Families craving a two-day getaway around Mt. Rainier can head to Paradise, located on the mountain’s southern flank in Mt. Rainier National Park. One of the oldest and most dramatic areas in the park, Paradise and its environs offer scenic hikes, thundering waterfalls, historic buildings and other hidden gems you and the kids will discover along the way.
From the park’s Nisqually Entrance, six miles east of Ashford, follow SR 706 another six miles to Longmire, elevation 2,951 ft. Park behind the National Park Inn and walk to the nearby Longmire Museum to pick up a local trail map. Open daily year-round, the museum is housed in a rustic c. 1916 building which also functions as an information center.
Before you enter the museum, pause at an enormous 8-ft. diameter cross-section log on display. Nearly 800 years old, this log came from the nearby Nisqually River headwaters and was cut in the 1960s from a Douglas fir tree. Inside, you and the kids can spend a few minutes viewing the museum’s exhibits on native animal life, early park history and local geology.
With our map in hand, my husband Erik, our three-year-old son Finn and I crossed the main park road to the trailhead for the Trail of the Shadows. A 0.75-mile self-guided loop, the trail explores the early history of Longmire. The path is wide and mostly level, perfect for little legs.
We meandered along the path, stopping often to read informational signs, explore the mineral springs and peer into Longmire Cabin. We also paused to view the area where the Longmire Springs Hotel was formerly located. A 19th century spa resort, the hotel was established for travelers to soak in the hot springs. (Note: Do not drink the water from the springs, it contains toxic substances.)
Families interested in a moderate hike can head three miles west of Longmire to the Kautz Creek Trail, a scenic 2-mile round-trip hike through a dry creek channel to Kautz Bridge.
For a hearty lunch after your hike, head to the National Park Inn. Their full-service restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For prepackaged snacks and beverages, try the Longmire General Store, housed in a vintage 1911 cabin next door to the inn.
After lunch, Erik, Finn and I continued to explore the grounds around Longmire. Three-year-old Finn really liked the c. 1929 Longmire Gas Station and its old-fashioned, bright red pumps. The station was decommissioned in 1994.
Finished exploring Longmire? Hop back into the car and take the scenic 17-mile drive up to Paradise. Four miles up the road is Christine Falls. The turnout is on the right, just after you cross the stone bridge. Park and walk down a short flight of stairs to enjoy lovely views of the 40-ft. falls and the bridge arching overhead.
Another great sight is Narada Falls, four more miles up the road from Christine Falls and also on the right. Pause for a moment to peer down the top of the falls before walking down the wide 0.2-mile trail to the base. The path is steep and rocky in several places but views of the thundering 168-ft. waterfall are worth the walk.
If time permits, check out one of the many viewpoints along the way. One of the most scenic is the one-way Ricksecker Point Road, a driving loop located between Christine and Narada Falls (signed “Viewpoint”). Another is Glacier Vista Viewpoint, which offers wide-angle views and an exhibit about the Nisqually Glacier.
When you arrive at Paradise, park in one of the large lots or find a spot along the roadside. Note: In the summer, Paradise is a popular destination for day-trippers, so parking is easier in the morning or late afternoon.
(The visitor centers at Mount Rainier National Park are closed to the public in 2021 due to Covid restrictions)
The first three buildings in the upper parking lot are the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, the Paradise Guide House, and the Paradise Ranger Station. Continue through the lot to visit the historic Paradise Inn. Plan time to explore the splendid ca. 1917 structure, perched at 5,400-ft. elevation with Mt. Rainier looming in the background. The two-story inn is rustic and comfortable, with decorative woodwork, two large fireplaces, small guest rooms, a spacious dining room, and lots of small nooks and vintage photographs to explore.
You and the kids can dine and overnight at the Paradise Inn, or at the cozy (and less crowded) National Park Inn.
After breakfast the next morning, visit the Jackson Visitor Center near Paradise Inn to see the exhibits and pick up a trail map of the local area. In summer, the center is open daily, usually from 10 am to 7 pm. At the far side of the spacious lobby is the center’s information desk. Upstairs is the gift shop and interactive, kid-friendly exhibits on the mountain’s wildlife, geology and human history.
You can fuel up for an afternoon hike at the center’s cafeteria or at the Paradise Inn’s Tatoosh Café. Or purchase pre-packaged sandwiches and snacks and enjoy a picnic on the trail.
Traveling with very young children and/or strollers? Then the Nisqually Vista Trail is your best option. This paved, 1.2-mile loop has a 200 ft. elevation gain and guides you through woods and meadows surrounding the Nisqually Glacier. The trailhead is located at the far north end of the lower parking lot.
For a moderate hike, try the Alta Vista Trail. With a 600 ft. elevation gain, this 1.75-mile loop has steep sections but the wide-angle views of Mt. Rainier’s summit are well worth the effort. To reach the trailhead from the visitor center, walk up the stairs to the paved path. My family and I took our time hiking the Alta Vista, stopping often for Finn to rest, snack and hydrate.
(Ranger led programs are temporarily canceled due to COVID restrictions)
Or join one of the visitor center’s free ranger-led hikes, usually available from late June until Labor Day. The hikes change often, so check the visitor center’s bulletin board for daily offerings. No sign-up is required and all ages are welcome.
After hiking, if you and the kids aren’t ready to call it a day, pile into the car for a scenic drive down Stevens Canyon Road. Highlights include roadside views of crystal-clear Reflection Lake, 150 ft. Martha Falls and the 100-ft. deep Box Canyon.
Whether you’re spending the weekend or taking a short mid-week break, this two-day getaway around Paradise and Mt. Rainier have something for the whole family to enjoy.
When you go:
Entrance fees: The National Park Service charges a nominal entrance fee for visitors. Click here for information on park passes.
Eateries: The restaurant at the National Park Inn and the Paradise Inn Dining Room both serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. For snacks or beverages in Longmire, stop by the Longmire General Store. At Paradise, grab quick bites at the Paradise Inn’s Tatoosh Café or the Jackson Visitor Center’s cafeteria.
Written by Carrie Uffindell