One Day in Mt. Rainier…

IMG_3520I had one day to explore during my stay in Tacoma. I knew Mt. Rainier National Park was my ideal spot to hang out, but with a two-hour drive, I wasn’t sure it was feasible. What did I have to lose?

I signed up with ZipCar and picked up the car at 7 a.m. from the University of Puget Sound student union. To stay on the safe side, I reserved the car until 9:30 p.m. which cost me $80. Not bad for a ridiculously convenient way for me to sightsee on my own schedule. I scanned my card to unlock the doors, hopped in, set the station to the local public radio and started my drive East.

An hour and a half later, I arrived at the Nisquilly Park Entrance. $25 later, I was in the park—along with 800 cyclists. It just so happened to be the same day as RAMROD: Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day. Props to them for riding 180 miles in a single day with severe climbs and relentless determination, but it made navigating the twists and turns of the roadway with other park visitors that much more frustrating. Nonetheless, I was just too excited to be back in the mountains.

IMG_3466First stop: Narada Falls

I decided to use the restroom and stretch my legs at Narada falls. A few other RVs and cars were parked for the incredibly short walk down to the fall’s basin. It looked like the trail continued, but I made it a short and sweet visit.

PARADISE – Panorama Point via the Skyline and Golden Gate Trails: 4 miles, 1700’ elevation gain, 2h 10m

I arrived around 9:40 a.m. and swerved in the overflow parking lot, considering it was already quite full. It was just a short walk uphill to the visitor’s center, which I immediately found out didn’t open until 10 a.m. Alongside other families with strollers and couples with daypacks, I consulted the area map to see which hike I should embark on. Typically, a trail named Skyline is designed for a reason, so I marked my way, opting for the shortcut three-quarters of the way through to knock off an extra hour.

It was spectacular. I don’t think I quite realized what the elevation gain meant, already huffing and puffing within the first 10 minutes. The trail was quite popular, but (luckily) many turned around at Glacier Vista. One and a half miles in, the trail became snow-covered—a flashback to my days walking on the glacier in Patagonia—which required a bit of special maneuvering. An unwelcome narrow ledge created a traffic jam as hikers attempted to cross safely, although falling only meant a nice icy butt-slide back down to where the snowy path started. I eventually made it to Panorama Point (reading the trail markers carefully to avoid an added .3 mile climb to Pebble Creek), then followed the High Skyline trail further up, enjoying the pristine views. It felt nice to finally start my descent, crossing over more snow-covered paths and turning right onto the Golden Gate Trail, full of budding wildflowers.

I may not be the expert on Mt. Rainier hikes, but I’d highly recommend the Skyline if you’re pressed for time. With Mt. Rainier, the Nisquilly Glacier, panoramic vistas, bubbling creeks and wildflowers in a single hike, you can’t go wrong.

IMG_3522Reflection Lakes for lunch

This was a great getaway from the insanely busy Paradise area to enjoy my PB&J. A local tour guide brought her private group there too, so I think I got the right idea. You can’t beat the view, and apparently bears and elk tend to peak out on the lake’s edge from time to time. Bring binoculars if you have them—you can see Mt. Rainier climbers on the snowy slopes high above.

IMG_3526Grove of the Patriarchs: 1.5 miles, 50’ elevation gain, 30 minutes

A great loop for families. This short trail was mentioned on numerous lists and featured a new type of scenery only accessible in the Southeast corner of the park. These trees were gigantic, reminding me of Sequoias and the Redwood National Park.

SUNRISE: Fremont Trail – 5.6 miles, 900’ elevation gain, 2 hours

This was the one trail in the entire park that I knew I wanted to do. But due to my previous hike in Paradise and time constraint with the car, I wasn’t sure if I could hike the entire thing in time. I’m a huge fan of long hikes, so I speed up to Sunrise so I could see what all the fuss was about.

I bypassed the visitor’s center and headed straight for the trailhead where a friendly park ranger asked where I was going. I told him the Fremont lookout, mentioning that I had a time limit. He said I probably wouldn’t be able to make it there and back within four hours and should probably just head back after two—regardless of where I was. I reluctantly agreed with his plan and headed up the rocky path past numerous viewpoints and the “frozen” lake, eventually turning right onto the Fremont trail. An hour later I arrived at my destination. On my way up, I passed four small hiking groups heading back down, but ended up having the entire lookout to myself. Wowza: A 360-degree view of Mt. Rainier, the streams below and forests beyond. You could see for miles and miles and miles. The horse flies drew me away too soon, but I was thrilled to have spent some alone time in such a peaceful spot.

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