Circle Mt. Rainier Driving Tour: A Personal Account

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.

circle rainier altaResort


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.

circle rainier gondola


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.

circle rainier grovePatriarchs


When snowfall demands, Highway 410 closes at Crystal Mountain Blvd., so driving this part of the loop may only be possible between late May through early November. Always check “road updates” on before planning your trip to the mountain. If you get the “all clear” after leaving Alta Crystal, take Highway 123 (Cayuse Pass) to the Stevens Canyon entrance. Go .25 miles on the Stevens Canyon Road to the trail head where you can hike to the Grove of the Patriarchs. Experts say this is one of the easiest hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. The roundtrip is 1.5 miles with no elevation gain. You’ll need to navigate a suspension bridge to discover the surprise at the end of the hike, but even that seems easy. Hiking might even make you hungry.

circle rainier coppercreek


Since 1946 the Copper Creek Restaurant in Ashford has been serving tasty homemade blackberry pie. I know that because it was always a must-stop when my parents took me to Mount Rainier. Ownership has changed along the way, but the pie has just gotten yummier. If you’re ready to bed down, the Copper Creek Inn has cabins and suites to accommodate 52 overnight guests. After a hearty breakfast here drop in on one of the local artists.

In Elbe, on State Route 706, pay Dan Klennert and his Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park a visit. For 40 years he’s been creating sculptures out of recycled materials, many of which are on display here. Klennert will be happy to tell you what he’s done, where he gets materials and what some of his neat piles of stuff will be when he’s finished with them.

circle rainier nwtrek


Your final stop before the passengers in your car doze off should definitely be Northwest Trek in Eatonville. On a naturalist-guided tram tour you’re might see moose, elk, bison and more in the park’s 435-acre-free-roaming area. Every tram ride is unique and you won’t see the same animals every time. A walking tour reveals bears, cougars and other animals in their natural habitat. And now, you can practice your Tarzan yell while whizzing along on the new Zip Wild zip line. This isn’t just any zip line; it’s also a treetop adventure course.

If you can’t work all these stops into your schedule, then you’ll just have to come back because there’s even more to see and do than what I’ve mentioned.



Getting around: For maps and more information on visiting Mt. Rainier, go here.

Crystal Mountain:
• Alta Crystal Resort
• Copper Creek Inn
• Elk Head Brewing Company
Copper Creek Inn

Animal and nature lovers

     should check out

NW Trek

    in Eatonville, a 725 acre preserve that’s home to over 200 animals, all native to the Pacific Northwest.