Tag Archives: Mt Rainier National Park

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!

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!

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.

Rampart Ridge

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The wildflowers of Mt. Rainier are just starting to come out in full force, but so are the crowds.  If you have done your wildflower hike and have an extra morning where you’d like to get back ont he trails, or you’re just looking for a mountain view and a trail free of the crowds, Rampart Ridge is a nice moderate day hike that can be managed in 2.5 – 3 hours.

The Rampart Ridge trail is a 4.9 mile loop that begins and ends at Longmire.  We recommend doing this hike clockwise so that you can enjoy the view of Rainier when it comes into view on east side of the ridge.  To begin, park in the Longmire parking lot and cross the road (if it is clear Mt. Rainier will be spectacular across the meadows), and head to your left.  You’ll see a sign for the Trail of Shadows (which is also a loop) and Rampart Ridge, and continue clockwise.

The first .2 miles of the trail overlaps with the westernmost part of the Trail of Shadows trail.  After crossing a wooden bridge and making your way through lush, marshy foliage with Devil’s Club and Skunk Cabbage, you’ll set foot on drier soil and begin marveling at the old growth firs towering above and the calming shade they provide.  Keep an eye out for the sign that will point you left to the Rampart Ridge Trail, and here the slope will start to incline slowly.

The trail begins gently for the first half mile as you gradually hike through the trees, and then gentle switchbacks will keep you heading up the mountain for another 1.5 miles.  The trail is never unbearably steep, and the path is wide and free of obstacles for 98% of the route, with the exception of a few loose stones on the ridge.  There is a 1,300 foot elevation gain in total – an intermediate to advanced hiker will be able to make his/her way up the mountain in no time, and even beginning hikers or families will find the trail do-able with a few breaks along the way.

After two miles, hikers reach the west end of the ridge, and a small viewpoint at 3,700 feet. For the next mile, the trail follows the ridge, offering glimpses of Longmire and Longmire Meadows below and to the right, and with Mt. Rainier peaking through the trees directly ahead.  There are a few small spurs off the main trail where one can take a few steps and take a glorious photo of the mountain, but Mt. Rainier comes into full view the last quarter mile on the ridge, allowing mountain lovers and photographers to gaze at their heart’s content at the huge and glorious mountain before them.

The trail will eventually join with the Wonderland Trail.  Follow the trail to the right and descend the 1.8 miles towards Longmire.  This is an enjoyable descent – nothing too hard on the knees and minimal switchbacks.  You will descend through the trees for a little over a mile before you’ll notice the ecosystem changing back to the marshy dense foliage similar to the start of the trail. A little creek will babble alongside you to your left, and you’ll walk over a lovely boardwalk until you meet the Mountain Hwy/SR 706. Cross the highway and continue going straight  – note that this is not well-marked, but continue on and you’ll me just fine. After .3 miles walking int eh woods alongside the road, you’ll emerge just above Longmire, and can make your way back towards your car.

Don’t forget to take one look back at Mt. Rainier, beaming over the Longmire meadows in all her glory.