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Where to Stay When You Come to Play

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Mt. Rainier National Park draws people from all over the world to its gates, spreading a respect for nature and the beauty it holds. It only fits that the surrounding area is just as unique and beautiful. The year-round Nisqually Entrance is located in Ashford, WA. The town is a mere 6 miles from the park entrance, and home to lodgings that turn a National Park trip into a vacation you’ve dreamed about- unless your dream vacation is at a chain hotel, then you’re out of luck. The charm of a small mountain town is magnified in its lodging owners. The hotels, cabins, spas, and inns are locally owned, and their managers a wealth of local information. As I said before, you won’t find a Best Western or an Applebee’s in Ashford, but you will find that each lodging is unique and full of character. While there is a long list of places to stay (visit our lodging page here), let us introduce a couple to you.


Bowman’s West Wind Woods rents two charming cabins. If you’re looking to escape from a city, these cabins may be perfect for you. Decorated with comfortable country décor, you’ll forget all about rush hour traffic and loud neighbors. Both cabins have 2 queen beds, with extra cots available, perfect for families or trips with friends. The larger of the cabins comes with a TV and DVD player, and a full kitchen, including the pots and pans you’d need, you only have to bring the food! The smaller of the cabins has a galley kitchen, with a ½ fridge and a microwave, perfect for visitors who plan on eating at the local restaurants during their stay. The cabins aren’t all that Bowman’s has to offer, there is also a covered picnic area with a barbeque available- there’s nothing better than a summer barbeque! And while you’re there, make sure to keep an eye on the meadow, where majestic herds of elk can often be spotted!


Stormking Spa and Cabins (check out our Spa Blog) is another unique choice for your stay. Choosing between the five cabins may be difficult, but you can’t make a wrong choice! In each cabin you’ll enjoy a private hot tub, gas fireplace, Stormking’s special blend of fresh-roasted coffee, herbal teas, and hot chocolate, and a complimentary breakfast plate. The cabins’ décor reflects the beauty of the Nisqually Valley while maintaining a luxurious feeling highlighted by the handcrafted aromatherapy soaps and beds so comfortable you might just forget about that hike you had in mind. Each cabin also has a microwave, refrigerator, coffee pot, and assorted dishes. Stormking has been featured in both ‘Northwest Best Places’ and ‘Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest’, it’s not hard to imagine why!

(Stormking’s Facebook)

There are so many great lodgings in the Nisqually River Valley, it’s easy to find one that’s right for you- check out the full list of lodgings here. We understand how important where you stay can be on a vacation, if you have any questions call the Visitor Center at 360-569-0910, or e-mail info@mt-rainier.com, let us help you find your perfect fit!

Featured post

Relax and Reconnect at Mt Rainier

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Mt. Rainier is not just for outdoor enthusiasts, skiers, snowshoers, or get-up-and-go-er’s. Mt. Rainier also has an incredibly relaxing, luxurious, peaceful side! There truly is something for everyone here, which makes vacation planning SO much easier. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we’re going to explore some of the awesome spa options near Mt. Rainier- but you know that you don’t need a holiday to treat yourself to a relaxing weekend, right? Good, because these guys are open year-round!

Alexander’s Country Inn is a one-stop relaxation destination. Alexander’s Spa includes Full-Body Relaxation, Deep Tissue, Neck, Back, and Shoulder, Leg and Feet, and Personalized massages. Pay a little attention to that spot you tweaked lifting the too-heavy-for-one-person-to-lift-but-you-tried-anyways object, or to that stress not you’ve been developing from work. They want you to leave happy and relaxed. They also offer other treatments,  including facials, body polish, heated stones, packages, and more- check out their brochure here. You can also turn you’re your spa appointment into a weekend getaway by booking a room, Alexander’s Country Inn has a  complimentary  full breakfast served in it’s restaurant, a hot tub overlooking their trout pond, and complimentary wine by the fireplace. Top all that off with being a mere mile from the Nisqually Entrance to Mt. Rainier!

The turn before Alexander’s is Stormking Spa. Stormking offers many different wraps, polishes, relaxing baths, and massages. Their most popular are their couples packages, check them out, possibly receive the long term benefits of each of you being taught to give a massage by a professional, I can see that coming in handy when you head back to the stress of work and life! They also have great packages just for you, everyone needs to enjoy some alone time once in a while! Remember, you aren’t restricted to packages, if you only want a massage, or a seaweed wrap- no problem! This weekend is all about you after all. Once you’ve relaxed from one of their services, you can extend the relaxation by venturing out to the hot tub or sauna by the creek, or stay the night in one of the cabins and enjoy your own private hot tub! Stormking helps you achieve true mountain bliss.

