Uncover Many of the Mountain’s Treasures in 48 Hours
If you have two days to spend on and around Mt. Rainier, you still won’t see and do everything, but you can get a good taste of this very popular attraction. From mid-July to late October all the lodges are open, hiking is primo, the meadows burst with blossoming wildflowers and on clear days you meet the mountain face to face. Take a break from traffic jams, constant technology, and day-to-day worries to enjoy nature’s bounty. Here’s a suggested itinerary to tweak and make your own.
Stop in Enumclaw
From SeaTac Airport, Enumclaw is an easy 45-minute drive. On the way into town, visit Traci’s Roadside Produce to pick up some healthy snacks. Traci also sells honey, specialty food items and old-fashioned sodas like Nesbitt’s Orange and NuGrape.
If you’ve not already filled the car’s gas tank, do so here. Around Mt. Rainier, gas stations are at a premium.
For a sweet treat like jalapeño salted caramels or a tasty handmade Snoqualmie ice cream cone for the road, visit Sweet Necessities (1602 Cole St., Enumclaw). If you like to fall asleep with a good read, The Sequel has a huge selection of used books. When you’ve stocked up on provisions, take Highway 410 East out of town.
Choose between Mud Mountain Dam and Federation Forest State Park next. Mud Mountain has kid-friendly play structures with a suspension bridge, swings and rings plus picnic tables if you’re ready to eat. Federation Forest requires that you have a Discover Pass, but it has lots of hiking trails with signs identifying the fauna and an interpretive center. And if you look carefully, you’ll even find re-homed garden gnomes.
In the town of Greenwater, Wapati Outdoors sells ice cream that pops with the juicy flavor of huckleberry. They also have hats, shirts, winter blankets, and Mt. Rainier souvenirs. Across the street, the Naches Tavern (58411 Washington 410, Enumclaw) offers good, solid road food like burgers, fish and chips, and French dip sandwiches. And kiddos can eat here, too.
Take a hike on the John Muir Nature Trail to work off some of that food you’ve eaten. You’ll find the trail inside the Dalles Campground. This is a short, ADA accessible 0.8- mile nature loop. Serious athletes can tackle Snoquera Falls Trail right off Highway 410. This trail leads you 2 miles one way through old-growth timber and is difficult to navigate.
Stay at Crystal Mountain
For a central location, Crystal Mountain Hotels offers three hotels to choose from, plus there are additional fully furnished condos with all the comforts of home. And you check riding to the top of a mountain on the Mt. Rainier Gondola (check for hours) off your bucket list here. At the end of the scenic ride, you’ll be a mere 12 miles from Mt. Rainier, where she seems almost touchable. For a delicious gourmet meal, try The Summit House. Reservations are recommended and can be made online. After your gondola ride down, cap off your evening with a frosty Northwest crafted beer at the Snorting Elk Cellar.
In the morning try your hand at a free game of disc golf. Get a map of the course at the Summit Gift Shop, Crystal Mountain Hotels, and the Snorting Elk Cellar.
Drive Into the National Park
Once again follow Highway 410 East until you reach the Sunrise entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. Follow the road to Sunrise, Mt. Rainier’s highest visitor center (6,400 ft.), and aptly named because it is one of the first places to capture the early morning light. Due to heavy snowfall, this center is only open from early July to late September to enjoy the view of Emmons Glacier and the bounty of wildflowers in Yakima Park or take a guided walk with a ranger.
On your way down to Paradise, stop and hike the Grove of the Patriarchs. Although the trail draws many visitors, they remain quiet so everyone can hear the roar of the river and chirping birds.
At Paradise, the story of the mountain is told in many different ways at the Jackson Visitors Center including a 21-minute film, “Mt. Rainier, the Restless Giant.” Dine at Paradise Inn, look for keepsakes in the gift shop, and of course, hike.
After leaving the mountain proper, you can visit the small museums and general store in the small town of Longmire.
Sleep in Ashford
You’ll find lodges, hotels, cabins, and vacation rentals in Ashford.
Winding Up Your Tour
Other attractions you might want to visit before leaving Mt. Rainier include Stringtown Lavender Farm, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, and Pioneer Farm Museum, all in Eatonville.
Written by Heather Larson