If you can tear yourself away from the urban wonderland that metropolitan Seattle is for one day, there is a place that can satisfy your senses on an equal, albeit different level. This place is Mount Rainier National Park. Visit here once, and you may find yourself plotting ways to extend your vacation to allow for one more glimpse of this behemoth.
Visit here twice and you may begin referring to it by its native name, Tahoma. Loosely translated, this means "the one who nourishes." With its diverse life zones, ranging from low elevation temperate rain forests to high sub-alpine meadows, there are scenic delights and sensory inputs that will have you understanding what the natives meant.
Standing 14,411ft tall (4185 m), it is the tallest active volcano in the United States. The top two thirds of this giant are encased in one cubic mile of ice that radiates out from the peak in 26 glaciers. Visitors in the spring will be delighted by numerous and voluminous cascading waterfalls, impossible shades of green moss hanging from 1,000-year-old trees, and herds of elk grazing in the lowlands. In summer the sub alpine meadows burst in a riot of wildflowers that just may render some visitors blissfully, unforgettably speechless.
If you are planning to arrive by car, know that not all park entrances or roads are open prior to July, so check out the park website: www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm for closures before beginning. When in doubt, it is always a sure bet to head for the Southwest entrance of the park, also known as the Nisqually entrance. From here, there are many trails to walk for every level of hiking and sightseeing. Many are accessible off this main road between Longmire and Paradise.
The Trail of Shadows, just across the road from the historic Longmire Inn, enchants with old-growth trees. The trail to Narada Falls, just below Paradise, offers stunning views of one of the largest waterfalls in the park.
For a breathtaking view of the Nisqually glacier, keep your eyes open about one mile past Narada Falls on the left side of the road to Paradise. There is a pullout there with jaw-dropping views of this glacier. On a quiet day in high summer, you may even hear boulders cracking off the glacial moraine and crashing down the steep walls to the glacier below.
An alternative to navigating the mountain roads on your own, sightseeing tours by bus are generally available May 1-Oct. 1. Contact visitseattle.org for more information.