Tag Archives: Paradise

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.

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.

In the Rain: Carter Falls and Madcap Falls

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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.

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!

Stories from the Mountain: Meet the Utelas

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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!