6/4/12 - 6/11/12
Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.
Sunday was sadly our last full day in Washington; we would be flying home Monday morning. Our friends were planning on some family time, so Clay and I could do anything we wanted with our last day. We had sort of made a deal that Clay could plan San Juan Islands stuff and I could plan Seattle stuff. Unsurprisingly, this deal only kind of worked because, if you have not noticed, I am a bit of a planner, so I might have interjected my own opinions a time or two or constantly about the San Juan Islands portion of our vacation. Regardless, Clay was nice enough to let me be the one responsible for coming up with an amazing last day!! I had narrowed it down to two possibilities – Snoqualmie Falls and Mount Rainier. Because Clay had stolen the former option, Mount Rainier it was!
Sunday ended up being a beautiful day. On the sunny(ish) and warm(ish) morning, we began making our way out of Seattle and toward Mount Rainier National Park. I love organization and having a clear itinerary, so I was thrilled when I, in my extensive research (which usually occurred when I "needed" a break from anything even tangentially related to grad school), located the White Pass Scenic Byway website. The website provided extensive information about this part of Washington, including several road trip itineraries. We followed the Mt. Rainier Loop. The directions were generally easy to follow and each stop included interesting information about the location.
Even before getting into the park, we began gaining significant elevation. We noticed the temperature quickly dropping and, before long, we could see snow. SNOW in JUNE!!!
For some people, that may not be a huge deal, but coming from Texas there was something surreal about leaving Seattle on a warm summery day and arriving at Mount Rainier National Park in what felt like the middle of winter. When we were there in June, there were roads that were just opening for the summer and others that were still closed, so before making a trip there, make sure you check out the National Park Service website for road closings and weather conditions.
Our first stop was Packwood, WA. We were hungry for lunch, but Packwood was not exactly big on food options. We ended up at the Peters Inn Restaurant. Attached to a motel (the Peters Inn, obviously), it was mostly diner food. Really, for being in the middle of nowhere it was not too bad.
From there we headed along Skate Creek Road toward the Nisqually Entrance of the park. The road was heavily wooded, but the bubbling creek would occasionally be visible from between the trees.
Once inside the park, we stopped at several places along the way. Sometimes we would hop out for a quick picture and other times we would take a short hike around the area. One of our first stops was Kautz Creek.
Our next stop was Longmire. This is one of the first places you can get a good view of “the mountain” from within the park. There is also a visitor’s center, restaurant, and national park inn at this stop, so it was relatively crowded. Other than our stop at Paradise later on, this was where we had the most difficulty escaping from the crowds. I can only imagine what it would be like later in the summer. Regardless, it was still a worthwhile stop.
This is also where we accessed the Trail of Shadows. A pleasant 1-mile hike through both old growth forests and wetlands, this trail was originally linked to the mineral hot springs discovered by James Longmire, which led to this area becoming a popular hotel and spa for a time. The trail provided an interesting perspective on the history of the park area.
Back on the road, we stopped at Christine Falls...
...at several scenic locations along Ricksecker Point Loop Drive...
...and at a viewpoint for Nisqually Glacier.
Each view was even more incredible than the one before as we began working our way up Mount Rainier. We even got to see some wildlife along the way!
The higher we climbed, the more snow was on the ground. Did I mention it was June?!
We finally made it to Paradise. This is the highest area of the mountain that can be accessed by car. It felt like we were suddenly transported to a ski resort, which naturally meant that it was the perfect place to enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate. This was hard to believe, but later in the summer, Paradise is supposed to be covered in wildflowers. There is another national park hotel and restaurant here, along with a number of informative interpretive displays. The view of the top of Mount Rainier was unparalleled.
From here, we began our descent down the mountain, going back a somewhat different way than we came (you have to take the turnoff toward Ohanapecosh Campground unless you want to completely backtrack).
On the return trip, we saw the Reflection Lakes, still frozen into blue sheets of ice.
If possible, the scenery on the return trip was even more breathtaking. Or perhaps it was simply that the openness of the scenery allowed for more opportunities to gauge how high up we actually were!
Our final planned stop was at Box Canyon.
Of course, we couldn't resist a few more photos on our way out of the park!
Although we did not get to stop every place we wanted to because of time, we had a really wonderful day. Mount Rainier is difficult to capture in words, so I only hope our pictures did some justice to the beauty and majesty of our day in the park.
Sunday evening was one last chance to enjoy the sunset over Puget Sound. Monday morning dawned as perhaps the most beautiful day of all.
After saying our goodbyes, we headed toward the airport. On the way, we finally saw the iconic view of Mount Rainier dominating the Seattle skyline. It was a fitting way to end what had been an amazing vacation to Seattle and the San Juan Islands.