Day Trip to Mount Rainier
We visited Seattle last year, but it was a very quick trip and didn’t give us the opportunity to explore outside of the city. We enjoyed that trip and all that downtown Seattle has to offer (especially the coffee!), but it left us wanting to come back and explore the mountains and forests that seemed to be in every direction.
On our second visit to the Pacific Northwest, we would include Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, and a day downtown to enjoy the city. We'll blog about these separately, so be sure to check out our other posts!
We are lucky to have family nearby, so we had a wonderful place to stay as we exhausted ourselves running around all day, every day, of our vacation! From the suburbs of Seattle, where we were staying, Mount Rainier was an easy ~2 hour drive.
This giant volcano-mountain is visible from just about anywhere around Seattle, but as you drive towards it, it seems to grow and grow. We had bad luck on the day we visited, and the clouds were low and thick, obscuring any view of the mountain for most of the day. To make matters worse, we had made some plans for what hikes to do while we were there, but left the list and book at home (oops). We ended up in quite an unsure and indecisive predicament. We had no clue where to go or where to hike.
Luckily, the drive through this park is worth a trip on it’s own, because that is how we ended up spending our time here. We know we missed out on some good hikes, but without knowing what to do, we were at a loss. We’ll chalk this visit up to learning from our mistakes! We wish we could have gotten deeper into this park, more off of the main road, but what we did see, just along the roadside, was a truly beautiful adventure on its own. As you enter the park, the road just leads the way. There are plenty of places to pause and enjoy the majestic views!
Kautz Creek Trail
The Kautz Creek Trail starts off across the road from a small parking area with a restroom. We opted to start the trail, then take a sharp left to go to the “viewpoint” and hopefully catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier. No luck, the clouds were hiding it. We headed back the way we came, then wandered into this old growth forest. The trail goes much further than we went, but we enjoyed a stroll through this forest. Moss was growing everywhere, and the textures and smells were equally beautiful.
Just off the road, there is a small parking area that allows a few cars to park, so we could wander out to this waterfall. There is a small bridge just before the parking area, which later frames the waterfall quite nicely. A short walk along a developed trail leads to a wonderful viewpoint.
The moss and flowing water create such a beautiful scene, and add the old rock bridge... it’s just stunning. I had just gotten a new tripod and ND filter, so this park gave me a fun chance to play with that new photography gear!
This waterfall is right next to a trail, and has a large parking area with restrooms and picnic areas. We headed off from the parking lot, and took a break at the “comfort stations” just up the hill. These are old restrooms that are quite interesting! Back to the trail, which leads you right through the woods and out to a perfect viewpoint from the bottom of the fall. We were sufficiently misted after a few minutes here, but the rainbows and sudden sunny skies made it hard to leave!
Paradise Valley & the Visitor Center
On the way to the visitor center, we passed a Paradise Picnic Area and the Nisqually Vista trailhead parking lot. We paused in the trailhead lot for a couple of minutes, again, hoping that Mount Rainier would pop out from behind the clouds… but it didn’t. We continued the drive up to the visitor center, and it was packed. We left due to the crowds and lack of parking, then decided to go back and try again. On our second try, we got a parking spot, and went for a little walk.
We got our Passport stamp in the Visitor Center, bought a couple of little souvenirs in the gift store, then went back outside. Snow and ice were still dominating several of the trails up here, and being unprepared for icy hiking, we opted to skip the hikes. The clouds were still in the way, completely hiding the big mountain and glaciers we were hoping to see. To maintain authenticity, I’ll tell you that we were both super grumpy at this point and basically had a mini-meltdown in the parking lot. The clouds were thick, we were both tired from travelling, my knee was hurting, Kim was frustrated that we couldn’t find a good hike to do… and we just had to pause and let the frustration happen for a few minutes. Then we moved on...
Our next stop was at Reflections Lakes… the first one. This big lake has a parking area right next to it, and we were able to just walk right up to the edge of the water. We followed a trail along the lake for a few minutes, and tried to find some good reflections and viewpoints. The wind was kicking up at about this point, so reflections were just not going happen. (PNW weather, geez.) We enjoyed the water and the walk, and it was a pretty view. The wind seemed to be helping to clear out the clouds, too!
Waterfalls and Avalanches
Further along the road, as it winds through the forest, the long and sweeping views really begin to open up. The canyons and peaks seem so deep and tall here. If you pay attention, you’ll see some waterfalls along the road, some way out in the forest. Avalanche chutes are also visible in this area, with long crumbling slopes coming right to the road. The scale of one of these chutes is particularly impressive! I wouldn't want to be anywhere near this road when the slides start happening,
This was the final stop on our drive, as we turned to head home after this little hike. Box Canyon is accesible from a small parking area, and by a short half mile hike. This narrow canyon has water rushing through it, with a small bridge 115 feet above. Standing on this bridge, looking down at the water, brings some scale to the depth of the canyon and the force of the water within it. This was our favorite stop in the park - such a cool thing to stand right above a rushing flow of water, far beneath in a narrow canyon!
We didn’t make it to the north side of the park, around Sunrise Visitor Center, as we had dinner plans with family to head back to town for… but that leaves more for next time. The road through this park is deceptively long, and really takes some time to drive, especially with stops for lots of views and angles. On our way out of the park, out the same way we had come in, the sun started to break through the clouds, and we got some peekaboo views of the glaciers and huge scale of Mount Rainier.
The waterfalls and glaciers, and abundance of wildflowers, are sure to call us back for a second adventure in this park. Mount Rainier, we’ll see you again!
Have you hiked around this big National Park? Tell us what you like, so we can add it to our list for next time!