Mt. Rainier, Washington
The four entrances to the National Park
are all weather dependent see directions & road conditions
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.
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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