Mt. Rainier, Washington
“Watch for pedestrians, bicycles and elk” is just one of the signs on the road to Paradise, the high alpine meadowland and name of Mt. Rainier’s historic inn. I am one of many Oregonians whom for whatever lame reason had never been to Mt. Rainier National Park. So who needs to explore Mt. Rainier? You do. We all do.
Mt. Rainier, at 14,410 feet with 26 named glaciers, is the largest volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range. Unlike most forests in the Cascades, Mt. Rainier became a national park in 1899, leaving much of its old growth fir and cedar stands intact. True wilderness with waterfalls, cascading rivers, granite outcroppings and gorges. You can drive through the park or take advantage of 240 miles of maintained trails ranging from easy nature hikes to rugged mountaineering. Fair Warning: Check weather/road conditions before going. There are four entrances... [more]
Elbe Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Co., Sidetrack Room & Hobo Inn, Pizza Station Full restaurant, lounge, pizza parlor in train cars. Fun for kids.
In Ashford it’s easy to spot Whittaker’s Espresso & Wireless Internet Cafe for coffee, ice cream, smoothies and snacks in the center of town. Nearer the entrance to the National Park, save your appetite for lunch or dinner (fabulous Sunday brunch) at Copper Creek Inn Restaurant www.coppercreekinn.com Favorites include “Flat Iron Phil’s” steak, hand-dipped milkshakes, “copper topper” mini sticky buns and their famous blackberry pie.
Inside the park National Park Inn Restaurant at Longmire and Paradise Inn serve breakfast, lunch, dinner. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise serves general fast-food style hot dogs and hamburgers.
Greenwater, a small stop on highway SR 410): don’t mistake the historic Greenwater Lodge Coffee Shop for a mere coffee shop (58106 State Route 410 E, 360-663-0290, it’s a full restaurant - biscuits and gravy or huge cinnamon rolls for breakfasts, mango salsa trout or thick cut charbroiled pork chops stuffed with apple chutney for dinners. If you can’t live without Starbuck’s, head to the back room at Wapiti Woolies www.wapitiwoolies.com. You can’t beat breakfast or lunch at Buzzy’s Greenwater Café across the road or the local atmosphere and great milkshakes next door at the Naches Tavern.
At Crystal Mountain Resort www.crystalmountain.com, there’s veal saltimbocca or Black Angus prime rib at the Alpine Inn Restaurant or hand tossed pizza and ales at the lively Snorting Elk Cellar rathskeller below the restaurant (closed Sept. 17 - November).
National Park Inn Mt. Rainier National Park, Longmire http://rainier.guestservices.com As in many National Park historic lodgings, barebones uninspired accommodations and screwy lobby renovations in terrific settings. A must — the verandah with rocking chair views of looming Mt. Rainier (weather permitting). Trails and museum nearby.
The Hobo Inn (360-569-2500) in Elbe is a novelty motel — rooms in train cars.
Alta Crystal Resort www.altacrystalresort.com Hide away in comfort at this cozy retreat on 22 acres of the national forest. The address is Greenwater, but the lodging is just outside the northeast entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park and Crystal Mountain ski area. more detail
At Elbe, near Ashford, excursions on Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad (888-783-2611) www.mrsr.com (summer weekends through October 1st) take you into the mountain’s forested foothills. Vintage steam locomotives chug over the Nisqually River and through the woods as the mountain looms. Between Elbe and Ashford, Dan Klennert’s Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park features bizarre, bold and delightful recycled metal sculptures. At Ashford, Mt. Rainier Visitor Center (877.270.7155) is inside Whittaker’s Mountaineering Summit Haus. Ashford Creek Pottery (360.569.2933 east end of Ashford) showcases hand-painted pottery and local glasswork and paintings, as well as a historic photo and postcard collection. To visit the actual pottery and stained glass workshop take Mt. Tahoma Road, which runs parallel to SR 706. On this alternate route, you also can see a few charming old homesteads.
Seven miles inside the park from the Nisqually Entrance is the Longmire Historic District with year-round lodging and food at the National Park Inn, gift store, Longmire Wilderness Information Center, and the Longmire Museum. A short nature trail across from the inn features a mineral hot springs and a homestead cabin. Even if you don’t stay overnight, be sure to find the inn’s veranda for the view of the mountain.
On the way to Paradise, take the time to hike down the path to view the full impact of Narada Falls. Watch for other falls too, trickling through the woods or tumbling down giant granite steps. The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise has nature displays, a gift shop, bookstore, and the Jackson Grill. Near the southeast Stevens Canyon entrance, a 1.3 mile loop hike takes you to the Grove of the Patriarchs protected on an island in the Ohanapecosh River. Enter softly this towering natural cathedral of Douglas fir and western red cedar, some of which are over 1,000 years old.
At White River Campground stroll up Glacier Basin Trail and the old mining road for interpretive signs. This joins a segment of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that encircles the mountain. For more spectacular viewing, Sunrise Visitor Center (July-October), the highest point in the park at 6,411 feet, where on a clear day you can see Cascade mountain volcanoes Baker, St. Helens, Adams, and Hood.
Crystal Mountain www.skicrystal.com has 50 runs over a varied terrain suitable for all ages and skills. For breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and the northern Cascade Range take the Rainier Express chairlift to the Summit House Restaurant. Amenities are limited in summer, but alpine meadows with wildflowers are a treat. Greenwater Outfitters for hiking, fishing, and camping gear, and Wapiti Woolies home to the famous knitted hats, plus souvenirs, snacks, coffee, and clothing.