Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mt. Rainier National Park

I have a confession to make...

While cavorting all over visiting National Parks, I'd neglected the one closest to home.  Although Mt. Rainier National Park is a mere 3 1/2 hour drive away, I've been there a grand total of once, and that was way back in the 90s.

Time to get reacquainted!

Stevens Canyon Entrance

In late July, I planned a return trip to coincide with one of my three-day weekends.  Early that Friday morning, after dropping my hubby off at the Portland airport for a business trip, I continued northward into Washington State.

Wonderland Trail to Sunrise

I didn't make campground reservations (I learned the White River Campground was first-come first serve), and was a little bit worried about securing a site for the weekend.  Arriving around 11 am, I was surprised to find it nearly full.  After driving around the campground for 30 minutes, I got lucky and spotted a just-vacated site.  Quickly, I parked my car and hurried to pay.  I think I got the very last one!

Waterfall on the Wonderland Trail

The White River campground is situated in the NE corner of the park.  To reach the nearby Sunrise Visitor Center it's a short drive or 2.5 mile hike.  Can you guess which option I chose?

Mt Rainier is hidden in the clouds

Yep - after setting up camp, I donned backpack and headed up the Wonderland Trail, destination Sunrise Lodge and Visitor Center.  The Wonderland Trail is a 95.2 mile long trail that circles Mt. Rainier's entire base and I was excited to be hiking a small portion of this famous path.

Junction with the Sunrise Trail

It was a tough 2000 foot climb through mostly viewless woods.  Not much for wildflowers blooming either, but the path did cross underneath a cool waterfall about halfway.

Beautiful purple flowers

Reaching the first junction, I took the half mile trail heading to Sunrise.  After having the uphill climb mostly to myself, it was a shock to encounter so many people!  I hiked with the crowds all the way to the visitor center.

Sunrise Visitor Center

Sunrise didn't impress me.  It's huge parking lot was full of vehicles.  The weather-worn lodge looked like it had seen better days.  The visitor center looked like a log stockade from the Davy Crockett days.  And people were everywhere.

Sunrise Lodge

I made a quick trip inside the visitor center to check it out, buy a pin for my collection, and inquire about the best wildflower hikes.  Then I headed to a nearby picnic area for a quick snack and to figure out where to go next.

Hiking above Sunrise

A plethora of hiking trails departed from Sunrise.  Some climbed high up nearby ridges, others followed level alpine meadows. The morning's rainy weather had given way to low-lying clouds and cool temps.  Although it was no longer raining, foggy skies hid most of the majestic mountain views. 

Lots of foggy clouds up high

Where did I want to hike?  Should I climb higher?  Or stay low and look for wildflowers?  Seeing large groups of people heading up the trail to Frozen Lake, I made a snap decision to follow the crowd.

Purple flowers

At first I thought I'd made a mistake.  The trail climbed higher into the fog.  Views became obliterated by the low-hanging clouds.  The temperatures dropped, and I put on all the layers I had with me (which wasn't much).

Teaser peeks of the mountains

But after crossing a high saddle, the skies began to clear slightly.  I began to see the green forest below, and adjacent mountains began to show themselves.


The wildflowers up here were sparse, but what they lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality.

Trail across the talus slope
The trail crossed a long talus slope.  About halfway across this slope was a patch of bright pink heather.  Really brightened up all that dull gray.

Big patch of heather!

Then I began climbing the final steep pitch to frozen lake.  Along the way, I passed some lovely alpine meadows decked out with vivid orange paintbrush.

Orange paintbrush brightens up the landscape

Approaching Frozen Lake, the fog sunk down to trail level.  Temperatures hovered near freezing, and a few icy raindrops pelted the hikers.

Path to Frozen Lake

Oh, it was miserable!  The wind blew and I swear the raindrops began morphing into sleet pellets.

Frozen Lake in a foggy sleet storm

To top it off, the lake was shrouded in clouds, making it extremely hard to photograph.  But I did my best, trying to capture it's amazing ice formations along the far shores.

Blue glacial ice
Where to go next?  Should I retrace my steps back to Sunrise?  Or take the Wonderland Trail down through some more alpine meadows?  One thing I knew for sure, I was freezing and had to get out of this place.

Back down the Wonderland Trail

In the end, after a few wrong turns, I located the Wonderland Trail and decided to do more exploring.

Very foggy here

The Wonderland Trail dropped steeply down off Frozen Lake's high ridge.  The fog began to lift and temperatures increased dramatically.

Snowfield crossing

I did however, have to cross a couple of snowfields.  But they were a snap, thanks to my skiing experience, and my trekking poles.

Magenta paintbrush and mountains

Below the snowfields, the alpine meadows began opening up, and so did the wildflowers!  Lovely magenta-colored paintbrush dotted the landscape.

Only wildlife sighting

I even caught a little chipmunk peeking over a rock - my only wildlife sighting of the day.

More gorgeous paintbrush

The alpine meadows were fantastic!  Flowers and partial mountain views - Now I was glad I'd decided to come this way.

Shadow Lake

I passed by lovely little Shadow Lake, it's water a mixture of brown and forest greens.  A  nearby backpacking campground was plumb full of weekend campers.

Wildflowers at Shadow Lake outlet

I loved all the wildflowers at the lake's outlet too.

Pink heather meadow

Near the Sunrise Trail junction, I passed by a meadow full of pink heather.  Outstanding!  I also crossed a few gorgeous bubbling mountain streams, fed by glacial snowmelt.

