I’m participating in bat surveys again, counting bats as they emerge from their roosts at dusk. This data helps researchers determine their population status and the extent of white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that causes high death rates in bats. I’m also returning to the Cascade Butterfly Project, counting and identifying butterflies in the Sunrise and Naches Peak areas. Like the bat surveys, this data tells researchers the status of various species and what effects climate change may be having on populations.
Whether you lean toward the sciences, trail work, talking to park visitors, or other work in service to the park, there’s something for everyone, kids included. To find your niche, see https://www.nps.gov/mora/getinvolved/volunteer.htm.
Wrapping up my one-year stint writing All Things Mount Rainier, a big thanks to editor Ray Miller-Still for creating an opportunity for guest columnists. Special thanks also to readers, especially those who’ve reached out with comments and questions throughout the year. You can still reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hopefully, we’ll bump into each other up at the mountain sometime soon. In the meantime, keep your boots dry and your spirits high.