I’m about to make your life harder, because we have yet another fabulous spa choice! Wellspring Spa keeps it simple, offering massages, hot tubs, and saunas, and simple works! This is perfect for those looking for a low-key environment that helps you relax your body and your mind. Don’t forget to take a stroll through Wellspring’s property to check out their unique cabins (we’re serious about the unique part!), tranquil ponds, and perfectly placed seating areas that will help you to reconnect with you.

There are so many unique lodgings in Ashford, you’re bound to find the perfect one for you and your needs. If that perfect cabin, hotel, or lodge doesn’t happen to be Alexander’s, Stormking, or Wellspring? No problem, you can still enjoy spa treatments if you’re not staying with them! Find the combination that will make your stay relaxing and fun, grab a bottle of wine and some snow gear, and head towards the mountain!

Bench and Snow Lakes Trail

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This early season hike is a personal favorite, with such variety it keeps you interested and engaged throughout. It’s slightly lower elevation and sun exposure gives this trail the advantage of opening earlier in the season, as well as one of the first higher elevation hikes for wildflowers! You never know what you’re going to see on this hike, from well hidden frogs to a black bear in the meadow; it’s a great hike for families!


Bench and Snow Lakes trail head is located on the Stevens Canyon road. From Paradise it is on your right, 1.5 miles past Reflection Lake. Considered a moderate difficulty trail, this 2.5 mile round trip (out and back) crosses a series of ridges, with ups and downs throughout, gaining 700’ in elevation. Give yourself about 2 hours to complete.


From the trailhead you start with a view of Mt Rainier to the north, and you follow the trail through rich green foliage among the wildflowers and trees. The trail takes you to a meadow nestled up to the Tatoosh Range, the meadow attracts a variety of wildlife, marmots, deer, and even bears are sometimes spotted from the trail. I was lucky enough to see a bear during my hike! It surveyed us from the bushes before deciding to crash off into the brush. (Black bears at Mt Rainier information here). The hike rises and falls, sometimes a dirt path, then a rocky surface, crossing simple logs over Unicorn Creek (where we were surprised by a well-camouflaged frog keeping cool!), and stunning viewpoints of Mt Rainier.


After .75 miles the trail forks. If you follow the trail to left it will take you down to Bench Lake. Keep to the right and you will reach Snow Lake after .5 miles. Veer to the east and the trail will take you to the Snow Lake backcountry camp. If you stay right, the lake will be right over the next crest, with nice flat rocks to rest and look up at Unicorn Peak on the Tatoosh Range. Take some time to relax, enjoy the quiet scenery, and watch little fish darting around in the lake.


If you’re hiking in the summer months bring bug spray, as the lake and shade can get a bit buggy. This is also a good hike on those days when the mountain is hiding behind clouds, there’s still plenty to see!

Deadhorse Creek Trail and Moraine Trail

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The Paradise area is filled with wildflowers this time of year, and the fields are filled with bright-spotted beauties while the trails are packed with eager photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.  In can be tricky trying to find any solitude at Paradise this time of year, but Deadhorse Creek Trail and the Moraine Trail to the west side of Paradise are good options for getting away from the crowds.

The easiest way to begin is to park in the lower parking lot at Paradise, which is southwest of the Visitor Center.  This 2.5 mile hike is moderate with wide trails that are paved for a portion of the walk. There is a 400 ft elevation gain that takes place mostly within the first .75 mile, with the middle section of the hike flattening out, and the descent on the return.

From the trailhead at the lower parking lot, take the well-marked trail due north, bearing right at the first Y-intersection. If you park in the main Paradise parking lot, head up the stairs to where most of the trails begin and cut hard to your left.  You’ll be paralleling the Visitor Center on the Avalanche Lily Trail and you’ll cross the Alta Vista Trail, and then you’ll come to the T intersection of Deadhorse Creek Trail where you will take a right.

Once you’re on Deadhorse Creek Trail there is no way to go wrong, as there are many other trails that intersect Deadhorse.  You can turn around if you are tired or let your feet guide you towards the glacier, a field of flowers, into the valley, or towards a creek.  If you continue to follow Deadhorse Creek Trail, after about 3/4 of a mile you will have the option to turn left onto the Moraine Trail.

