Waterfalls, Ancient Trees, Wildlife
Five entrances lead into Mount Rainier National Park, a 369-square-mile reserve about 60 miles southeast of Seattle, and the park offers five developed areas (Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise and Carbon River Mowich) that make good bases for exploring. Two inns are located in the park, along with three car camping areas and numerous wilderness camping sites.
Climbing the mountain requires some training and expertise, but all park visitors have access to 260 miles of hiking trails, snowshoeing, skiing, fields filled with late summer wildflowers and the chance to enjoy a view of Mount Rainier while sipping a cold beverage on the porch at Longmire Inn. Remote, roadless camping experiences are available, as are trails and services easily accessed directly off the maintained road system. This splendid park that bears the mountain’s name truly offers something for everyone in every season.
I drive along the northeast side of the park, looking for trails and admiring the abundant waterfalls — 150 are in the park, which hosts five major rivers. After crossing Cayuse Pass, I head toward the southeast corner of the park, where I stop and take off on a hiking trail. The grandeur of old growth forest here is breathtaking. Fir trees, towering hundreds of feet upward, are surrounded by ferns and flowing streams, and a gentle mist drifts through the woods, making the landscape otherworldly.
Along the Grove of the Patriarchs trail, an easy 1.5-mile loop, I walk through a stand of 1,000-year-old trees that range from 40 to 50 feet in diameter. some of the oldest and biggest in the area. I also encounter Roosevelt elk and a Columbia black-tail deer. Later, I pitch my tent at the Ohanapecosh Campground, near the river of the same name.
As night approaches, alone in the solitude of wilderness and rushing water, I watch the vibrance of the river transform as sunlight lowers to the horizon. Early the next morning, I hike a 4-mile trail to Silver Falls, formed where the Ohanapecosh River drops 95 feet into a narrow canyon. Alone at the tumbling falls, I am tempted to stay for hours.