Tag Archives: Mt. Rainier

Don’t Let the Rain Stop You

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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!

Indian Bar

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Oh Indian Bar.  To be clear, this hike is not for the weak or weary.  This hike is a hard stretch of the Wonderland, with 14.5 miles round-trip and a 2,900 foot elevation gain on the way in (800 on the way out). Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  A hundred times over.

In an interview with the backcountry carpenter at Mt. Rainier, see blog here: (https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/07/stories-from-the-mountain-meet-mt-rainiers-backcountry-carpenter/)  he said that Indian Bar is one of his favorite places in the park.  Furthermore, he said that he had never NOT seen a bear at Indian Bar (sorry for the double negative), and sightings included a mother bear with three cubs, and a six-bears-in-one-day day.  Bears, wildflowers, dozens of waterfalls, and a babbling brook all in a private, wide-open valley.  YES PLEASE!

Indian Bar can be reached from two different access points – beginning from Box Canyon or from Fryingpan Creek Bridge (taking the the Summerland Trail from the White River side of the park).  I’ve done the Box Canyon route, and will focus on this route for all intensive purposes.  The Box Canyon trailhead is on Stevens Canyon Road, 11 miles east of the Longmire-Paradise Road. The gravel trail (with a sign) is directly across from the parking lot.

The first mile-and-a-half allow hikers to pass alongside Nickel Creek and another small creek with a mild grade. The next mile and a half are tough – there is a lot of elevation grade without much reprieve, and the area is all forested – not allowing for scenic overlooks until the 3-mile mark. At three miles, hikers will reach the crest of the Cowlitz Divide, which hikers will follow for the next four-and-a-half miles. Off the right hikers can settle themselves into a moderate sized field of wildflowers with nice views southwards, to drink and eat trail mix before continuing north and climbing onward.

As hikers continue onwards on the ridge, the trail gradually opens up.  Mt. Rainier will start to show its southeast side ahead and to the left through the trees, and the trail will follow the contours of the ridge, at times quite steep, but allowing hikers to rest on some flat stretches, and enjoy the wildflower meadows as they widen and beckon. Finally, the trail widens to show Mt. Rainier in all of its glory, with a colorful valley in the foreground. This is the high point of the trail at 5,914′ and from here, hikers will descend 800′ into the valley where Indian Bar sits in a huge open meadow.

The Ohanapecosh river splits the meadow in two, and the Indian Bar shelter beautifully sits to the west side of the river, its open side facing the flowing water.  Animals frequent the meadows north of the shelter and camping areas, and in late spring there are many waterfalls pouring down the lava cliff faces high above the valley. The backcountry camping area is southeast of the shelter about 100 feet, and sits right above Wauhaukaupauken Falls, which are small but beautiful.

Once you’ve set up your camp and rested a bit, it is recommended to clamber up the hill above the camp.  Elk sightings are almost guaranteed when the animals are in rut in September.  Remember always to give animals plenty of space.  Bull elk can be extremely aggressive in mating season, and you should take care never to surprise a black bear.  Take extra precautions around the black bear if there are cubs around.  Never get between a mother and her cub, and make sure to make plenty of noise when hiking at dusk and dawn, so as not to catch a bear unaware and on the defense.

This hike is generally snow-free from late July – September, and the wildflowers are out in full effect late-July to mid-August. If hikers arrange for a car drop-off, the Box Canyon hike can be combined with the Summerland trail to the trailhead at Frying Creek bridge (another 8.7 mile hike), for a one-way 17 mile hike through some of Mt. Rainier’s most beautiful country.

If you choose to do the Box Canyon trail in and out of Indian Bar, it is most definitely recommended as a two-day hike, so make sure that you apply for the appropriate backcountry camping permit, which must be arranged in person. Wilderness Camping and Climbing permits are available at the Longmire, White River, and Carbon River Wilderness Information Centers (WICs) and at the Paradise Climbing Information Center during the summer season. Permits are also available at visitor centers.

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.

Cora Lake

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Continuing our list of amazing hikes and activities to do just outside Mt. Rainier National Park in the beautiful Nisqually Valley, we’re pleased to introduce visitors to Cora Lake.  Cora Lake is a wonderful 1.4 mile hike (roundtrip) that is great for children, provided they are given a sturdy hand to hold during the creek crossings.  From start to finish, hikers will enjoy lush green foliage and the spectacular waterfalls of Big Creek.