One of many mountain streams

Finally locating my path back to the campground, I began retracing my steps downhill.  But just before the trail disappeared back into the woods, the clouds parted and I got a great view of Mt. Rainier's summit in all her glory.

Mt Rainier finally came out!

Arriving back at camp, the neighboring site invited me over for stew and beer.  A group of five friends from Tacoma, they were so welcoming, I spent a couple of pleasant hours around their campfire, before finally crawling into my sleeping bag.  Tomorrow was another big day - I planned a hike into the fabulous wildflower meadows of Summerland.

Stay tuned - I'll cover that adventure in my next post!

Sharing with:  Scenic Weekends and Through My Lens


  1. You and Andra really know how to tease! She has just posted her ascent of Castle Mountain in sensational weather. Your weather wasn't sensational, but I think it has added a special element to all you experienced. Magical photography.

  2. Spellbinding images from the top of the world. Thanks for taking me along for the tour.

  3. Montanhas espectaculares, gostei das fotografias são uma beleza.
    Um abraço e bom Domingo.

  4. Hello, another great hike. The wildflowers are beautiful, the sleet pellets do not sound inviting. I do love the views of the mountain, waterfalls and the pretty lake. I also collect pins from all my travels, especially the national parks. Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing your adventure. Happy Sunday, enjoy your new week ahead!

  5. Absolutely gorgeous photos, Linda! And the chipmunk is adorable! :)

  6. Now you got me all excited as I'm going to Ranier NP this coming weekend and Burroughs Mountain (the trail you were on) is on the agenda. Can't wait! Great pictures as always, Linda, and your beautiful purple flowers are Showy Jacob's Ladder.

  7. Looks wonderful to me, even if it was cold and foggy. We've thought for some time that we want to get back to visiting North American National Parks, especially out west . But now I'm getting specific, so I may start taking notes on some of your posts!

  8. You got some great shots! I almost went to Rainier once when we visited relatives in Tacoma, but I was sick that day. Sometimes travel does that to me.

  9. Stunning shots of this wonderul area and I am glad you did this reack. Lovedd the wild flowers along the way

  10. I really love the shot with the magenta flowers and mountain backdrop. Cloudy days make for some really gorgeous photographs, even if you're standing there freezing your butt off. :) That's one park on my list!

  11. Wow! Nice adventure. Your hiking is very dramatic. Mt.Rainier's photo is very impressive. It's nice you enjoyed 2 hour pleasant time with your friends. Thanks for sharing.

  12. An amazing place. You have so many wonderful places to explore near you!

  13. I just love going along on your hikes. fabulous images once again.

  14. What a great variety of terrain - I'd love to get back there one of these years.

  15. A varied tour of different weather and altitudes. Always nice when the mountains clear at the end and the summits come out.

  16. The Wonderland Trail! I'd love to hike that someday. Good for you, camping solo! Even in a campground, so few women would do that.

  17. Oh wow, this was a really fun hike to read about and see photos of! How awesome that you were able to get the last campground spot! The first photo of the trail in the woods is pretty neat, and I loved the purple flowers, heather, and paintbrush. It's amazing to see the change in temperatures you went through...and snow! in summer! That's something an Iowa girl just doesn't see (oh, and I'm so thankful--we see more than enough of that in the winter)! The Frozen Lake experience does sound miserable, and reminds me of a few shiver-ful days I've endured during our winters. But I do really like the shot you got of the blue glacial ice. Shadow Lake must have been a virtual Shangri-La afterward! It looks so beautiful! Hmmm...almost makes me want to go hiking with you (But let's skip Frozen Lake ;)--I like to stay warm). Great photo of the stream, and I really liked your capture of Mount Rainier and the clouds!

    Thanks for sharing such an awesome hike!

  18. Isn't that how it usually is--neglecting the closest park! I'm glad you revisited it. It looks wonderful with all the great scenes and colors.

  19. That Magenta Paintbrush was stunning as was the heather! What a beautiful hike! :)

  20. Beautiful park and amazing flowers and scenic beauty.

  21. This is a place I would like to hike one day. It has everything I look for with the meadows, lakes, wildflowers, mountains. I love how the trails just wind around, up and down, here and there with many options.

  22. I enjoyed the park but was equally unimpressed by Sunrise Lodge. I didn't hike but did wander some of the trails at the time to get away from the people and was very impressed with the wildflowers at the time in August.

  23. These are just beautiful pictures, even if you were so uncomfortable. Right now some cool weather would sound very good! Love the wildflowers. :-)

  24. Oddly this post never showed up in my blog feed...I only saw it when I came here to link your blog to the post I am writing!

    You sure got lucky with a campsite...and it's a good thing you toughed it out on the trail despite the got some beautiful flower and lake photos. I think magenta is my favorite paint brush color!

  25. Beautiful! I don't recall if I have ever been to that area of Mt Rainier before. We usually visited Paradise and the Longmire area. I now see what I have been missing:)

  26. Gorgeous photos, Linda. My favorite hike out of Sunrise is out to Burroughs Mountain, but I haven't done any hiking in the park for a couple of years. Maybe next year!

  27. Brrr! I love how you persevere, Linda! I love all the shots, but that foggy lanndscape sure looks cold. The wildflowers were your reward.

  28. The national parks were so crowded this year! I'm guessing it was because of the 100 year anniversary of the national park service? Glacier NP broke a record in July-- the month before our visit, and I heard RMNP was also very crowded this summer.

  29. Absolutely beautiful shots! One of your shots with the fog above so reminded me of a hike I did once at Glacier NP. Have you ever been there. It is a place that I love!!

  30. Beautiful! I love the waterfall and all the wild flowers.


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