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Area: Paradise
Hike Type: Wildflower views Pass: Natl. Park Pass
Distance: 5.4 mi Loop Duration: 4 hrs Difficulty Level: Moderate
Elevation Start: 5,400 Elevation End: 7,100 Elevation Gain: 1,700
Snow-Free: Mid-July – Mid-Oct  

If your schedule allows you time to hike only one trail at Mount Rainier National Park, we recommend the Skyline Trail, especially on a sunny day. You’ll hike through a variety of terrain ranging from sweetly scented meadows with wildflower displays to snowfields and the rubble of glaciers.

The hike from Paradise to Panorama Point is world-class; tourists come from afar to experience the wildflower displays for which Paradise is famous. Not only are there views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually glacier; on clear days there are views of the rugged Tatoosh Peaks, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood.

Be prepared for a variety of terrain on the Skyline Trail; sturdy boots are recommended. Forgot your boots? You can still safely experience the wonders of Paradise by strolling the shorter trails at Paradise with views accessible to all, including the Glacier Vista and Alta Vista Trails.

Pick up a trail map at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center so you can plan your route. A first-time visitor may find the intricate maze of trails near Paradise initially confusing but trail junctions are well signed and you can get advice from the visitor-friendly Wilderness Information Center at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center.

Be sure you stay on designated trails despite the temptation of avalanche lily-dotted meadows that invite one to stray. Park rangers and signs remind us that trampled flowers may not recover from human impact for decades, if at all. Luckily, the trail is so lavishly bordered with wildflowers you needn’t leave the trail at all.

The hike to Panorama Point via the Skyline Trail starts out on stone steps near the Visitor Center and climbs briefly uphill to a series of trail junctions. Turn right at the main junction; follow the signs to Panorama Point on the Skyline Trail. This main trail also provides access to Alta Vista, the Glacier Vista trail and other Paradise “flower” trails or viewpoints.

Our hike to Panorama Point fell on what we affectionately call a “transitional” day; where fog and clouds gradually give way to sun (or sadly, vice versa). En route we enjoyed graceful groves of subalpine trees placed in meadows sparkling with avalanche lilies and bright patches of pink heather. In late July, Western pasque flowers were in transition some still blooming, others gone to seed. Rosy spirea, lupine and bright yellow cinquefoil added splashes of color to the green meadows.

In mid-July we found snow patches at higher elevations where park rangers had marked a safe route across the snow. We had planned to hike the Lower Skyline Trail back to Paradise. Instead, we found the Lower Skyline closed due to snow and ice; hikers were directed to take the High Skyline Trail instead.

The persistent fog began to lift as we approached Panorama Point; Mount Rainier materialized slowly through the mist. Crevasses and rocks on the flanks of Rainier appeared and dissolved again as mist teasingly rolled back and forth across the skyline.

We reached Panorama Point (6,227 feet). Turning away from Rainier the peaks of the Tatoosh range poked through like islands in a sea of clouds.

The High Skyline continues, climbing above Panorama Point to a high point (N 46° 48′ 20″, W 121° 43′ 39″; elevation 7,051 feet) where you can look down on the Point. At Panorama Point there are options: hike back the way you came or extend your hike by making a loop as we did.

We continued on the High Skyline Trail as the trail dropped down to the moonscape rubble of an ancient moraine interspersed with snow patches. As we descended the world of rock and snow gradually gave way to tender meadows and moss-bordered rivulets.

When you get to the junction (N 46° 47′ 56″, W 121° 43′ 22″; elevation 6,400 feet) for the Golden Gate trail, there are more options. For a shorter route follow the Golden Gate trail through Edith Basin back to Paradise. You can also continue on the Skyline Trail; this adds about a mile to your hike. The Skyline trail drops down to the Stevens Van Trump Memorial, continuing to Myrtle Falls (5,600 feet) before it descends to Paradise. Mileages are displayed on trail markers to help you decide which route you want to take.

As we approached Paradise the meadows blazed with magenta paintbrush, bistort, Jacobs ladder, lousewort, valerian and cinquefoil. Marmots posted on sentry rocks shrilled warnings before scuttling out of sight as we passed.

About ½ mile from Paradise we crossed Myrtle Creek on a bridge; here you can also drop down to a dramatic viewpoint of Myrtle Falls, a favorite spot of professional photographers.

All too soon we left the trail and stepped into the parking lot, feeling slightly dazed as if we had just been awakened from a dream.

– Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert

Starting Point: 46.787056, -121.734167
Notable Waypoints:

Trailhead: N 46° 47′ 07, W 121° 44′ 06
Panorama Point: N 46° 47′ 59, W 121° 44′ 06

About The Author

Karen Sykes

Karen (1943-2014) was a Washington native, born in Shelton and lived in Washington most of her life. She started to hike in 1979 and joined The Mountaineers the following year. By the 1980s she was leading hikes for the Seattle branch of The Mountaineers. Around the same time, she began writing articles for Signpost Magazine (Pack and Paddle) and contributed to so many hiking reports that her name became familiar to other hikers. She was contacted by The Seattle Post Intelligencer to write the "Hike of the Week" which turned into years of writing this weekly column, until The Seattle Post Intelligencer stopped their printing presses in 2009. Two of Karen's books have been published by Mountaineer Books - Hidden Hikes (out of print) and Best Wildflower Hikes with Al Kruckeberg and Craig Romano. Karen was as passionate about photography as she was about hiking and both The Seattle Times and The Seattle Post Intelligencer have published her photographs.