There’s this couple I follow on Instagram who travel fulltime and their entire Instagram feed is just happy pictures of them. They are, according to social media, the happiest people in all the land.
They’re happy in the desert, they’re happy at the beach, they’re happy in the mountains, they’re happy in the morning, they’re happy in the evening, they’re happy inside their RV, and they’re happy outside while sitting around a fire.
Every picture is some version of: beaming smiles a mile wide, one looking lovingly at the other, both of them looking off into the distance, one or both with arms raised in a demonstration of euphoria. Every caption is a lengthy screed about the joy they feel, their love that knows no bounds, the gratitude that wells up deep inside them and fills their hearts with warmth as they consider their great fortune to travel this wondrous country.
Lately, every time I see one of their posts, I think: “Oh, shut UP already.”
I know. But don’t tell me for one second you don’t want to tell the endless joy peddlers to shut their pie-holes once in a while.
There’s a damned pandemic going on, the economy is in a recession, half the country literally wants to shoot the other half, everyone is overly anxious, overly frustrated, and *this close* to a complete mental breakdown. The last thing anyone wants to hear about is people who are happy all the time.
So, what does all that have to do with Mt. Rainier? Well, my last several posts have been about our admittedly idyllic Summer travels. And they truly have been pretty perfect. Our visits to Yellowstone, Glacier, and North Cascades all featured fantastic weather, ridiculous scenery, and relatively carefree living.
Meanwhile, due to Covid and assorted other catastrophes, a bunch of our friends were stuck in places they didn’t want to be, not doing the things they thought they’d be doing, probably wishing that, just once, we’d have the decency to have a really crappy day.
But, god bless em, they dutifully read my posts and some even commented (while undoubtedly grinding their teeth into teeny tiny nubs) about just how glad they were to see us having so. much. fun.
There is no question that I have some good and loyal friends because I promise, if the roles were reversed, by post number five of the utterly grating “Kevin & Laura’s happy camper covid chronicles” I would 100% be screaming: “Oh, shut UP already!!”
Trust me. I get it.
And, honestly, the news for those good and loyal friends isn’t great this week. Luck was – once again – on our side at Mount Rainier which means I’m about to post a bunch of blue sky, sunshiny pictures that are gonna be super annoying. But, friends, stick with me, because I promise, after this one last happy-go-lucky post, the universe is gonna take a gigantic dump on our heads.
Don’t lose faith. It’s coming.
Crossing the Cascades
In the meantime, let’s talk about Mount Rainier. Actually, let’s start with getting to Mount Rainier, because that was kind of a cool process. When we last chatted, we were parked on the east side of the Cascades in an arid, desert landscape presciently opining, “Man, it looks like everything is about to go up in flames!!”
In order to get to Rainier, we had to cross the mountains, and the easiest way to do that was to drive due south to the area of Yakima, spend a night at the local Walmart, and then head west over a not-too-terrible part of the mountains.
The interesting thing was watching the landscape so quickly change from dry desert to mountain greenery.
Near Winthrop, the contrast between the natural landscape and what can be achieved through the magic of irrigation was on full display:
There was also plenty of evidence of past fire damage:
And confirmation that we were driving through a tinderbox:
But once we made the turn west, we suddenly started seeing real signs of life. It wasn’t much at first:
But, within a matter of minutes, green became the dominant color:
And before we knew it, we were gawking at one big-ass volcano ahead of us:
At 14,411 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range, and you can see it from miles away in all directions. It is truly a sight to behold.
It’s even better up close.
Mount Rainier – Fire & Ice
When you’re a tourist, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Mount Rainier is an active volcano that could legit go off at any time (It last erupted in 1894). Given its current status as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the U.S., and given this video of the Mount St. Helen’s eruption, it’s safe to assume if you find yourself desperately looking for a sign like this, you’re having a really bad day.
But assuming you don’t find yourself at Rainier at the wrong time, what you’ll notice most is ice.
Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciated volcano in the lower forty-eight, with 25 named glaciers attached to its surface.
The glaciers cover some 30 square miles and support five different rivers in the region.
It is the presence of these glaciers that make Rainier so dangerous. Whenever it erupts, all that ice will give way and immediately begin to flow downhill, creating something called a “lahar” – a violent mudflow full of pyroclastic material, ice, and rock debris that will swamp entire towns located below the mountain. Lahars are basically huge mudslides that can be hundreds of feet deep and travel at speeds over a 100 miles per hour.
When compared to Mount St. Helens, not only does Rainier have many more glaciers attached to it, but it is also a larger, more powerful volcano. Additionally, it’s located much closer to heavily populated areas. So, let’s just hope it doesn’t erupt anytime soon.
The Skyline Trail
The go-to trail at Mount Rainier National Park is the 5.5 mile Skyline Trail. The trail is located in the Paradise area of the national park, which faces the southern side of the volcano. Paradise is also home to one of the park’s visitor centers and an abundance of wildflowers – which is one of the reasons for its name.
The entire first section of the hike offers consistent views of the volcano
Turning around in the opposite directions provides views of the surrounding mountain ranges. This is the Tatoosh Range:
There were plenty of people at the park, but it didn’t feel overly crowded – especially as we continued to make our way up.
On a clear day, which we had, (I know, I know… just remember, the turd is coming…), you can see the other famous volcanoes that reside in the Pacific Northwest. In the back here, on the left, is Mount Adams:
Here is Mount Adams again on the left and to the right, very faint, you can see Mount Hood:
And this is Mount St. Helens way out in the distance:
The trail offers a fair variety of terrain with some ankle twisting sections on the far side. Nothing terrible, but plan to take your time and bring hiking poles if you have them.
The late afternoon views on the second half of the trail were sensational
and with less people on the trail, we got to see some small wildlife – marmots, chipmunks, and such.
Toward the end of the loop, Mount Rainier came back into view, this time providing the backdrop to grassy meadows:
and plenty of colorful wildflowers:
Waterfalls, Reflections, and Ancient Trees
Later in the week, we visited the park to check out some of its other popular features. There are two easily accessible waterfalls. The first, Myrtle Falls, is located near the end of the Skyline Trail. Alternatively, visitors can access it directly from the visitor center parking area.
The second, Narada Falls, is famous for its silvery reflections
and is actually more impressive in video form:
Reflection Lake is famous for its, well, reflection of Mount Rainier. You can imagine what it would look like at sunrise with beautiful shades of pink and orange lighting up the sky, and the mountain’s snow capped reflection appearing in the glassy surface of the cold water. You can also imagine me curled up in bed which is why I am offering you this much less impressive late afternoon capture:
Finally, we checked out the Grove of the Patriarchs, which is a 1.5 mile trail cut through a grove of ancient trees – primarily Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar – on the southeastern side of the park. The grove is actually located on an island, accessed by a suspension bridge:
Parts of the trail are on a boardwalk, while other parts are dirt trails. All of it is easy. Really, the most difficult part is finding a parking spot, but these enormous trees are worth the effort.
Visiting the Park
Mount Rainier National Park is quite large, with trails, campgrounds, and sightseeing available in several regions. But, like North Cascades NP, there are no bustling towns near the entrances. We stayed just outside the southwestern Nisqually entrance and found it to be a good choice. Just be forewarned, if you decide to visit the park, you’ll want to have everything you need with you. The nearest large supermarket is almost an hour away.
Next up…. well, you know what’s next. Details soon.
Where we stayed: Mounthaven Campground, Ashford, Washington