Mount Rainier is awesome! It floats in the distance beyond Seattle, an eerie apparition that glows in the pink sunsets. Being able to explore it up close was so cool.

Everywhere you look, you see the peak.

Mount Rainier Geology

It’s the highest mountain in Washington, and the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a volcano, and there’s a chance it could blow in our lifetimes.

You’d be forgiven for not realizing it’s a volcano, though. Its fiery potential is covered by 26 major icy glaciers, 36 square miles of them.

Needless to say, it was interesting to sleep on. Not as scary as Yellowstone’s Supervolcano, but it somehow felt more conspicuous, being a conical mountain. It was easier to imagine the lava blowing out the top.

Mount Rainier National Park

I really liked this National Park, because it was a manageable size. There’s one main artery through it. The hikes are straightforward, and there aren’t things like grizzlies or rattlesnakes to contend with. There weren’t many people there when I was there, either. Another highlight.

I did meet another woman who was traveling around the country by herself. She was a bit older and had a small RV and two dogs. I haven’t met too many other solo women travelers on this trip, so I enjoyed talking to her.

West Side, First Night

On my drive and for the rest of the night, it was a bit misty and the sky was overcast. When I arrived to the park, I checked out the short Kautz Creek Trail. It was an interpretive trail that talked about lava flow, mud and debris from the volcano. I walked around the Longmire Museum, but it was closed. The trail that circles the entire peak (26 miles!) is always open, so I walked down a bit of that, the Nisqually River for a while. I love glacial melt, the eerie greenish-gray color and the rushing water.

Log bridge over the rushing Nisqually

There’s a Mount Rainier back there, I swear

 

Then I set up camp.

The night I arrived was cool and misty, but I got sooo lucky the next day, as you can see by the photos. I also got lucky to wake up early, before any clouds came in to interrupt the sunshine.

Stevens Canyon Road

It was pretty shocking to wake up and realize that the overcast sky had covered a GIANT peak. The same peak I had seen miles away, from Seattle and Bellingham and on Whidbey Island. Meanwhile, driving right into the park, I didn’t see it at all.

Boy, did I see it the morning I woke up in the park. It rose up in front of me the entire day, no matter where I was.

I started by driving Stevens Canyon Road. The road rose as it went along. I pulled off most of the pull offs. After a while, I started to be higher than the clouds! I saw Narada Falls, Christine Falls, and Reflection Lakes. Then the elevation changed again: I came around a corner and was in Stevens Canyon, which brought me back downhill. There was some gorgeous red foliage, as it was full sun here. It was a great fall scene.

Fall foliage in Stevens Canyon, Mount Rainier

 

Reflection Lake, Mount Rainier

Sunrise

Then I drove out to Sunrise, which was pretty remote. It’s one of the least visited areas of the park. When I got there, the parking lot was nearly empty. The Visitor’s Center and the Day Lodge were closed. I took my oatmeal, coffee, and Jetboil to a picnic table for breakfast. Frozen Lake was too far for what I wanted to do that day, but I hiked a bit down the trail. I did hike over to Emmons Glacier Overlook. That was cool. Rainier rose up like one of the Alps, and the Center and Lodge added to the Swiss feel.

View on the drive to Sunrise. What a commute!

A deer friend, enjoying the view of the peak.

Paradise

I coasted back down the mountain, and hit Stevens Canyon Road again. This time I did the Grove of the Patriarchs, where I saw some giant trees and a very pretty river. Then I drove up to the Paradise Region.

There’s a reason its name is “Paradise.” Mount Rainier rises up dramatically behind it. From the visitor’s center/parking lot, many trails take you all the way up to it.

“Up” indeed. Thankfully, it was the perfect fall weather, and I had my hiking stick. I made it about 1.5 miles in, with some serious elevation gain. It was awesome. The views stayed … about the same. It was surprisingly crowded, considering the campground and most of my morning drive were barely populated.

On the way back down, at the entrance to the trail just past the visitor’s center, these two girls were doing “glamour shots” on the mountain. One was taking photos, and one was modeling, I guess? Maybe it was senior pictures, or one of their clothing line. There was a lot of giggling, frolicking and hair tossing. Not the usual vibe on a mountain trail, but it was entertaining. And the backdrop was amazing, so I can see why they chose it.

 

View from Paradise Region. Mount Rainier dominates the skyline up here.

Camping

I camped in Cougar Rock Campground. It was my first night back to camping after nearly a month in Bellingham and Sarah’s AirBnB. I really enjoy camping, so the transition wasn’t too hard, and it’s not too cold yet. The night was quiet and cool. I enjoy all the outdoor time, and getting in my tent just after sundown. I usually get a lot of sleep this way, and sleep very solidly.

The only problem was … this is ANOTHER National Park that did NOT have soap in the bathrooms. Not, like, they ran out. They just didn’t have any. Shake my head … It can’t be good for public health and safety.

I’m also listening to a fascinating audiobook, The Mysterious Benedict Society. It’s a bit Lemony Snicket meets Spy Kids. I enjoy breaking up my usual with lighter fare like this, and I can usually devour kids’ books in a day or two on the road.

Recommendation: Do It.

I really enjoyed my time on Mount Rainier, and I would definitely recommend a stay in this park. I’m sure it’s crazy busy during peak season, and it has one of the more limited seasons because of snowfall blocking much of the park. Plus there’s clouds to contend with. But if you time it right, it’s a majestic experience.