Our trip to the northwest corner of the country supplied us with some unique opportunities. Dwelling in the heartland brings its own scenes of beauty, but in Washington State, we were finding new experiences. After spending a couple of days with our son, along came a day he had to work. This gave us a chance to take an excursion to Mount Rainier. Since we have recently acquired a taste for hiking, this national park would offer us some amazing challenges. After all, it’s not every day that we get to walk around an active volcano. Let’s just hope we don’t disturb this sleeping giant.
Finding a Namesake
Wanting to maximize our time in the park, we departed our hotel before sunrise. The two-hour drive had us passing from residential to rural and finally into the wilderness. The weather was cloudy, but there was a promise of clearing later that morning. As dawn broke, we began to see peeks of our destination breaking above the landscape. Our path into the park led us along the White River, which appeared periodically from the long stands of pines. While keeping our eyes open for the park entrance, Crystal spotted a photo opp that we just couldn’t pass up. I have to admit that I’m a little jealous that we have never found a natural site named Jeff.
Taking It In
Not far from Crystal Mountain, we found our turn-off. We decided that our day should start with a visit to the park’s highest drivable point. Turning onto Sunrise Park Road, we began our climb to the visitors center. Nestled in a mountain meadow, the complex sits at an altitude of 6400 feet. The winding switchbacks offered peeks of the surrounding area, but only when not obstructed by the dense tree line. After a while, we noticed a thinning of the vegetation as we approached the end of the road. We discovered the visitor center was closed, due to Covid, but it didn’t interrupt our chance to hike. From the parking lot, there are a couple of options but time-limited us to choosing the Sourdough Ridge Trail. From our mile-high perch, we climbed 1000 feet in elevation to find some amazing mountaintop views.
With our first solid views of Mount Rainier under our belts, we turned our attention to lower elevations. The diverse environments of the mountain were something we had never experienced. Our excursions to the Rocky Mountains have provided plenty of scenic pine forest views. This would be our first adventure into an area filled with sleeping giants. We made our way back down the mountain volcano and soon landed at the Grove of the Patriarchs. Lucky timing landed us a spot in the small parking lot that leads to the trailhead. We took a few minutes to enjoy the lunch we had packed, before embarking on our next adventure.
The hike is a 1.5-mile round trip that has no elevation gain. As we made our way into the forest, the stillness quickly enveloped us. Through the trees, we could hear the rippling of the Ohanapecosh River, which flows down from Mount Rainier. The farther we journeyed along the trail, the more the feeling of longevity emanated from the woods. Coming down a small hill, we found ourselves at a small suspension bridge that led across the water. Passing single file, we were deposited on an island that felt like stepping into a sacred place. All around us, huge hemlocks, firs, and cedars climbed into the sky. With an estimated age of up to 1000 years, we knew this old-growth grove was special.
Power and Beauty
We had made our way to the southern side of Mount Rainier. With our minds already blown by the amazing sights from the morning, we were now heading into an area filled with waterfalls. Like many of you, we are suckers for falling water. Paradise Valley Road winds across the foot of the mountain. Being the end of summer, snowmelt was coming to an end. There was still plenty to make for some incredible views. Our pre-trip research had told us that we could not pass up a visit to Narada Falls. We found the turn-off and made our way down a short embankment trail that leads to a viewing area. Here we could see firsthand the 159-foot tall horsetail fall, which cascades down the rock face. We marveled at this natural beauty for quite some time, before making the climb back up the trail.
Mount Rainier Memories
Time was not on our side, as we had plans to meet up with our son for dinner. Knowing there was a two-hour drive in our future, we had to cut our visit short. A stop at Reflection Lake gave us a chance for one more set of selfies, before turning back toward the city. The memories we made during our Mount Rainier visit will stay with us for a lifetime. We don’t know if we will ever have the chance to hike on a volcano again, but we were glad this sleeping giant let us enjoy our time in peace.