Mount Rainier’s Wildflowers
On this Quest you can visit three major life zones on the mountain to experience the splendor of their wildflowers. You will find the best spots to enjoy flowers and learn some of their secrets.
From shy forest blossoms to the exuberant displays of the high meadows, Mount Rainier’s wildflowers thrill and charm us. Even the names of the flowers can be delightful: pearly everlasting, pussy toes, shooting stars, fairy slippers, paintbrush, and even stinky socks.
The park is renowned for the beauty and variety of its flowers thanks to its range of elevations and growing environments. In May, when snow still blankets much of the mountain, the first wildflowers can appear in the lowland forests around the base of the mountain. As the snows recede from the higher elevations around early July, look for the star-shaped lilies that foretell the fields of flowers to come. This is the time to look for early flowers along roadsides, pavement, and rock walls that reflect the sun and melt the snow first.
NOTE: The meadows, stream banks, and rocky heights where flowers grow are extremely fragile environments and are easily damaged. Always stay on marked trails, even if snow, water or mud is on the trail. Avoid stepping into meadows or on plants. Picking flowers is not allowed in the park. Help preserve the wonder and beauty of Mount Rainier’s wildflowers.
Discovery #1 Paradise
Native Americans called these meadows “land of peace.” The famous naturalist John Muir described them as the most beautiful he had ever found. This is the subalpine zone, the elevation at which the forest thins and gives way to open meadows. Stop by the information desk in the visitor center for a free trail map and wildflower identification brochure. In summer you can join a ranger-led walk to explore the wildflower meadows. Some popular flower trails are Nisqually Vista Loop (1.2 miles, 200 ft elevation gain, 60 min.), Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls (1 mile round-trip; 45 min.), and Deadhorse Creek Trail. You may also want to step inside the Paradise Inn to enjoy the historic ceiling lamps decorated with wildflowers.
Quest-ion: How did the Paradise area get its name? Find out by watching the beautiful 24-minute movie in the visitor center’s free theater, or ask a ranger.
Discovery #2 Reflection Lakes
At beautiful Reflection Lakes you can find delicate meadows, streams, and wetlands with a variety of flowers adapted to these environments. Marked trailheads lead you to a path that travels the shoreline. If you continue east on Stevens Canyon Road, look for flowers that got a head start where rock hillsides, walls, and pavement reflected the sun and melted the snow first.
Quest-ion: Were you able to catch the mountain’s reflection in the lake today?
Discovery #3 Ohanapecosh Visitor Center
You are now in the forest zone, where stately old-growth trees shelter delicate flowers that take root in the organic soil. Violets, trillium, and orchids such as fairy slippers and coralroot make their home here. The deep shade of the forest is also home to plants like Indian pipe and candy sticks that lack chlorophyll and get their nutrition from decaying organic material or other plants. Stop by the visitor center to ask the rangers for what is currently in bloom and about ranger–led forest walks. A free trail map is available. You may want to enjoy the short nature trail (0.4 mi., 20 min.) that starts from the visitor center’s back door, featuring plant labels and volcanic hot springs bubbling from the ground.
Quest Activity: Use the “passport” stamp at the visitor center’s information desk to stamp the date here:
Discovery #4 Tipsoo Lakes
In late summer, walk the lakeshore trails and enjoy some of the most spectacular flowers and mountain scenery in the park. You may catch views of Mount Rainier’s summit reflected in the lakes.
Quest-ion: In which life zone are the lakes? (Hint: see Discovery sites 1 and 3, above)
Discovery #5 Sunrise
Sunrise is the highest point you can drive to in the park (elevation 6400 ft). Within a short distance you can hike from the subalpine to the alpine zone, a land of rock and ice above the tree line. In this challenging environment the wildflowers rely on special adaptations such as hairs that shield from wind and sun, mat-like colonies, and reduced leaf surfaces.
You can join a ranger-led walk to learn about the area, view the exhibits in the visitor center, and enjoy the labeled wildflower garden in front of the visitor center. The rangers can provide a free flower identification brochure as well as trail maps and advice on the best wildflower trails for that day.
Quest activity: Stamp this Quest sheet with the passport stamp located at the visitor center information desk, to record the date and location.
Discovery #6 Mowich Lake
Enjoy this mountain lake when the meadows bloom in late summer. Look for the 1922 patrol cabin on the southwest side as you stroll the lakeside trails. Or take a more strenuous hike to crystal-clear Eunice Lake (4.4 miles roundtrip, 500 ft elevation gain, about 3 hours). This area is also beautiful in late autumn when the meadows blaze with fall colors.
Quest-ion: Native Americans relied on many of these flowers for their medicinal properties. Are there herbal supplements or medicines that you use?