Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Travel Tuesday - Mount Rainier National Park

Travel is one of my great loves. I plan dream vacations in my spare time (down to details like finding out bus routes and taxi company prices... but that is probably a touch of OCD along with a love of travel...) Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way of being able to jet off to exotic locations, but I have still been lucky enough to visit some amazing locations. I thought I would start sharing some of my past (and current, whenever I get to go visit someplace) destinations and pictures here.

I think it is fitting for my favorite place here in Washington to be featured in my first Travel Tuesday post - Mount Rainier National Park. The national park was established in 1899 as the fifth national park in the country. The park surrounds Mount Rainier, one of the tallest mountains in the lower 48 states.

Mount Rainier, from the road to Paradise

Mount Rainier NP has three major visitor's centers (and tons of wide open backcountry spaces for those who want to get away from people) 
  • Longmire, open all year at a lower elevation. Longmire has the National Park Inn, the only lodging open year round, as well as a general store, restaurant, museums, and gift shop. There are some good low elevation hiking trails that start at Longmire.
Logging exhibit at Longmire
  • Paradise, the most visited area of the park (and very well named!). Paradise is at around 5,000 feet in elevation and has amazing wildflower fields in the summer and up to 55 feet of snow in the winter.  There are tons of trails in the Paradise area, from paved, easy walkways to strenuous, mostly uphill treks. Paradise is also where the majority of mountain climbers start their trek up the mountain. You will often see full equipped climbers trudging uphill alongside the flip-flop clad tourists.Paradise has a brand new visitor center with a gift shop, museum, and food court and also has the historic Paradise Inn, open in the summer, with lodging and a restaurant.
Paradise wildflower fields in summer

  • Sunrise is on the east side of the mountain, and as it's name suggests, is a great place to see the sun rise on the mountain. Sunrise is at a higher elevation and at the end of a very twisty road, so it is only open in the summer time after the park service can plow the roads. No lodging at Sunrise, but there is a nice gift shop and food court as well as great hiking opportunities.
Mount Rainier from the Burrough's Mountain trail in the Sunrise area

We make a trip to Mount Rainier at least once a year, and every time we go there is something different. Winter visits to Paradise are a snow-lover's dream, but weather conditions are highly variable and often the weather is too dangerous to visit any elevations higher than Longmire.

Paradise in January - That's me, and somewhere behind me was Mount Rainier. About 15 minutes after this picture, park rangers suggested that we should go back to the visitor's center because the weather conditions were too dangerous.
When the weather does cooperate, Paradise in winter has miles of snowshoeing trails, opportunities for back country skiing, and a tube sliding hill near the parking lot.

That's more like it! Paradise in January.
Summer is the most crowded season at Mount Rainier, and for good reason! During the short summer temperatures climb, the snowpack melts, and wild flowers bloom like crazy.

Mount Rainier in August, peak wild flower time.
Of course, like winter, summer can also be unpredictable, depending on how the weather has been going... We have visited Mount Rainier in late July and early August a few years in a row, and one year we get beautiful wildflowers, but the next we get 5 feet of slushy snow still on the ground. Every year is different.

Paradise in July - high snow levels in the winter delayed the melt for over a month. We were hiking on over 5 feet of snow here.
Fall colors in the park can often be quite beautiful as well, as long as you time it right (after the wild flowers and before the snow flies).

Fall color at Paradise
Mount Rainier NP is less than a two hour drive from Seattle. The National Park website is a great place to find information about things to see and current conditions in the park. Mount Rainier is a sight everybody should see at least once!

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