On our train vacation, we took a 1-day excursion from Seattle and tried to see at much of Mount Rainier National Park as we could. The National Park was less than a 2-hour drive from Seattle. The route that we took was Interstate 5 South to WA-70 South to WA-706. This will take you to the Nisqually entrance of the park.
We got an early start from Seattle, so that we’d have a full day to spend at Mount Rainier. We drove to the Longmire Museum and the Wilderness Information Center to get some guidance on what to see and do for the day.
The drive from the Nisqually entrance to the visitor center at Paradise was approximately 18 miles. Keep in mind, that this 18 miles is almost a 45-minute drive with no stops (and you’re going to want to make stops!).
One of the unexpected treats at Mount Rainier was the abundant water falls. We stopped at many spots along the way to explore both large and small falls. One of the most impressive was Narada Falls. There were several hikes that we took in and around the Narada waterfalls.
The drive up to Paradise had a few scenic overlooks, but the cloud cover was low in the morning so we drove up to Paradise Inn to see the Visitor center and have lunch. Our trip was at the end of June and there were still several FEET of snow at Paradise! The snow was steadily melting, but it looked like it would be several weeks (mid July) before you’d be able to see the grassy meadows and wildflowers that surrounded Paradise.
If you didn’t already know, National Park lodge lobbies are open to the public. That being said, we made the Paradise Inn lobby our lunch stop. While we ate our PB&Js, we had a great conversation with one of the Park Rangers there. He told us some amazing stories of successful (and not so successful) summit attempts. He was excellent – his stories captivated the kid’s and our attention and added to our Mount Rainier experience.
Given the low cloud cover, we decided to take one of the park ranger’s recommended hikes to try to spot some mountain goats. The hike was nearly all the way back near the Nisqually entrance. After a 30-45 minute walk and using the binoculars to examine every white dot on the cliffs, we were about to give up and call it a loss. Just then, a few hikers walked by us and told us that we were looking at the wrong cliff…we walked just a few hundred yards away and saw several mountain goats. They were visible to the naked eye, but the 10x telephoto helped for the photo album’s sake!
As we got ready to walk back to the car, the clouds started to lift and we could spot some patches of blue sky. We decided to take another chance at seeing Mount Rainier and drove back up to Paradise! I’m glad that we did. And while it wasn’t a picture-perfect view, we certainly got to see a lot more than was visible just hours earlier.
Mount Rainier National Park is one of the best kept secrets out there. We included it on our itinerary because it was so close to Seattle, but knowing what I know now, I would now make this National Park a must-see!
If you’re planning your trip, print out a Mount Rainier National Park map and start your itinerary.