Did you know that Mt. Rainier is still an active volcano? It’s currently dormant and last erupted in 1984, but it still technically active.
We made our way from North Cascades to Mt. Rainier National Park by heading east out of North Cascades through Washington Pass and drove through the small town of Mazama, which was an incredibly cute little town with tons of espresso shops, and outdoor rental stores. The girls were napping so we didn’t stop, but it reminded us a bit of Julian, CA, that has a great main street. We spent the night at a hotel in Ellensburg, WA, a small college and farm town in eastern Washington, to do some laundry and get some groceries. They also had an indoor pool that gave us a chance to relax with the girls and splash around. It was a nice little break for the girls to get some pool time and a real bath (the bath water was filthy).
The next morning started off with our only major incident of the trip. Leona woke up at 5:30 A.M. dry heaving. We helped her then she slept on my chest for another hour or so. We woke up again, got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast where she quickly vomited all over Mary after drinking some orange juice. We hustled upstairs to clean up Leona and Mary. For some reason, Leona had a sour stomach that lasted only a few hours and she was back to normal. We’re lucky that she got sick in a hotel room and not in the tent. It would have been a cleanup nightmare. The rest of the day, Leona devoured half a box of Cheerios and was acting like nothing happened. Kids are so weird.
Once we cleared that hurdle, we loaded up the SUV and made the 2+ hour drive to Mt. Rainier entering from the southeast side of the park near the Grove of the Patriarchs. As you clear some mountains, you begin to see Mt. Rainier in the distance. It’s almost comical how tall it is compared to its surrounding landscape. It looks cartoonish in scale. It also looks majestic.
We arrived at the park, stretched our legs, and let the girls walk the short Grove of the Patriarchs trail with us. We had to make a stop at the Ohanapecosh River that runs parallel to the trail to throw rocks and play. After the Grove of the Patriarchs, which was longer than we thought, we had a roadside lunch and snack before we made the drive to Cougar Rock Campground. With the girls being just over two years old, it was much easier than last year’s trip in terms of eating. We were able to make them PB&J sandwiches or other things they could hold on their own. More importantly, we could ask them what they wanted and get a real answer in return. Most of the time it was a request for “macamoni and cheese,” but it was still much easier than last year.
Cougar Rock is a large campground in a great location, just a short drive from some trails and less than 20 minutes from Paradise Meadow, the “base camp” for most of the Rainier hikes on the southside of the mountain. Our campsite had a small gully next to it, which gave the girls a little play area once some 5 and 9 year old girls came to show them how they can play on their own. That might have been the parental highlight for me and Mary- seeing the girls play on their own and knowing that they could do it. Seeing the girls play with other kids without having us tag along was awesome. In addition, if you walked about 50 yards to the main road, you could see Mt. Rainier. Not a bad view for $20 a night.
Outside of Cougar Rock campground, we did some great hikes. Our first real hike was to Christine Falls and Comet Falls. It was a challenging hike through dense forest, and incredibly rewarding to see a giant waterfall. We took that hike a bit later in the afternoon, around 4:00 PM and ended around 6:30p. The sky was still bright, but we wanted to be off the trails as many of the larger animals start coming out around that time for dinner and we didn’t have a desire to see them.
The next day we tackled the big mountain, Mt. Rainier. We got to the Paradise parking lots around 9:00 AM and the place was already buzzing with activity. Quincy and Leona took the hiking poles to lead us from the lot to the visitor center where we geared up for the 5+ miles on the Skyline Loop Trail, a popular trail leading to some berathtaking views of the mountain and surrounding area. The Skyline Loop started off with hundreds of people heading up the mountain: day hikers, people looking to climb on the ice, as well as folks looking to hike up to high elevation (10,000’+) and strap on their skis or snowboards and ride down the mountain. I don’t ski, but that looked like fun.
We walked the loop clockwise and we think it was the right choice. There wasn’t as much snow to start . It was also shorter to get to the apex of the hike than going counterclockwise, meaning less time climbing. As we got higher, we started seeing marmots, lots of them. They were all over the meadows and communicate to each other in loud shrieking sounds. It was a hiking highlight for Quincy and Leona giving them a chance to see the “animals!”
When we took a short break, another hiker told his friends that “Hood was out.” He meant Mt. Hood, 100 miles to the south of Mt. Rainier. In that same view south, we saw Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helen, and Mt. Hood. Absolutely breathtaking.
We kept hiking and passed a woman with a dog. It was memorable because it was the only dog (a service dog) that we saw on the trails and because she had purple and pink hair. Once back from our trip, I stumbled across this article about how later on her trip, she fell down a hillside and her dog followed her down and never left her side. The full story is here.
The big deal for the Skyline Loop Trail is Panorama Point. Again, some incredible views of the Mt Rainier and the surrounding mountains. To get there, we had to hike in the snow and luckily the trail was pretty easy to follow. We also got some words of encouragement from some college students who were impressed we carried our daughters all the way up. They then surprised us by offering us watermelon, as one of them carried a whole watermelon to help in her hiking training program. Hands down, the best watermelon I’ve ever had. After that delicious break, we tackled the second half of the hike which included a short climb and then a long slow descent back to the Paradise Visitors Center. We joined up with a student who is volunteering at the park for the summer and she was very helpful in terms of sharing information. We also had lots of snow to deal with and relied on our AllTrails PRO to ensure we were going in the right direction. Once we got back to Paradise, it was a mob scene. So many people were coming to picnic and soak up the sun at the base of the mountain. We heard people from India, China, and Japan just over the course of a few minutes.
Our final day had us take an easier hike around Reflection Lake to another trail that was pretty much empty except for us. It was a mix of dense forest and meadows that flashed some great views. We also stumbled across some snowmelt ponds that were probably only recently developed and would soon disappear to become meadow again.
As we packed our gear into the SUV, we wondered why we didn’t plan for more days at Rainier as it was so vast and beautiful.
The quintessence according to…
Sean-after a day of having Leona vomit and drive a couple hours, it was nice to end it on a highnote with the Comet Falls hike. Starting off as a straight vertical climb, it flattened out and became a great experience. I had done zero research on this hike beforehand so I had no idea about the height of Comet Falls. They were incredibly high and loud, yet very peaceful because there were only a few others to soak it all in.
Mary- The Skyline Loop Trail was my favorite. Hiking up the Big Mountain while being able to turn around and see Mt Hood 100 miles away was amazing.
Quincy & Leona- for this park, the girls loved seeing the marmots run around and shriek. When we were hiking the Skyline Trail, they kept their eyes peeled and would yell “elmo!” (trying to say “animal”) whenever they spotted one.
Pleasant and unpleasant surprises
-We picked a campsite near the bathrooms, but the girls pushed the limits a bit and would say “pee pee” when they wanted to get our attention. It became quite the frustration when we had to stop whatever we were doing knowing we had a false alarm on our hands. However, we needed to maintain the progress for potty-training.
-On the final night of our stay, a family with 4 daughters stayed next to us, ages 4-12, and gave our girls a real adventure as they played around the sites and allowed Quincy and Leona to join in on the fun.
-Mt. Rainier is such a large park and we barely got to scratch the surface. Next time, we hope to explore the north side of the park.