This is the third of three National Parks in Washington state. Located about two hours outside Seattle, it is a pleasant escape from the big city and a world away from Olympic. Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP) is quite literally a square-shaped swath of land around the towering and majestic Mt. Rainier, with the majority of activities available in the south-central Paradise region, or the north eastern Sunrise and White River regions.
- Reflection Lakes Loop: This five-mile loop winds around two, small lakes, up through the forest, and across fields and fields of wild blueberry bushes! The elevation gain was minimal (no hiking poles needed), and we are sure glad we went early because this hike is a popular one. The larger of the two lakes supports a mirror-like reflection of Mount Rainier, which is stunning at sunrise! Our time on this trail flew by, partly because the scenery was tranquil, and partly because our efforts were continuously rewarded with a fresh blueberry snack. Bon appetit!
- Comet Falls: This hike is much steeper than Reflection Lakes, and gains 900 feet in 1.9 miles - bring your poles. The trail winds past Christine Falls and hikes up through blueberry, huckleberry, and salmonberry bushes to the base of Comet Falls, names as such because the tail of this 320-foot cascade resembles a comet. The trail continues on to several backcountry campsites, but we were satisfied with the first stop.
- Skyline trail: This 5.5-mile trail loops up and around the base of Mount Rainier, for an up-close view of the colossus. Hiker's plan accordingly, this trail is extremely popular, as is the parking lot, so you must arrive by 7am! As the trail ascends, hikers traverse talus piles and wild-flower-filled meadows and have the option of stopping at look-outs that highlight other scraggly peaks in the young Cascade Range - on a clear day you can see Mt. Hood! At the trail's zenith, hikers are at a mere 7,000-feet, only about half-way up this mountain (from sea level), and the peak looms overhead reminding viewers that nature's majesty is to be respected and admired.
- Glacier Basin/Emmons Glacier Lookout: Glacier basin takes hikers to, you guessed it, a glacier basin below towering Mount Rainier. While on this hike, we passed by the newly repaired Emmons Glacier lookout spur and were treated to a magnificent view of the terminus of Emmons Glacier. At this glacier's end, the ice is carved out by a raging, sub-glacial river, whose cave-like outlet must be at least the height of a thirty-story building. Needless to say, the view here is exquisite, so much so that we opted to conclude our hike shortly thereafter.
- Burroughs Hike: The map will tell you that there are only two burroughs; there are three burroughs and you must hike them all. The trail originates at the Sunrise visitors center and traverses giant mounts of talus up and up, over the first two burroughs which offer panoramic views of the park and seemingly endless rows of mountains undulating over the countryside. The third burrough (approximately five miles from the trail head) concludes in front of Mount Rainier and rewards hikers with views not just of the mountain, but of nearly half a dozen monstrous glaciers! While we were there, we witnesses a helicopter training exercise and several instances of glaciers calving (think a glacier avalanche). What a site!