To get there, continue driving east on SR 706 from the Mt. Rainier Visitor’s Center in Ashford. After about 3 miles, turn right on Kernahan Road (also which turns into Skate Creek/FR 52), and drive 4.6 miles before taking a right onto FR 84 (this is unmarked – it is one turn after the dirt road with the gate on the right) and keep on it for 4.2 miles before taking a right on FR 8420.  Continue 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Both FR 52 and FR 8420 are in good condition and are drivable for passenger cars, so long as you are wary of the occasional pothole.

Parking is on your right, with the trailhead and a Cora Lake sign to your left.  If the road seems to narrow significantly, you’ve gone too far – turn around and you’ll see the trailhead about 100 yards down on the right.  You’ll begin up a gradual incline with a well-maintained trail, and children and adults alike will enjoy looking for frogs along the way.

After about 10 minutes, you’ll see your first waterfall.  The beauty just gets more spectacular form here on! Continue along Bog Creek and you’ll come to a spectacular waterfall shooting out of the rocks high above, and continuing through lovely pools.  Below these pools is your first creek crossing!  Big Creek is passable by walking on rocks and logs – but beware – the logs are slippery when wet, so it is best to give little ones a hand and let them go near the front.  There is no real danger other than a soggy shoe, so comfortable hiking sandals are a great idea to avoid the wet-foot worries!

You’ll hike up a small hill through a switchback, and keep an eye out for Mt. Rainier peering at you through the trees! The mountain is with you the entire hike, though it is sometimes hard to make out through the denser growth. Notice that you are in a stand of old-growth trees for the latter half of the hike, providing beauty and a sense of calm.

After the switchback, you’ll make your way back across the creek for your second crossing.  The waterfalls at this point are wide and stream steadily over giant rocks, creating a spectacular view.  Keep climbing for another 5-10 minutes until the trail flattens out, and you’re there!

The 30 minute hike will end at the tranquil Cora Lake (elevation 3,800 ft.), where there is plenty of space for hikers to find their own space to picnic, fish, swim, and relax – even on busy weekend days.  From mid-June to mid-July, peer into the shallow water to look for tadpoles and pollywogs.  There are thousands in early summer!   High Rock Lookout (written about previously here: https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/09/high-rock-lookout/) is viewable 1,600 feet above, perched on an aptly-named large rock with sheer walls.

If hikers would like to continue their walk, the Big Creek Trail continues to the right of Cora Lake for .6 miles before splitting.  To the left fork, hikers can pick their way across an avalanche slope below the sheer face of High Rock, to enjoy a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier after a half mile.  This route is not recommended for the kiddos! The right fork is the Teely Creek Trail, which makes its way to Granite and Bertha May Lakes.

Both Big Creek and Teely Creek Trails are open to motorcyclists and mountain bikers. Big Creek runs highest from late-May to mid-July, or once the fall rains begin.  After a heavy rain the trail can be muddy and Big Creek difficult to cross, so check your weather conditions.  In late summer into the fall (pre-rainy season), the creek will be lower, and should be a breeze.

Lake Alder adventures

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Trying to get out of the crowds, and into some water?  With this heat wave, it can be great to take a break from hiking in the sun, and spend part of your Mt. Rainier visit lounging on Alder Lake!

About 15 minutes before the Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainier lay one of the jewels of the Nisqually Valley.  As the Nisqually River flows from the Nisqually Glacier, through the park, and through Ashford (passing just a mile from our Visitor Center), it empties it’s jade-colored water into Alder Lake at Elbe.  Formed by Alder Dam, Alder Lake stretches 7 miles, past the town of Alder, winding along HWY 7.

There are three fantastic parks for your family’s enjoyment (all part of the Alder Lake Park system).  If you have a paddleboard, kayak, canoe, motorboat, jetskis, or other water vessel – bring it along! Park fun includes swimming areas, boat launches, barbeques, bathrooms, playgrounds, and plenty of picnic space – but not all three parks include all facilities.  Read on for the what’s what of Alder Lake summer fun!

Driving west from the Ashford Visitor’s Center on SR 706, you’ll reach Elbe after 7 miles, and join HWY 7.  Drive through Elbe, and you’ll see the first park, Rocky Point Campground on your left.  With the least facilities of the three parks, Rocky Point is best used for it’s boat launch, camping and fishing.  There are a couple of picnic tables, but there is not a swimming area. There are 25 campsites with electric and water hookups, and a bathroom facility. You can fish for largemouth bass, rainbow and cutthroat trout from this westernmost area of the lake, and the boat launch is free of charge.  It is a great option for launching the boat when the other parks are super-busy! More info can be found at http://www.mytpu.org/tacomapower/parks-recreation/alder-lake-park/rocky-point-campground.htm

