Tag Archives: Mount Rainier

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.

Exploring the Stevens Canyon Road

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All aboard! If you are exploring Mt. Rainier and are looking for an extra activity outside the park, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is an amazing ride. Located just twelve miles from the west entrance to Mt. Rainier, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (MRSR) is close to the action and family-friendly, with beautiful scenery and a stop at a historic logging museum

The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad train has been operating out of Elbe  since 1981. The non-profit organization’s mission is two-fold: to educate visitors and locals alike about the  logging industry that shaped the region over the last 100 years, and to preserve the steam engines that made the lumber industry possible in the first part of the 20th century.

Rides are offered Saturday and Sunday at 10 am, 12:45 pm, and 3:30 pm through October 27th, when the trains will stop for the winter season. You can reserve seats in advance (recommended) or arrive at least 30 minutes early to purchase tickets. Check here for occasional Groupon opportunities to save some dough.

The staff will let you and your family know when it is time to board, and then let you take your seats.  As the train pulls out of the Elbe station, a staff member will come around to punch tickets, answer questions, and provide safety rules for the journey.  Once you and your family depart on your adventure, you’ll cross over the highway and head west towards Ashford (and Mt. Rainier Nat’l Park) until the train turns southwards at Park Junction and makes its way south towards Mineral. The other branch (which is no longer in use), once  made its way onwards to Ashford and National the first half of last century, where one of the largest logging mills in America used to reside.

Continuing on the adventure, the train will cross back across the high way and across a bridge over the Nisqually River.  On a clear day you can look upriver to enjoy the grandeur of the river’s source – Mt. Rainier. The mountain will show her face a bit throughout the latter half of the ride, peaking above the hills and adding another dimension to the scenes of changing leaves, flowing rivers, and forested hillsides.

The train will stop after approximately 30 minutes in Mineral, at the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad’s own version of a railroad camp.  Historic logging camp buildings from all over Washington have been brought together to form this camp. The largest structure is the MRSR restoration and repair shop which contains a track with a servicing pit, and all the necessary tools to rebuild a steam locomotive.  The staff and volunteers work here on the MRSR trains, using skills and tools employed since the 1800’s. The railroad camp is still under development to restore and furnish each of the camp buildings to accurately portray life as it once was at a railroad camp.  On each visit you can come to enjoy something new!

Once run on coal, the train now runs on used motor oil. The round-trip adventure from Elbe to Mineral and back takes 150 gallons of the recycled oil, and 1,500 gallons or more of water. A steam locomotive works by burning a combustible material (in this case used motor oil),  producing steam in a boiler, which is then driven through an engine.

The water is an incredibly powerful source of combustion – when a molecule of water is heated to 387 degrees, it expands to more than 1600 times it’s original size.  The steam engines are marvelously effective, but their disuse came about because of their difficulty to maintain.  Steam engines were used until the 1950s.

Interestingly, the steam also explains where the “choo-choo” sound comes from. When the slide valve opens the high-pressure steam into either side of the cylinder, the escaping steam makes the recognizable “choo!” sound as it exits.

Learn all about steam engines and the fascinating logging history of the Nisqually River region on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.  The views are beautiful, the people friendly, and the ride is sure to please everyone in your family, young and old.  Enjoy!

More information can be found at the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad website here.

DNR Horse Camp

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Looking for a place to camp that can accommodate a large RV outside the west entrance of Mt. Rainier Nat’l Park?  Or perhaps you are looking for a place to camp when the auto campgrounds at Mt. Rainier close on Sept. 29th, 2013. Look no more! As long as you can live without hookups and can pack out your own garbage, the Sahra Creek DNR Horsecamp is just the place for you.

The DNR Horse Camp is located about 8 miles from the west entrance to Mt. Rainier, in a beautiful wooded locale.  The sites are large and plentiful, there are pull-through spots that can accommodate large RVs, and most of the sites have picnic tables and fire grates.  There are two water spigots and a couple of fairly nice pit toilets, and there’s a central grass area that has horse shoe pits if you bring your own shoes.  There is even a building in the center of the camp with over a dozen picnic tables – perfect for a group gathering when the weather isn’t optimal.

The campground accesses a large system of horse trails, meaning that summer weekends and holidays during the summer finds the campground filled with horse trailers. However, mid-week and into the fall season, the campground is very quiet. Since this is a horse camp, you can expect to find some horse “residue,” though most folks are good about cleaning up after their animals. Pets and tent camping are welcomed! This is a great family-friendly place, although the grounds are quite open – so privacy is minimal.