The Moraine Trail is not a loop, but it does take you right down to the “snout” of the Nisqually Glacier. Most visitors skip this option as the trail is unpaved and easy to overlook.  The Moraine Trail is a great place to veer off the more-frequented Deadhorse Creek Trail, dip over a rise and head down into the valley where the Nisqually Glacier sits.  You can find a few rocks to relax upon and soak up the quiet of your own corner of Paradise before retracing your steps on the Moraine Trail and rejoining Deadhorse Creek.  If you choose to turn back now, the round-trip hike would be just under 2.5 miles.   I recommend taking a left on Deadhorse Creek and continuing on a bit higher.

The Deadhorse Creek Trail meets up with the Skyline Trail after a half mile, and you could either take a right on the Skyline Trail to head back towards the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, or you could push on another .2 miles for a spectacular view from the Glacier Vista trail. Either way, once you begin heading down the Skyline Trail you could also opt to switch over to the Alta Vista Trail after a .5 mile.  At this point, head wherever the beauty calls to you or wherever there are less people to mar your view.  All trails had back to the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, or if you cut to the right (west) on the Waterfall Trail or the Avalanche Lily Trail, they will bring you back down to the lower parking lot.

Any path at Paradise is going to provide you with spectacular views and wildflowers through the rest of the month. Prepare to be awed!

Ranger Snowshoe Walks

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Some folks are under the impression that there is nothing to do at Mt. Rainier with the Snow Play Area closed, I am happy to inform you that those people are way off base! Winter is fascinating at the mountain, you never know what you’re going to get! There’s less than 6ft of snow at Paradise right now, more than 40% less than we usually have. Not all winters are like this though- did you know that the winter of 1971/72 Paradise set a world record of 1,122 inches (93.5 ft) of snowfall. Find that interesting? Interpretive Rangers are filled with neat information about Mt. Rainier, and they share with you on their Ranger-led Snowshoe walks!

These Ranger-led Snowshoe walks are great for a number of reasons. 1. You get to learn about Mt. Rainier, the animals that survive there (even in the 93.5 ft of snow years), and information about the National Park Service itself. 2. It’s open even though the Snow Play Area isn’t. 3. It’s a great activity for everyone- no experience necessary, and you can bring the kiddos (8+ years)!

To go on a Snowshoe Walk, you meet in the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise and can sign up an hour before; they are limited to only 25 spots that fill up fast! Make sure you’re prepared for winter at 5,400 ft- wear warm coats, pants, and waterproof shoes, don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen, the snow is super reflective! You can borrow snowshoes from the rangers, or rent them in Ashford from Whittaker Mountaineering Rentals. If you haven’t gone snowshoeing before, don’t stress! In our group, 20 of the 25 visitors had never been before. The rangers will explain how to strap on the snowshoes, and friendly mountain-goers are helpful people if you need a hand.

The snowshoe walk follows the Nisqually Vista trail; you might have walked it in the summer. It is marked moderately-strenuous, but it’s a nice 1.5 mile walk round trip. Each Interpretive ranger has a different program, but is knowledgeable about winter at Paradise and happy to answer unrelated or off-the-wall questions. The snowshoe walks take about 2 hours, and are offered at 11:15 and 1:45 on weekends and holidays through March.

If you want to go snowshoeing but don’t want to go on the Ranger-led walks, that’s okay too! The Nisqually Vista Loop is the only marked route, the rest you need to rely on your navigating skills alone. Remember, if there’s tracks, it doesn’t necessarily mean those people knew what they were doing, make sure you know where you are, and know how to get back even if visibility is near lost, as can happen when clouds settle on the snow. Also, make sure you know where rivers and cliffs are, the snow can disguise them, but you want to avoid falling in either of those. The rangers prefer that those going out have a GPS, as they will be the most efficient if you get into a hairy situation. Always bring the 10 Essentials, and in the winter, more is better, and things change fast. Interested in other winter activities? Check here for park info on snow camping, cross country skiing, etc.

Remember tire chains are required in ALL vehicles (yes, even those with 4WD, AWD, studded tires, even if you’re from Alaska, or have never been in a wreck-you’re driving on the side of the mountain people! Better safe than really really sorry!) so bring them with you or rent them in Ashford. The road from Longmire to Paradise closes nightly in the winter, opening at 9 am (if it’s safe) and closing at 5 pm, so make sure to leave Paradise by 4:30 pm.

EZ Times Outfitters, a Great Time for All!

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Some people think that the only time to come to Mt. Rainier is in the summer. Those people are WRONG! There’s plenty of fun to be had at the mountain in the winter, that, combined with less crowds and gorgeous scenery, looks like Mt. Rainier just became your family’s winter destination.

What’s a great activity for you, you ask? How about trail riding with some great horses! EZ Times Outfitters is just 14 miles from the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park off Highway 7. If you’ve been to Rainier before, chances are you’ve driven by it! With friendly and knowledgeable staff, exceptionally well trained horses, and some breathtaking views, it’s an outing everyone will enjoy.

