Location: Longmire, WA
Established: March 1899
Size: 236,381 acres
Annual visitors: 1,038,229 (2011)
Entrance fee: $25 / vehicle / week
Times visited: 6
Even though I had such rare views of Mount Rainier while visiting the park, I had been fortunate to fly out of a Sea-Tac Airport on a number of sunny days and had seen the mountain from the unique perspective offered by air travel. Of course, those views only made me want to see the mountain from up close that much more.
It was a beautiful blue-bird sky weekend. We camped at Cougar Rock Campground, near the Longmire area in the south-west corner of the Park. Our main goal for the weekend was to snowshoe to Camp Muir, a base camp at 10,000 feet that is accessible without any glacier travel. It remains one of the most amazing hikes I've done. It's an 8 mile round-trip hike that climbs over 1000 feet per mile. The weather and snow conditions were ideal that day, and although the last 1000 feet of elevation were a true struggle for my body, it was worth the effort to sit on the shoulder of Mount Rainier and look out at the world beyond.
On our last visit we entered the park from the north, coming down from Bellevue, through to Enumclaw and then cutting eastward to join up with SR 410 to take us into the park. A few miles south of the park entrance, we turned west, following the White River and then climbing up to Sunrise. The weekend started out fully rainy, then eased off a bit, giving us peeks at the mountain. Finally, we woke up to clear skies, allowing us to more fully appreciate the Sunrise Area.
There is a great visitor centre in Paradise with a cafeteria and gift shop, as well as the historic Paradise Inn, with a café and full restaurant. Paradise is the most visited area of the park and the parking lot is often full by late morning on most summer weekends, so plan to arrive early on visit on a weekday instead.
This most recent trip to Paradise was the first time we had been there in the summer, when there wasn't any snow on the ground. Unfortunately afternoon clouds had moved in and hid the mountain from us, but we still enjoyed wandering the trails through the meadows and seeing the area from a different, snow-free perspective!
Longmire is the one area of the park that is open year-round. It sits at 2700 feet and hosts an information centre, the National Park Inn, a gift shop and a restaurant. It is also the site of many of the park operations, and seasonal accommodations for some of the employees. One of my favourite things to do in the park is to sit in one of the rocking chairs on the Inn's front porch, staring at the peak before me.
Rainier is a mountain that will get under your skin, in a very, very good way. There is something captivating and enchanting about Mount Rainier that pulls us in and doesn't let us go. John Muir, one of America's best naturalists, understood the draw of Rainier and advocated to get it protected as a National Park. I recommend you read his essay about climbing to the summit.
Thankfully, the National Park Service understands the pull of this mountain and has taken measures over the past few years to improve infrastructure and access to the park. For now, that means that there are still some construction zones, but overall the work will lead to a better experience for visitors.
As for me, I'm always on the lookout for the peak, even when simply driving down the I-5 towards Seattle. One of these days I'll hop onto the Wonderland Trail, hiking 90 miles around the mountain. And hopefully another time I'll get a chance to visit the summit of this glorious peak.
Have you visited Mount Rainier? Did it get under your skin like it has for me? Or perhaps there's another mountain, or park that keeps you itching to go back. Please share in the comments below!