Last week we felt we needed to get out for another big trip to take advantage of abundant sunshine and mountain flowers. We chose Rainier, and I gave the kids a choice about the region to visit. Gabe really wanted to get up to Paradise, so that’s the direction we headed. We stopped for lunch and recon at the Cougar Rock picnic area, and made our final decision on which exact trail to try. I thought maybe Carter Falls would be good, since it is in the trees and shade and sounded mellow. Then we could go up to Paradise when the afternoon light was gentler. But the thought of high wildflowers won out, and we loved the description in Best Hikes for Children of the Reflection Lakes loop and Faraway Rock. I’m so glad we picked this trail; the flowers were spectacular, and the views couldn’t be beat.
The trail starts in the parking area for Reflection Lakes. I opted to park on the far west side; Gabe complained about that until I told him that parking there would lessen the amount of hot road walking we’d have to do at the end of the hike. After slathering on sunscreen and filling extra water bottles, we walked east along the lake and then the sidewalk on the road for about a half a mile, until we reached the Wonderland Trail.
We took off to the left, and soon hit the junction with the Lakes Trail, where we turned left and headed up the gentle slope.
The trail is in good condition along this section, with packed gravel to walk on. (Later the gravel gives way to dust and roots, but it’s civilized up to the rock.) The heat and elevation really sapped Annika’s strength, and we stopped about every minute to catch our breath. We had to stop in a dry gully and rest in the shade about 2/3 of the way up to Faraway Rock. Whenever we quit walking, the flies would try to bite, and Gabe asked for the Deet. But he accidentally sprayed it in his eye, which was super painful, so we rinsed it as best we could with our water. I felt so bad for him, but he recovered enough to continue on.
We really enjoyed the flowers as we climbed the trail up to Faraway Rock.
Sitka Valerian, magenta paintbrush, partridge foot, and sickeltop lousewort were the main attractions. We also saw lots of spirea, lupine, purple asters, bracted lousewort, green false helebore, and a few columbine and tiger lilies. We love the fragrance of the firs and flowers that is so distinctive in the subalpine areas.
Finally we were at Faraway Rock, and wow, what a view!
There is a steep dropoff on the edge of the cliff, so you’ll want to make sure you keep a close eye on young children.
We looked east down Stevens Canyon, with Lake Louise directly below us, blue and green in the sun. Bench Lake is visible to the southeast, and the kids marveled that we were there last year. We pointed out Unicorn Peak, Pinnacle Peak and the Castle.
Annika was more interested in the small pond nearby than the view; she was sorely disappointed, though, that it didn’t look good for wading.
A lone salamander in the water helped make up for some of the disappointment. We continued on to the junction of the trail up to Paradise; when the kids are older, perhaps we’ll extend our loop and trek all the way up there. For now it was enough to continue left on the Lakes Trail. Now we had less elevation gain, as the trail gently traverses meadows and forest on the ridge above Reflection Lakes.
We took a rest at another dry gully, eating our snacks while we listened to the drumming of a sooty grouse. Salty potato chips hit the spot, and we tanked up on water again. Annika found a very small owl pellet.
After resting, we continued the last mile back down to the car. The trail is steep at times, but still in good shape, and fine for children. We enjoyed the last bit of level trail through the back of the Reflection Lakes basin. Once back at the car, we had ice cold drinks waiting for us. It took us 3 hours to do this 3 mile hike. The heat was more than we had wanted (it was 89 when we got back to the car), so with the 350 feet elevation gain, we took it easy and slow.
After we had rested a bit and changed into sandals, we drove the rest of the way up to Paradise. The crowds looked like they were starting to thin, but parking was still an issue. Luckily we found a spot as someone pulled out, and we checked out the gift shop and the interpretive displays. The best part was a park ranger who had a telescope out to look at the sun. We could see sunspots and the coronal flares coming out – spectacular! Most of the best flowers at the Visitor Center were finished blooming and looked dusty and dry, so I was glad we had gotten our fill of flowers on our hike. We decided to head up the half-mile paved trail to Myrtle Falls so Gabe could get some photos, and the flowers were better over there.
It was also a bit cooler in the shady sections. The light was starting to soften on The Mountain, so it didn’t wash everything out.
We ended our day cooking dinner at the Paradise Picnic Area. A box of Mac-n-Cheese with some pre-cooked chicken added in was easy and filling for the kids. I had put a jar of coffee from the early morning into the cooler, so I had a delicious homemade iced mocha waiting for my drive home. Gabe was bummed we weren’t able to stay for the sunset, but it’s so late these days – I told him we’d try to get there again later this summer when the sun sets earlier in the evening.
If You Go: Mt. Rainier requires an entrance fee, which has gone up to $20 per day. (I have been getting a lot of use this year out of my $80 annual Interagency Pass.) There is construction again on the road between the Nisqually Entrance and Paradise, but the delays when we’ve gone have been short. The Faraway Rock/Lakes Loop is about 3 miles long with over 400 feet of elevation gain. Most of that gain is in the climb to Faraway Rock. Most of the steps are fine for young children and old knees, but a few are higher and toddlers and preschoolers might need a hand up. There are sections in the sun, so bring hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Bug spray might be a good idea, as well. There are no restrooms at Reflection Lakes, so use the bathrooms at Longmire or Cougar Rock before you park. Bring snacks and adequate water; we went through over 2 liters on our hike, and there is only one pond I’d want to filter water from (earlier in the season or in a wetter, cooler year, you can find water in the two streams that the trail crosses, but those are dry already this summer.)