The campground is free to use, but a Washington State Discover Pass is required.  These passes can be obtained at sporting good stores, anywhere a fishing or hunting license are sold, or at the AVG gas station in Ashford (approximately 2 miles east of the DNR horsecamp).  Licenses are $30 for a yearly pass or $10 for daily passes (with transaction and dealer fees the totals are $35 or $11.50), and can also be bought online here: http://www.discoverpass.wa.gov/.

The DNR horse camp is located approximately 5 miles east of Elbe.  When heading east, the DNR sign and drive will be on the left side of the road.  The Visitor Center is just two miles further east in Ashford, and the Mt. Rainier west entrance is less than a 10 minute drive away.

Happy camping!

Address: 262nd Ave E, Ashford, WA 98304
South Puget Sound Region DNR phone: 1-800-527-3305

Don’t Let the Rain Stop You

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’ve got an adventure all planned to one of the most beautiful places in the world, and now it’s raining.  Sigh.  What is there to do at Mt. Rainier without all of those spectacular mountain views?  Lucky for you – there is plenty that Mt. Rainier still has to offer, even with grey skies and some drizzle. Mt. Rainier is home to old growth forests, plenty of animals, and wildflowers and waterfalls abound, even in the rain.  Here are some ideas to make sure that you still have a fantastic time on the mountain.

Heading through the Nisqually Entrance on the Southwest corner of the park, begin by winding your way up to 6.5 miles miles East to Longmire.  Stop and check out the Longmire Museum, open year-round. The museum is open 9-5 July 1st – Sept 2nd,  with its historical collection on the early history of Longmire, and exhibits and an information booth.  Operating hours are limited outside of peak season, so check here to plan your visit.

Leaving Longmire and continuing east for four miles, you’ll drive right over Christine Falls. This is a beautiful two-tiered smaller waterfall that shoots ecstatically from a slot canyon in the rocks.  You can take great photos from the road, or walk five minutes below the falls for a view of the second tier of the waterfall, framed by the beautiful reinforced concrete/rock bridge you just drove over on SR 706.

Hope back in your car heading east, and you’ll soon come to a large parking lot on your right.  Pull on over, and welcome to Narada Falls! Narada Falls is a family favorite, because all family members get to cross the reinforced concrete/rock bridge that crosses over the first tier of the waterfall on the way to the restrooms, and a short 5-minute walk gives the visitor a fantastic view of the entire two-tiered 188 foot waterfall.  The mists from the falls at the viewpoint can get you a bit damp – but you won’t even notice if it is already raining and you are wearing your rain jacket! Here there are restroom facilities and picnic tables as well.

Once at Paradise, take a look around to see if the clouds will clear to give you a view of the Tatoosh Range, or if you can catch a glimpse of the mountain.  If Rainier is not out, don’t despair! Head to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, open June 15th – September 1st, 9 am – 7 pm daily. There are interactive displays, videos, ranger talks, photos, climbing relics, a gift shop, and wonderful area to get warm and spread out your family’s picnic lunch and rest for a bit before heading out for more fun.

This time of year (August), the wildflowers are in full bloom as well.  A walk around the Paradise area in the mist is still beautiful. The yellow-green grasses, blue-green sub-alpine trees, and the pinks, yellows, purples and whites of the flowers pop against the grey. The animals are often out in the rain as well, so keep an eye out for marmots, deer, mountain goats, and even black bear – particularly at dawn and dusk.

On your way back down, about a half mile after you cross over Christine Falls, you’ll see a parking lot for Comet Falls on your right-hand side. If you have appropriate weather gear and it isn’t raining too hard, the is a 2-3 hour hike round-trip to Comet Falls (3.8 miles total) is mostly protected by trees.  You’ll cross above Christine Falls after . 7 miles on a beautiful little log bridge, and you can continue on to Comet Falls if your feet are still feeling dry and comfortable. If the weather clear, Von Trump Park  and its fields of wildflowers and mountain views is an additional mile after Comet Falls, making your total round-trip hike 5.8 miles.

A few of the lower hikes in and around Longmire offer some great hikes for rainy days as well. Twin Firs, Trail of Shadows, Lower Kautz, Rampart Ridge Loop Trail, Eagle Peak, and Carter and Madcap Falls are all great wet weather hikes as well.  Look them up on the NPS website, or stop by our Visitor Center for additional information.

Enjoy the rain!