Mt. Rainier: A Mountain Paradise

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MOUNT RAINIER: A Mountain Paradise of Blossoms and More!
By Nancy J. Reid and Lisa D. Smith

When you are standing in a meadow of wildflowers in summer, surrounded by forests, it is hard to imagine this park also encompasses 26 glaciers. Established on March 2, 1899, as our fifth National Park, the iconic Mt. Rainier, standing at 14,410 feet, is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range and is an active volcano, last erupting about 150 years ago. The peak changes from minute to minute, sometimes shrouded in clouds, sometimes a bright pink, sometimes an icy blue, and sometimes completely hidden from view. It is an important landmark for all those traveling throughout Washington State.

The park itself has approximately 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams. Because the park climbs 12,800 feet in elevation, it provides habitat for a diversity of plants and animals, all requiring different climates and environments. It also provides a number of trails, some ranging from less than a mile, to the popular 93 mile Wonderland Trail. You can find the right trail for you, just check in at the Sunrise Visitor Center and ask some questions, and you will get the help you need. If you plan to climb Mt. Rainier, you definitely need to check in at the Visitor Center to register.


Summer is the best time to see most of the wildflowers, but the park is a four season destination with majestic mountain views, secluded forests, waterfalls and lake views all year round. You can see the park by car if you wish, just check snow conditions during the winter. Mount Rainier has five main areas: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon/Mowich.

 

Longmire: James Longmire built a home and a resort in this area, his homestead became the park headquarters in 1899 when the park was established. This area is now a designated National Historic District. We took the Trail of Shadows hike beginning from the Museum, which led us through a forest of fungi, ferns, and giant trees. You can also explore a cabin built by Longmire’s son for the resort helpers.

Paradise: This is a popular spot for wildflower viewing, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing. There are so many different wildflowers you’ll probably want to walk slowly to see them all. At first glance they look like one big multi-colored carpet, but when you look closer, you will see an amazing array of flowers of all kinds. Take care to stick to the trails though, we read about the subalpine meadows and found that with every one step taken into the meadows, an average of 20 plants are damaged, and those plants can be stunted in growth for years. Their growing season is very short, and they do not have enough energy to recover from our big human feet.

Ohanapecosh: This is the area you will find the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, a short trail along the river side that goes to an island of ancient Western red-cedar, Douglas-fir, and Western hemlock. You can also find the Silver Falls Trail here at the Ohanapecosh campground. This takes you to the waterfalls. It’s slippery so watch out. There is also a self-guided natural trail through a forest to some hot springs.

Sunrise: If you are looking for great mountain views, and don’t want to hike, this is the highest point you can reach by vehicle. In summer, mountain meadows abound with wildflowers. On clear days, Sunrise provides breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, Emmons glacier, and many other volcanoes in the Cascade Range. Stopping in at the Sunrise Visitor Center is a good idea. You can learn so much from their exhibits – it really makes your visit so much better when you understand and know what you are looking at. You’ll learn a lot about volcanoes, geo hazards and the relief map will help orient you as to the vastness of the park.

Carbon/Mowich Lake: This is a beautiful lake area, and we still found some snow, even in August, with lots of flowers and birds. We are glad we took the time to explore this area! There is a gravel/dirt road you will have to take, but it is well worth the journey.

There were so many highlights to Mount Rainier. Not only will you find plenty of trees, flowers, fungi and plants to examine, but there are other creatures as well. We were lucky enough to see a doe and her two fawns, so close to hikers but focused on all the grasses and flowers to eat. We spent a lot of time watching a Hoary Marmot, a comical animal that looks like a beaver, that was overjoyed with the amount of lupine and other flowers there were to consume. This is one of those parks you will want to spend time in and visit in each season to get the real feel of it. Summer brings the blossoms, which we experienced, but we saw photos of the other seasons, and can’t wait to return to see it in a different light.

For information about Mount Rainier National Park visit www.NPS.gov/mora or see NationalParkTraveling.com.  

 

National Parks Arts Foundation
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