Depending on where you live in Western Washington, you might be lucky enough to have a view of Mount Rainier. It’s Washington state’s tallest mountain and an active volcano. This most famous and most treasured natural landmark is synonymous with the North West. It’s iconic shape can be found just about everywhere; from our buildings, to our bike jerseys, to our coffee cups and even our favorite beer! In fact, I’m positive that if you took a chest x-ray of any Washington native, you’d see a heart shaped like Mt. Rainier.
While I’ve always cherished the view of Rainier from Seattle, I had taken this spectacular gem in my own backyard for granted. I came to this realization when a friend, visiting Seattle for the first time, said that what she wanted to do most was to visit Mt. Rainier. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t been back to the visit Mt. Rainier National Park in two decades!
Mt. Rainier Day Trip
We set aside a full day for our trip to the mountain. It’s at least around a two hour drive each way from Seattle, and we wanted time to explore as much of the park as we could. In addition, the road to the top of the mountain closes at 5:00 pm in the winter. On this trip, you won’t have to wait until your arrive to see some spectacular vistas. You’ll drive through amazingly tall evergreens as you wind through Washington’s temperate rain forest up to Mt. Rainier. Snow flocked trees line your route as you move higher with views of occasional waterfalls off the side of the road.
During the winter, unless your car has all wheel drive and good tires with ample tread left that can handle slick roads, the park requires you to have tire chains in the car. It’s always a good idea to have chains ready since weather on the mountain can change drastically in a flash. Be sure you know how to install chains on your tires before heading out on any winter road trip. I throw mine into the trunk every Halloween. It’s easy to remember to do it by linking it to a special day. Then, no matter where I go, I’ll be ready and those freak early snow storms won’t leave me stranded.
There’s a $20 vehicle charge to get into the park, ($10 for a motorcycle and also $10 per person if you walk in or bike in) or free with the the National Parks Pass or Mt. Rainier Annual Pass. Your entrance fee gets you in for the next seven days, so it’s easy to heed the call of the mountain and come back in for another day of fun. Snowy valleys and flowing rivers through the mountain look amazing all year long, but the landscape in winter is hushed, full big contrasts: snow covered trees and ridges, glinting in the winter sunlight set along deep, dark valleys that feel like they are deep in hibernation.
Once you make your way to the top, you get one of the best views in the world. The one downside is that if you are not prepared, you won’t be ready to participate in the activities at the top of the road. Besides the sledding hill, there are numerous snowshoeing trails. Snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling and even ranger-led snowshoe adventures are available. It’s best to consult the Mt. Rainier web site to plan for your day and then bring the appropriate gear with you, since there won’t be a chance to rent or buy gear once you are at the top.
My friend and I didn’t have any gear along, so we chose to take in the amazing view of snow capped mountains and an unspoiled winter wilderness. I would definitely recommend visiting Mt Rainier in the winter and again in the summer time so you can enjoy a completely different feel to the mountain and a host of different activities.
If you plan on making this trip in the winter, there are a few things you’ll need to make your trip enjoyable. First get the weather report for your route to the mountain and the weather/current conditions on the mountain, so you’ll have an idea of conditions you may face. Then be sure that your car has a full tank of gas and is winter roadworthy. Don’t forget those chains! Proper snow shoes are a must. They keep your feet warm and give you better traction when walking in the snow. Warmer socks are also highly encouraged. Bring a warm jacket, a hat and a pair of gloves. Just make sure you know you’ll be comfortable in the colder conditions.
Next think about what you’d like to do once you reach your destination. Pack that sled and appropriate gear for your activities! Campika’s Pack It web application will help you make sure you don’t forget anything! So as long as you have all your necessary gear and good company, you’ll love your day spent on this active volcano.
The glimpses you catch of Mt Rainier from the highway only hint at the spectacular vistas you get standing atop it. Mt Rainier is a “must do” destination for anyone wanting to experience the North West. In fact, for anyone from Washington, you just can’t call yourself a North Western without having made your pilgrimage to this icon of our state.