Sunny Beach Point is 3 miles further west along HWY 7. There is a swimming beach, a sheltered picnic area, restrooms, and 20 picnic tables with grills. Sunny Beach Point is open May 15th – September 15th, and there is always free entry.  No alcohol allowed, and there is no camping. Pets are welcomed on-leash. More information can be found at http://www.mytpu.org/tacomapower/parks-recreation/alder-lake-park/sunny-beach-point.htm

Alder Lake Park is .6 miles west along HWY 7 from Sunny Beach Park. Alder Lake Park is the most expansive of the parks by far, with a swimming area, boat launch, and 149 campsites. There are coin-operated showers and restrooms.  The park has free entrance on weekdays, and a $5 parking fee on weekends and holidays.  If the day-use parking lot is full, the gates will be closed, but that does not mean the park itself is closed! Open year-round.  More info at http://www.mytpu.org/tacomapower/parks-recreation/alder-lake-park/

Bring your family, dogs, swimsuits, and a picnic blanket and soak in the beauty of Alder Lake.  Summer doesn’t get much better than lake swimming, bbqing, boating and camping!

Details:

Rocky Point Campground
52910 Mountain Highway E
Eatonville, WA 98328

Sunny Beach Point:
50316 Mountain Hwy E
Eatonville, WA 98328

Alder Lake Park
50324 School Rd
Eatonville, WA 98328

For all 3 parks (all part of the Alder Lake Park system):
Park office: (360) 569-2778
Fishing and recreation line: (888) 502-8690

*Note – while State Highway 7/Mountain Highway is closed to through traffic for construction this summer, the parks are still accessible, as they are considered local traffic. Coming from the south, continue through road closure signs.  From the north, follow the detour routes, until you can pass the road closure signs from the south as directed above.

High Rock Lookout

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We’re thrilled that the great weather has brought thousands of visitors into Mt. Rainier National Park the last few weeks.  However, long lines to enter the park has people asking about hikes and activities that are available in the Nisqually Valley, just outside the park entrance.  Don’t worry – there are plenty of hikes and activities to enjoy in and around Ashford, where our Visitor’s Center is located.  One such hike is the High Rock Lookout.

High Rock is one of the fire lookouts that was used by the Forest Service in pre-satellite days, so that staff could keep an eye out for smoke, indicating a forest fire.  Since their purpose was to observe large swaths of land, fire lookouts are always located atop high peaks and offer incredible views.  High Rock Lookout is just such a site, and still retains the original 1929 tower, perched at 5,700 feet and offering an incredible view of Mt. Rainier.

To get there, continue driving east on SR 706 from the Mt. Rainier Visitor’s Center in Ashford. After about 3 miles, turn right on Kernahan Road (also which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 1.5 miles before taking a right on Osborn road. Immediately, take a left on FR 85 (it is unmarked), and continue 5.8 miles.  When the road forks, take the left fork onto FR 8440 (unmarked) and  continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the left.

An slightly longer, but smoother alternate route is to drive east on SR 706, turn right on Kernahan Road (which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 4.6 miles before taking a right onto FR 84 (this is unmarked – it is one turn after the dirt road with the gate on the right) and keep on it for 6.8 miles, bearing right onto FR 8440 for the final 2.7 miles to the trailhead (on the right).  This route is recommended for cars lacking 4-wheel drive.

The trail is 1.6 miles each way, but with a hefty 1,400 foot elevation gain. The well-used trail is wide and in great condition, following the spine of the ridge through hemlock and silver fir with wildflowers decorating the trail in the early summer months. The path steepens as it approaches the lookout, and towards the end hikers can choose to either scramble up a steep rock slope with a 600 ft. vertical drop to the right for the most direct route to the lookout, or wind a bit further through the forest and then cut back up along the ridge, approaching the lookout from the west with the cliff to the left.

High Rock sits on a prominent point on Sawtooth Ridge, and is a popular destination for nature photographers. From the lookout, enjoy the amazing view of the south face of Mt. Rainier, the Tatoosh Range, and Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to the south and east respectively.  Look down at Cora Lake, nestled in the forested valley below, and marvel at the sheer rock faces.

This hike takes on average of three hours round trip, and while the steep incline may intimidate hikers early on, the hike is finished in a short time and the view is well worth the effort. The fire lookout is open during the summer so hikers can go inside and check it out, but folks mostly spread themselves out among the rock, enjoying the sun and the spectacular views.

