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Mt. Rainier
(photo courtesy National Parks Service)


Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, Elbe


Engineer/fireman Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad


Visitor center, Mt. Ranier National Forest, East


Historic shed, Ashford


Whittaker's Cafe, Ashford

Mt. Rainier, Washington

www.visitmtrainier.com and http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit

The four entrances to the National Park are all weather dependent see directions & road conditions http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit

Southwest Nisqually entrance (SR 706) is open year-round to Longmire (road to Paradise closes nightly November - spring; Southeast (SR 123) suffers frequent road closures; Northwest Carbon River minimal access only to Ranger Station; hikers, bikers can proceed further. Northeast (SR410) closes first snowfall (October) - access to Sunrise generally open July-September.

Ashford is the last community before the southwest Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. Here, pastures meet protected forest. In the middle of town is Mt. Rainier Visitor Center inside Whittaker’s Summit Haus www.whittakermountaineering.com, 877.617.9951 where you’ll find passes, maps, books, gear, clothing and pretty much everything you could possibly need for camping and hiking. Fair Warning: The store is great, but phone info iffy — representing businesses, not National Park, ask specifics, you’ll get some answers.

Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park (access May – October)
Maybe you’ve seen those photos of wildflower meadows with Mt. Rainier in the background all magnificent and breathtaking. That’s where I am standing. In this place called Paradise, 5,400 ft. up Mt. Rainier within the National Park. The sun is out, so I can see the mountain in that near perfect photographic angle but those wildflower fields are covered under more than 20 feet of snow. The meadows are usually abloom by late June, but this year (2008, April) it looks like the timetable may be off. The park (97% wilderness and 3% National Historic Landmark District) encompasses a complex ecosystem with 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams supporting diverse habitat and wildlife. On the 19-mile drive up from the western Nisqually Entrance, you can see the fantastic power of the 2006 winter floods that scoured riverbeds, felled timber, changed creek courses and took out embankments, including the first campsite as you enter the park, Sunshine Point. For those who prefer not to drive (summer parking is limited) free shuttles will be running, but park entrance fees still apply. It’s a marvelous place, a hiker’s and sightseer’s, um, paradise.

Paradise Inn
A two-year foundation and seismic upgrade has brought this historic 1916 lodge up to code and back to its former self. The project has been an astounding process – the entire lodge, section by section, was jacked up to lay a new foundation and mammoth stone fireplaces were disassembled, numbered and reconstructed. Back in place are handsome timbers, the lovely parchment chandeliers with hand-painted wildflowers and German carpenter Hans Fraehnke’s fanciful 1919 Alaskan yellow cedar chairs resembling thrones from some rustic fairytale kingdom as well as his giant 14-foot tall grandfather clock and rustic piano (now in tune).

I wish I could say the 22-million dollar renovation upgraded all guest rooms, but alas, only the main lodge’s shared bath and handicap accessible rooms have been upgraded, leaving the 88 room four-story annex for another day. As with many National Park properties, expect Spartan, dated amenities and décor akin to inexpensive motels or hostels. But then, it’s all about the location. Fair Warning: Book ahead for summer — July and August fill rapidly. Ask for Tatoosh views since other rooms look onto the lodge. Avoid bringing gel pens or full lotions and makeup containers or you may experience your own volcano-style mini eruptions due to altitude pressure.

Copper Creek Inn
Charming log houses dot 6.5 acres of open meadow surrounded by forest. The historic 1919 Copper Creek Lodge (sleeps nine) is your own private timbered haven, with creekside hot tub, stone fireplace, large kitchen, and outdoor fire pit for campfire songs and s’mores. Dream Weaver is a romantic hideaway with a gazebo hot tub. Overlooking all is the Forest Retreat designed for group retreats—a gorgeous wide-open space with huge deck and owner Catharine Gallagher’s paintings. Beds are deliciously comfy and the décor is tastefully subdued with colorful artistic touches that are whimsical without being cloying. Perfect for the location. Let nature sing. Cedar Springs, a two-bedroom rustic cabin is one mile from Copper Creek Inn. On 11 acres with a pond, ancient cedar grove, historic barn, spring fed pond and private hot tub. Share with birds and critters.

Alta Crystal Resort
Condo-like suites and a log Honeymoon Cabin. Step outside your front door for miles of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing or soak in the heated pool and hot tub. Wide lawns surrounded by forest are nice for summertime volleyball or badminton and outdoor cooking. A historic cabin serves as the recreation-room. Enthusiastic innkeepers provide information, hiking maps; some snacks & movies available in gift store. Kids (and you too) will love the hobbit village hidden on a nearby forest trail (ask!). Fair Warning: You’re a ways from city amenities, so bring your own food, but never fear, Wapiti Woolies (famous woven headgear) at Greenwater has a Starbucks and restaurants.

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