Ah, summer! Time for big adventures, getting up to high elevations, wildflowers, mountains, and glorious light. Last week I let the kids each bring a friend along to Mount Rainier. We were hoping to catch the wildflower show, and we did see some flowers, but we also did an amazing hike up to Panorama Point. Usually I can’t convince my kids to climb the steep trails out of Paradise, but getting an earlier start and having friends along helped to encourage them to try the trail.
We started the morning picking both extra kids up on our way out of Seattle. We made good time with tolerable traffic down to Paradise, about 3 1/2 hours after we left home. It was part of the National Park Centennial Weekend, so admission was free. The sun was shining warmly, but the temps were cooler than they were expected to be in the lowlands. We slathered on sunscreen, put food and water in our packs, and moseyed over to the Paradise Inn. There were lots of people participating in ranger activities, and I told the kids that if we got back in time, we could spend time looking at the displays, but we should probably get hiking while it was still morning.
We started energetically working our way up from the main steps, up the paved trail directly toward the Mountain. We had to stop often to catch our breath. I started handing out snacks early in this section to keep up morale.
The view of The Mountain just got better and better as we ascended. I had in mind to climb up to the Glacier View viewpoint, and then hopefully I could convince the kids to keep going up to Panorama Point.
We slowly made our way up, as the path changed from paved to rocks and dirt. The best flowers were along the little streams that carved small valleys in the slope.
We found a nice viewpoint with some rocks to sit on for a lunch break. We noticed some poo and a bone by the burrow under a big rock; we think perhaps it was a marmot, but we weren’t sure. It was at this point the boys told me they were out of water. I hadn’t reminded them to fill up at the Paradise Visitor Center, and I had neglected to bring a spare water bottle. My filter sat at home on the kitchen counter after being cleaned after my last trip. My attempt to pack more lightly backfired in this instance. We took stock of the water the rest of us had; I had plenty, Annika had plenty, and our friend J had 3 bottles. I made the decision that we had enough to share, and the boys both had fresh apples that would provide them with some fluids. The boys agreed that they wanted to continue, so we moved along up the trail after our break.
We took the side trail, a tiny bit longer than the main one, up to the Glacier View area. What a spectacular viewpoint!
The Nisqually Glacier is wrinkled and crevassed, covered in dirt and rocks and melting into the beginnings of the Nisqually River.
Waterfalls crash down the ashy slopes of the glacial valley. Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams poke out through the hazy afternoon sun behind the Tatoosh Range.
Flowers dot the verdant green subalpine meadows.
Chipmunks skitter between rocks, looking for handouts. I was happy to see several Park Rangers out on this afternoon, educating people (even the boys I had with me) to stay on the trail.
As we continued farther up the Skyline Trail, some of our group started to balk at the thought of continuing all the way up to Panorama Point. When I pointed out where the trail went, and our destination far above, I got some resistance.
I fed the kids again, we took stock of our water, and I took a vote. Only one child wanted to turn around, and mostly it was because the trail looked exposed and scary. I asked a family with young children coming down from above what the trail was like, and they said it was wide, and they felt safe. I told Annika that we could try to continue on, and if she felt in danger, or felt her vertigo coming on, we’d turn around or problem-solve at that point. She reluctantly agreed to continue, so we packed up and kept walking.
Soon after that, we reached the first snow field that was close to the trail. A small snow-ball fight ensued, with laughs and smiles all around.
The snow seemed to perk everyone up, and we kept hiking up the rocky, dusty trail, turning around the bend and beginning the traverse across the small cliffy band.
The part that had looked scary from below felt perfectly fine while hiking it. Soon we were back on a relatively level section, and we knew we were close. The trail winds down below the privy, and then one last climb steeply up to Panorama Point.
We took advantage of the privacy of the outhouse; it’s probably my favorite backcountry privy I’ve used.
The stone building houses a composting toilet, with a tube in the roof to let the sun in, and a solar-powered fan to keep the odor down. The door reminded me of a hobbit door, with its round top and decorative metal work. I wish I had gotten better photos of it; next time!
We spent a good long while resting and snacking at the Panorama Point viewpoint.
We noticed we could see Bench Lake and the Snow Lake Basin underneath Unicorn Peak. The Goat Rocks looked snowy in the distance. The Paradise Lodge Area was tiny far below us.
Above, the Mountain towered, though it looked close enough that we should have been able to keep going all the way to the summit.
We were interested in watching a group of climbers practicing their snow travel skills on the snowfields nearby.
The chipmunks up here were brazen in their begging. A few puffy clouds moved in and out, making the view more intriguing. The temps were perfect. I was so happy we made it up there.
Soon enough, however, it was time to head back down.
The trip down took much less time, and we only had to stop once or twice briefly to rest our quads and knees. Two or three groups of mountain climbers passed us on the way down. Other folks asked about their trips, and they all mentioned they were going to attempt the summit the next day. I hope they were successful.
It felt so good to get back on level ground again. We all took deep drinks of water and refilled our empty containers. We got our NPS passports stamped at the ranger desk, and checked out the gift shop. Then we drove down to the Picnic Area, where I cooked up some Mac and Cheese for the kids and we ate and rested before our drive back to town. It was a really great day, and I’m proud of all the kids for tackling a difficult hike. 1400 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles is no joke for little legs. I was also really happy that I got to introduce 2 kids to the park who had never been there before.
If You Go: Enter Mount Rainier National Park from the Nisqually Entrance if coming from Puget Sound. Drive up to Paradise, and park in the lot signed for hiking. I suggest getting an early start so you are able to find parking. This hike gains 1400 feet in elevation and is about 5 miles round trip the way we went. The WTA site has a good description. We generally followed the Skyline Trail straight up from the Paradise Visitor Center, and took a side trip onto the Glacier View Trail. These trails are generally open mid-summer through early fall. Budget plenty of time for this hike; it took us 5 hours with lots of breaks. Bring high-energy snacks and plenty of water (I drank a liter of water and could have drunk more if I wasn’t rationing it; Annika went through more). There was one stream toward the top that we could have filtered out of if we had had our filter. Bring the 10 Essentials on this hike; the weather can change rapidly. Prepare for bright sun and colder temps. Stronger hikers can continue on around the Skyline Loop Trail. There are other Paradise area trails that you can hike to add to your distance, as well. The Paradise Visitor Center has flush toilets and water bottle filling stations, as well as free paper maps that can be helpful in finding your way through the maze of trails.