The view from the top has the most clarity in the early morning or late-afternoon, but the bugs are full-on at dusk and dawn.  even during the day, bugs will keep most hikers moving steadily through the shade.  The path is clear of snow as of early July, and bear grass, Indian paintbrush, and avalanche lilies color the landscape.

While this trail does allow dogs, dogs should be kept on a leash due to the dangerous ledge near parts of the trail.  Similarly, this path is not recommended for young children.  Since there are no public facilities, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.

Happy hiking to you and yours!

Stories from the Mountain: Meet Mt. Rainier’s backcountry carpenter!

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The Mt. Rainier Visitors Association is beginning a new 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 James, one of the backcountry carpenters for Mt. Rainier.  James has been working for Mt. Rainier for 10 years, working for the Maintenance Department in a variety of roles. In 2007, James began doing historical carpentry on the back-country structures for the park.  James gets many questions about what this job entails, and which structures he works on.

Here is the deal: all of the older structures in the park are historically protected.   While visitors most often are familiar with the Visitor’s Centers and the Longmire and Paradise Lodges, anyone who has hiked in the backcountry of Mt. Rainier has likely enjoyed the site of one of the backcountry patrol cabins, shelters, or the fire lookouts that are spread throughout the park.  The National Park works to preserve these structures, along with their historical integrity, meaning that James and his co-workers maintain these buildings using traditional woodworking and masonry techniques.

There are ten backcountry patrol cabins spread throughout the park.  These are cabins that park rangers stay in while they are working in the backcountry to protect hikers and ensure park rules.  These backcountry patrol cabins include Lake George, Ipsut Creek, Golden Lakes, Lake James, Mystic Lake, Huckleberry Creek (no longer used by rangers), St. Andrews, Three Lakes, Mowich Lake, Indian Henry’s. These cabins were built between the 1930s and 1950s and are all old-growth log cabin structures. although Lake James and Mystic have been completely rebuilt. The most common work on backcountry cabins includes replacing rotten logs, and repairing storm damage to roofs, windows or beams. There are also two base camp patrol cabins located at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman.  While technically ranger stations, these structures differ from the other backcountry cabins in that they  are located at 10,080  and 9,440 feet respectively, and are made out of slabs of rock.

There are four fire-lookouts in Mt. Rainier: Shriner, Gobblers Knob, Fremont, and Tolmie.  All of the fire lookouts were built between 1932 and 1934.  Because the lookouts are all built at high points, they offer stunning views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding areas.  However, their vantage points also leave the lookouts exposed to extreme weather conditions, and the lookouts often need to have their decks, windows, and roofing repaired.

There are also three backcountry shelters, located at Indian Bar, Camp Muir, and Summerland. These are the only backcountry structures that the public can stay in.  Interested parties should speak to a Park Ranger when obtaining the wilderness permit required for backcountry camping. Permits can be obtained from any ranger station in the park during their normal hours of operation.  More info. on obtaining overnight permits can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping-and-hiking.htm

James has had the opportunity to visit every structure in Mt. Rainier National Park.  His favorite structures are the Ipsut cabin (complete restoration still in progress), Three Lakes, and the Indian Bar shelter. James believes that Ipsut and Three Lakes are the best examples of traditional full-scribed log-work, and he enjoys the combination of log and rock-work that comprise the Indian Bar shelter.

In term of location, James has trouble choosing a favorite place to work or visit. He likes the way Camp Schurman is built out of the rocks and often sits above the cloud deck nestled at the bow of Steamboat Prow, exactly where the Emmons Glacier and Winthrop Glacier split and become their own entities. One of his favorite views is from Tolmie Lookout where you can see all of Puget Sound, the Seattle city-scape, and the Olympic Mountains; and he also enjoys the panorama of Mt. Rainier from Fremont Lookout. James loves Indian Bar because of its plethora of animals – (he says he’s never visited the shelter without seeing a bear!), and because of the shelter’s beautiful valley setting.

While James works for the Maintenance Department year-round, (specifically for the Carpentry shop), he does most of his backcountry work during the summer, as the structures are inaccessible during the winter due to snow.  James and a co-worker usually hike to the structures they work on, and stay and work in the structures for eight-day tours in the summer and fall. The supplies and materials they use are usually flown in by helicopter in the beginning of the season, although snowmobiles, ATVS, and mules are also sometimes utilized in designated areas.

James will be working on the Camp Muir project along with his colleagues beginning the latter half of summer 2013, and his other major upcoming projects will include replacing sill logs at Lake George, and continuing to finish the rebuild of Ipsut cabin.  Good luck James, and thanks for all of your hard work!

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!