Tag Archives: Mount Rainier National Park

Bench and Snow Lakes Trail

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

EZ Times Outfitters, a Great Time for All!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

In the Rain: Carter Falls and Madcap Falls

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We know how it is; you plan for your trip, you get excited, you see the mountain from the road (almost there!), then, on the day of the trip- snow at paradise, and raining everywhere else. We know, because it happened to us too. It’s always unfortunate when you can’t see the mountain because of weather, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the park and the many other views it has to offer.

When we woke up the day of our hike and checked the weather reports (always important!), we saw that there was a storm warning at paradise, and it was raining cats and dogs everywhere else. Checking the weather beforehand and talking to the rangers at the park helped, and so we changed our plans. Instead of a hike near Paradise, that would put us at snow level, we opted for a lower elevation hike in the trees for partial rain coverage. The perfect trail for that? Carter and Madcap Falls.

The Carter Falls and Madcap Falls trail is a 1.1 mile part of the Wonderland Trail, a 92 mile trail that goes around Mt. Rainier National Park. The trailhead is across from the Cougar Rock Campground, about 8 miles from the park entrance, with parking off the side of the road.

The hike starts by crossing the Nisqually riverbed; including walking across a log bridge- kids should have an adult cross with them to be safe. The cliffs across the river are spotted with long, graceful waterfalls, and if there are no clouds, Mt. Rainier can be seen looking up the river. Once you are on the other side of the river you head up into the trees and start making your way to the falls, with the river on your right. It is an uphill hike, but not a steep one.

Carter Falls is a spectacular waterfall with an 80 ft drop. A nice reward for your hike! Just past Carter Falls, 1/10th of a mile up is Madcap Falls, a smaller set of waterfalls in the Nisqually. Fun Fact: the Nisqually River, which flows from the Nisqually Glacier seen above Paradise to the left, feeds Alder Lake, a large lake you pass if you’re entering the park from the southwest.

Hiking is great in that it isn’t necessarily a fair-weather sport. As long as you are prepared, i.e. a waterproof coat, gloves, appropriate shoes, etc., you can still go out in the rain. Wildlife is still out and about, but there are fewer crowds. Check out other good hikes in bad weather in our previous blog ‘Don’t Let the Rain Stop You.’ If you do go out in bad weather, make sure you know the conditions beforehand, you’re prepared, and safe.

Stories from the Mountain: Meet the Utelas

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Mt. Rainier Visitors Association is working in a series we like to call “Stories from the Mountain.”  This will be a series of interviews with Nisqually Valley locals, National Park staff, and visitors just like you!

Meet David and Marci Utela.  Both have been visitors to the park for 60+ years, beginning with family adventures from their youth.  David Utela, hailing from Winlock, WA, remembers visiting the park for the first time, around 5 years old. In the late 1940s and early 50s, his family would visit the park to play in the snow and admire the wildflowers. Dave began frequenting the park on a regular basis at 15 years old, one his friends has cars, and he and his buddies began hiking, camping, and skiing regularly at the mountain. He remembers Skiing at Paradise in army surplus cross-country gear, and recalls the rope tow being very steep and terminating somewhere near the Alto-Vista trail.*  After a day of floundering in the snow (he and his friends were learning), they’d ski down to Narada Falls.

In the mid-60s through mid-70s, Dave entered his hiking and climbing phase, often joining a group of amateur mountaineers from the University of Washington. They’d do self-arrest and crevasse rescue practice on Inter Glacier, and he made many summits via Camp Muir and Schurman.

Marci Utela, from Kirkland, WA also first visited the park as a child. She remembers these first young visits as special occasions, but when she and Dave began dating in the 1960s, Mt. Rainier became a huge part of her life. One of her favorite memories was her summit of Mt. Rainier from the Schurman side when she was 27 years old, in 1974.  As the only female in the group, she recalls being held up by the other man on her line, and being frustrated because the rest of men thought it was Marci that was holding up the group.  Marci was doing just fine, thank you kindly gentlemen! She remembers how spectacular it was when the sun came up over Tahoma, and the amazing view from top of the mountain.

The Utelas spent a lot of time before having children in the Klapatche area, with great campsites and beautiful views. When Marci was pregnant with her first child in 1980, the Utelas snowshoed on the road to Paradise in the winter, and camped ON Reflection Lake.** How many people can say they were snowshoeing and camping on frozen lakes in utero? Marci was pregnant with her second child during a camping trip in Van Trump Park, so both of the Utela children started their relationship with Mt. Rainier early on.

The Utelas hiked numerous times in the Tatoosh Range with Pinnacle Peak being a favorite hike before and after children, and they used to snow camp just behind the rock outcropping between Pinnacle Peak and Castle Rock, when it was still permissible to do so. ** Enjoyable time was spent hiking and camping in the Sunrise area, off the West Side road (it extended further then).  The Utelas enjoy how close the mountain looks and the accessible trails around the Sunrise Visitor Center, although they find themselves camping more often on the west side of the mountain. Most trips were taken summer through early fall, but spring snow shoeing, cross country skiing and snow camps had their own magic.

After both of the Utela kids were born (in 1980 and 1982), the family camped nearly every summer at Cougar Rock.  The location is excellent for family outings, and the Utelas would drive up to Paradise or down to Longmire for adventures, cross the road and over the log bridge to walk through the rocks by the Nisqually River, listen to Ranger talks in the evenings, and sit by the campfire to visit with friends as the children would scamper through the forest.

Just a few years ago the Utelas camped again at Cougar Rock with friends and  went up to Paradise for sunset and Reflection Lakes for moon pictures. In their “older” years, they enjoy staying at Paradise Inn in September, when the crowds have subsided a bit but the fall foliage is in striking bloom, though they also love Paradise in August when it is in full bloom.  They have been up to Paradise once already this year, and will likely make an August and a September visit as well. Dave says the beauty, variety, and majesty of the mountain and surroundings keep them coming back.

The children of the Utelas used to make fun of Marci because every time the mountain came into view (be it from Seattle, on a drive, or nearing the park entrance), she would exclaim “Be still my beating heart.” She explains that the mountain is still breathtaking, even when you are seeing it for the thousandth time. “The mountain is so majestic.  The mountain is beauty, tranquility, serenity, inspiration, meditation, really almost spiritual.”

We couldn’t agree more! On one of Marci and David’s early adventures one summer on the Northern Loop Trail, they fell in love with Mystic Lake.  For awhile the Utelas had it written in their wills that their ashes be spread specifically in that area, but they have decided that their earthly remains can be left anywhere within the park.  Fitting for a couple who have lived their lives so close to this incredible National Park.

* The the pomalift and the rope tow at Paradise were removed in 1973
** Camping on Reflection Lake or at the rock outcropping below Castle Rock and Pinnacle Peak are no longer allowed, as many more backcountry camping sites have been established since the 1970s to protect the fragile park wildlife

If you have a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at, or call the Visitor’s Center at to be in touch.  We’d love to share your story!