July 29th – August 1st, 2016
Maria and I were excited to check out Mount Rainier National Park over BC Day long weekend. We had heard amazing things about it and wanted to see its beauty for ourselves.
Below is a map highlighting all the places we visited.
DuPont - 1 Night
We left for our trip on Friday after work. Since the campsite we wanted to stay at, Mowich Lake, wasn't reservable ahead of time, we figured we wouldn't get a spot if we headed to it that evening. Instead, we decided to spend the first night in a hotel close to the park.
We made our pit stop in DuPont and stayed at FairBridge Inn & Suites. The town is quite quaint and is broken up into several unique districts where all the buildings in each area have a different style. From there we had about a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us the following morning to reach our next stop.
Mowich Lake - 1 Night
After leaving our hotel, we headed east until we reached highway 165. This is the only way to access Mowich Lake and it is only open during the summer season. The road is unpaved and a little rough, but we were able to make it to the end with no problems driving a small 4 door sedan. Fair warning -- the road does get very dusty in the summer time.
After traveling about 30 km on the 165, we reached the park entrance and fee station. Park entry is $25 for a 7-day pass and $50 for an annual pass. The pay station at this location is cash only and based on the honor system. You place your money into a white envelope, rip off the ID portion on the flap of the envelope that will serve as your pass for the week, and place the envelope into a locked box.
If you are planning to camp at Mowich Lake, make sure to arrive early to secure a campsite. There are 10 rudimentary walk-in spots, with no potable water. There are no overnight camping fees or reservable spots for this location. The rangers sometimes allow overflow campers to pitch their tents between spots.
When we arrived, the area was already quite busy with campers and people out hiking. I dropped Maria off at the entrance to get her to secure a spot and take our supplies, and I headed back down the 165 to find a parking spot. I ended up having to park about 1.5 km from the entrance, but was able to move the car closer in the evening after most of the day hikers had gone home. There are a couple of wheelbarrows to help bring any camping supplies to your campsite if needed.
We set up our tent to claim the spot and checked out the rest of the campsite before heading out on a hike for the day. The campsite itself is essentially a big circle with the lake on the north side. It is very well maintained and clean. The lake is beautiful and great for swimming, but it is very cold (after all, it is glacier water).
From the campground, there are two very easily accessible hiking trails, the Wonderland Trail and the Spray Park Trial. The Wonderland Trail cuts right through the campsite and is a great hike that loops around the entire Mount Rainier National Park. Since we were not planning on doing a multi-day hike, we decided on the Spray Park trail to get the most variety in the shortest amount of time.
The trail itself is about 13 km round trip with a 520 m elevation gain. Along the way, we stopped at Eagle Cliff lookout and Spray Falls. We arrived at Spray Park a little after 12 PM and the scenery was simply magical. Miles of lush meadow, babbling brooks and evergreen forest lay before us, with Mount Rainier perfectly juxtaposed in the background. The entire area seemed like something you would only see in your wildest fantasy. After arriving, we found ourselves a private spot, settled down and had lunch.
After finishing lunch and taking in the beauty of the surrounding area, we started walking back to our campsite. When we arrived back at Mowich Lake, we unpacked the rest of our camping gear and made dinner. I decided to go for a quick swim afterwards and then we hung out at the campsite until the sunset. The evening here was absolutely spectacular with not a cloud in the sky, perfect for star gazing. The campground is far enough away from civilization to be free of any outside light or noise pollution.
Paradise - 1 Night
The next morning we packed up our things, walked back to the car and headed towards Paradise, which was essentially on the other side of the mountain. We headed back down the 165 until we hit Orville Road East which then took us to the 706 (National Park Highway) straight to Paradise!
Once we arrived, we had lunch and then decided to hike the Skyline Trail loop which is about 9 km long with a 440 m elevation gain. I would recommend starting at the north trail-head near the climbing information center. This will point you directly facing one of the best views of the mountain during your initial ascent, and will save you from having to constantly turn around to enjoy the view had you started at the east entrance.
The hike started with a pretty aggressive ascent and continued until we reached the highest point of the trail about 1/3 of the way through the loop. There were plenty of spots to rest and take in the view, which included many of the surrounding peaks to the south such as Pinnacle Peak and Stevens Peak. The trail leads between and over Dead Horse and Edith Creek with fantastic sight lines to Myrtle Falls. During the summer months, it is especially beautiful as natural streams, fauna, and wildlife weave through the very trail you hike on. Despite the crowds around Paradise, we still got close to a lot of wildlife during our hike including chipmunks, marmots, beavers, and deer. Fun fact: the park is home to over 80 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
After about an hour and a half of leisurely hiking, we made it to the highest point of the trail and started to descend to the southeast. Shortly after this, we reached the rough halfway point, Panorama Point, and decided to stop and have lunch. From here we had a spectacular view of a large portion of the south side of the park, as well as Mount St. Helens in the distance. This is quite a popular spot for lunch so there are a lot of squirrels and chipmunks scavenging for food. I urge you NOT to feed them as they seemed quite aggressive -- we saw a couple people who did try to feed them get bitten. On top of this, you can be charged up to a $100 fine by one of the many park rangers walking by if caught.
After lunch we continued along our path, and from here it was mostly downhill so it gave us all the more reason to absorb our surroundings. From this point, the environment began to change around us and we found ourselves tiptoeing through narrow passages with steep rock walls on one side and icy slopes opposite. It is one of those unique experiences where you are trekking through lush meadows and colorful wildflowers one moment, and sliding across dunes of snow the next. As we descended further down the mountain, the snow receded and was replaced with a familiar green.
After about 30 minutes from Panorama Point, we were presented with an alternative trail, the Golden Gate Trail, which would have taken us back to Paradise about 30 minutes faster. We chose not to take the easy way out and instead completed the trail we had started since there was much more to see!
After the fork, we plateaued a bit and continued through damp marshland until we crossed the Paradise River. After that, we began descending again, parallel to a waterfall on our right side. Once we passed this, there were only about 30 minutes of hiking left until we returned to Paradise. We completed the hike in the late afternoon and were absolutely mesmerized by its beauty. The sheer amount of diversity and natural wonder so close to home is an absolute blessing.
From the east trail-head, we headed back to our car and drove to our next campsite. We were able to make a reservation at Cougar Rock Campground in advance, so we were in no rush to find and secure a spot. The campground is about a 15 minute drive west of Paradise, so you could easily spend an entire weekend there and access the area quite conveniently. The only downside to this campground is that it is quite close to the highway, but there was next to no traffic in the evening so noise and distraction were minimal.
The next morning we had a little bit of a lazy start, made breakfast, packed our things and hit the road back home. All in all, it felt like we had been gone for a week since we had taken in so much of the park. A long weekend is the perfect amount of time for any eager adventurer to get a very good taste of what Washington and Mount Rainier National Park have to offer. If you're planning a trip to the park, let us know in the comments section below if you have any questions. And if you've visited before, we'd love to hear about your experiences.
Until next time,