Not super comfortable on a horse? Never ridden one? No worries! The horses and guides have done trail rides with people at all levels of comfort on a horse. To be honest when we went on our ride, it’d been years since I’d been on a horse! The staff helped me get on and off, and always made sure we were comfortable with the pace. The horses are so well trained they followed the guide and his horse- we just had to keep them from snacking on ferns (my horse LOVED to sneak snacks). Our ride took us up into the Elbe hills shared with the DNR Horse Trail System. We splashed through puddles, climbed up slopes, trotted for a bit (only if you want), and got to take in some great views of the Nisqually River and Mt. St. Helens in the distance.

EZ Times offers a couple of options, 1hr or 2hr mountain trail rides, sunset trail rides, Nisqually River trail rides, and kid rides. EZ Times Outfitters currently has 10 horses. They can take children as young as 5 and carry up to 250 pounds. If you’re worried about a small child, they have lead ropes they can tie up to the guide’s horse for extra peace of mind.

This isn’t just a fair weather activity either. The horses are ready to go in sun, rain, or snow. They even have rain coats that cover you head to toe, as well as your horse. As long as you dress for the weather, you’ll have fun regardless!

See their youtube video here.

Check out other activities here.

Exploring the Stevens Canyon Road

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Thousands of visitors come to Mt. Rainier each year, and expect to see spectacular views. Sometimes hiking just isn’t on the menu, but that’s okay, you don’t have to hike a couple of miles to get to some great views, they’re just right off the road! The Stevens Canyon Road is perfect for those who don’t mind a little time in the car to explore some great views.

Running from Ohanapecosh to just below Paradise, the Stevens Canyon has a myriad of stopping points and jaw dropping views. Coming from the Nisqually Gate, the road is past Longmire and to the right; it can also be accessed from the Paradise Valley Loop Road.

Inspiration Point is one of the first stops you can’t resist taking a picture. The pullout shows off a beautiful spread out view of Mt. Rainier and her lower valleys. A can’t-miss photo to bring home with you!

Once you leave Inspiration Point heading east, you’re going to drive by Reflection Lake. It’s a true gem- right off the side of the road! On clear days, the image of the mountain is perfectly reflected, giving this lake its appropriate name. The Lakes Trail going up to Paradise has trailheads here, as well as a shorter hike around Reflection Lake called the High Lakes Trail, a 2.4 mile hike that takes you to Faraway Rock overlooking Reflection Lake and Lake Louise.

The first half of the Stevens Canyon Road follows the Wonderland Trail, until Box Canyon where the road goes South and the Wonderland to the North. There are great hikes off this road, including Pinnacle Peak, the Bench and Snow Lakes (one of the earliest trails for wildflowers), and Lakes Trail.

As you’re driving along enjoying the beautiful scenery, don’t forget to stop at Box Canyon! Trust me, it is well worth your time. Box Canyon used to be covered by the Cowlitz glacier, now over 2 miles away! The glaciers recession polished the rocks underneath, leaving them smooth and its runoff carved a canyon over 118 ft deep! A short ½ mile walk on the left side of road takes you to a pedestrian bridge over the canyon where you can marvel at the effects of the glacier. This trail is flat and great for small children, older adults, and strollers- though you’ll want to keep a close eye on the kiddos crossing the bridge! To the right of the road are bathrooms and some info boards telling the story of the glacier.

Continuing on towards Ohanapecosh you’ll drive by the Grove of the Patriarchs- another must see! It’s quite a name, Grove of the Patriarchs, but it couldn’t be more fitting. This short 1.1 mile loop will take you over a suspension bridge and onto a boardwalk traveling through monstrous trees. This is an old growth forest with trees 1,000 years’ old and up to 300 feet high!  You can’t help but be in awe of these ancient giants.

Across the street from the Grove of the Patriarchs, ½ a mile from the road is Silver Falls. You can watch the Ohanapecosh River cascade down from the bridge just below the falls or the viewpoint next to it. Definitely bring the camera for this one! Silver Falls can also be accessed from the Ohanapecosh Campground (Loop B, a 2.7 mile loop hike), or from Route 123 (0.6 miles total, 1.6 miles north from the Ohanapecosh Campground, park on the left side of the road).

The Stevens Canyon Road can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and abilities. It hosts a variety of stunning views and breathtaking landscapes. This road does close during the winter as it could get dangerous with snow. Remember to always stay on trails, especially around rivers, waterfalls, and steep cliffs, as accidents do happen and fences and railings are for your protection as well as the forests.