By VALERIE MELLEMA
For those traveling to the Northwest part of the country, a trip to see Mt. Rainer National Park is an exciting, invigorating experience that takes you to the heart of wildlife, nature and beauty in one trip. Mount Rainer is a part of the Cascade Mountain Range and is an active volcano. It is totally encased in snow and glacial ice. The mountain’s size — a large 35-square-mile area — offers a height of 14,410 feet. Throughout the region, you will find beautiful old growth forests in that make you feel like you are stepping into a preserved piece of history.
Mt. Rainer National Park offers five unique areas, which are called developed areas. These include Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise and Carbon/Mowich
Longmire was the first headquarters of the Mount Rainer National Park, which was established in 1899. It was once the home of James Longmire and later was turned into a mineral spring resort. Today, you can visit a museum here that depicts the area in full detail, and learn about the rich history of the park.
Longmire, located on the southwest corner of the National Park, is where you’ll also find the Wilderness Information Center, the place to get permits for wilderness activities as well as information on hiking, climbing and camping. Additionally, this area features a National Park Inn, which is a concessionaire operated hotel. There is also a small restaurant and gift shop located here and the Cougar Rock Campground is about two miles east of Longmire.
As you move from Longmire towards Paradise, you get to enjoy the Christine Falls, Glacier Bridge (which allows you to look up to the Nisqually Glacier) and Ricksecker Point Road, which gives you some of the best views of the Mt. Rainer itself, as well as Totoosh Range and Nisqually Valley. You can also continue on another eight-mile hike to Narada Falls for an amazing waterfall.
The next area to visit in Mt. Rainer National Park is the area called Paradise, and that is perhaps the best term for it. There is something about the flowering wildflower meadows and amazing views that take your breath away. The main visitor center to Mt. Rainer National Park is located here and is called the Jackson Visitor Center.
Because of the large amount of snow in this particular area, this is where everyone comes for wintertime activities on Mt. Rainer. This includes snowshoeing, tubing, skiing, and cross-country skiing.
You can stay at the Paradise Inn that is a concessionaire operated hotel, open seasonally. Visit the Guide House for permits and hiking information. Also, stop by the Paradise Ranger Station for information and for a tour of the scenic area. The trails in this region are hilly and you will be at an elevation of 5,400 feet.
The next stop in Mt. Rainer National Park is Ohanapecosh. This area is filled with Douglas Firs, amazing red cedars and beautiful western hemlocks. This is the old growth forest you were waiting to experience. You cannot get to this part of the park during the winter months (many of the other sections are available as long as roads are accessible.) When you visit Ohanapecosh, you can visit the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center that provides a number of exhibits on the area and the mountain as well as an interpretive program that change often. You can pick up a few books to read here, too.
Another place to stop is the Ohanapecosh Campground, where you stay the night and find hiking trails through a mile of old growth forest.
At 6,400 feet, what is more magical than Sunrise? This part of Mt. Rainer National Park is the highest point that you can take a vehicle. When you step out of that vehicle, in the summer you will see an expanse of wildflowers blooming. You will be able to glance over at Mt. Rainer, and Emmons Glacier, as well as many of the other volcanoes located in the Cascade Mountain Range. A number of scenic trails will take you throughout the area and are popular with park visitors.
Check out the Sunrise Visitor Center for exhibits and programs, the Sunrise Day Lodge which offers food service and gift shops as well as lodging and the White River Campground and picnic area.
Carbon and Mowich
Carbon is in the northwest corner of the Mt. Rainer National Park. You will see the most precipitation here and, because of the climate, it is considered a temperate rainforest. Be careful when traveling here because the road readily floods. When you visit, stop at Ipsut Creek Campground and picnic area. Take the short loop trail by foot to explore the rain forest or can also take the trail by the campground to Carbon Glacier, which is the lowest glacier in the 48 states — and the largest.
Also, visit Mowich Lake, which is the deepest and largest lake in Mt. Rainer National Park. There is also the Mowich Lake Campground located here.
Nearby Mountain Communities
There are several small towns or communities on the way to and from Mt. Rainier, each offering food, lodging and other visitor services. Among the most popular is Ashford, located about six miles from the Nisqually entrance to the park on Highway 706. Several outfitters, shops and restaurants are located in the area, as well as a number of Mt. Rainier cabins available for rent. Many visitors rent cabins in the area because of their off-the-beaten-path locations, and because a growing number of cabins offer almost resort-style amenities.
Other nearby communities include Elbe, home of the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, and Crystal Mountain, which offers some of Washington’s best skiing in the winter and numerous hiking trails in the summer.
When visiting any of these areas of Mt. Rainer National Park, spend some time planning your activities and movements. Because of the rapidly changing weather and the elevation, roads do close when conditions worsen. Many of the activities are only open from May through October. Still, anyone that enjoys hiking, mountain climbing, camping or just seeing some of the world’s most beautiful mountains and scenes will find that Mt. Rainer National Park has something amazing to offer.
For more information on Mt. Rainier National Park and visitor areas near the park, call the Mt. Rainier Visitor Association at 877-617-9950, or visit www.mt-rainier.com. Another good source of information is www.visitrainier.com. Phone 877-270-7155.
Mt. Rainier reflected in mountain lake, photo courtesy of Gordon Campbell