You’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
WHEN TO GO: Mid-May through early October
START/END: Enumclaw, WA
I love Mount Rainier. Seeing it from a plane means I’m close to home, viewing it in its full splendor while driving down a highway signals a good weather day and actually visiting the snow-clad peak gives me a sense of peace and quietness that filters out the busyness of the daily world I live in. As much as I appreciate the mountain itself, today I want to talk about what you can see and do around Mt. Rainier.
Depending on the road conditions, you can access the peak a variety of ways, but my favorite is through Buckley and Enumclaw on Highway 410 East (also called the Chinook Scenic Byway). Beer aficionados should stop for an impromptu tasting at Elk Head Brewing Company in Buckley. Be sure to try the Citrionic, which is infused with citrus fruits and tantalized my palate the most, Gold, Peacharino, Glacier and Blast Zone. The latter is a spicy, smoked hot pepper ale brewed with five kinds of smoked hot peppers and the drink of choice for most of my traveling companions. One even bought a growler of Blast Zone to take home. Elk Head is located at 28120 State Route 410, Buckley.
One of my favorite shops has to be Sweet Necessities in Enumclaw (1215 Griffin Ave.) because of their scrumptious homemade salted caramels. I often dream of biting into those soft, sweet, salty delicacies. If you prefer a cold indulgence, try the shop’s handcrafted Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream. On this trip, I had the chance to share this treasure with other travel writers. Fortified with snacks for later, we continued the drive knifing through massive stands of fragrant cedar and fir trees.
We started late in the day on this journey, so we were all ready to wind down when we pulled into Alta Crystal Resort in Greenwater. The Resort is recommended by Trip Advisor, Northwest Best Places, Fodor’s and now, me. I stayed in a lovely mountain lodge style suite that easily could have accommodated three or four more travelers and still had lots of room. All the suites have the major comforts – a fireplace, fully-equipped kitchen, satellite TV and free WiFi. Plus, some of the rooms are dog-friendly.
Besides spending time soaking in the hot tub and swimming in the heated pool, you’ll want to watch for native wildlife like elk, blacktail deer, bobcats, mountain goats and maybe even a cougar, if you’re lucky. Owner Steven Cadematori says, “There are times when we have more animals here than people.”
During weekends and holidays you’ll be treated to bonfires, movie nights, karaoke and more in the evenings. In winter you can try skiing or snowboarding at nearby Crystal Mountain, just 7 ½ miles away or explore the snow-drenched wonderland just outside your door on snowshoes you rent at Alta Crystal. Weather and snowfall is very unpredictable in this area, so much so that a couple of years ago Crystal Mountain hosted skiers through part of July.
Between late May and early November (usually), Crystal Mountain Resort has an abundance of summer activities you can try. Disc golf, horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking all make this destination just as much fun in the sun as it is in the snow. All year long you can ride the Mt. Rainier Gondola, which climbs 2,500 feet up the mountain over meadows, wildflowers and wildlife. At the top of the ride, you’re only 12 miles from Mt. Rainier – you can feel the crisp chill she sheds off her slopes even on an 80 degree day. You can sit and savor the view or dine at the Summit House.