Paradise is so popular that everybody wants to get in. Okay, well maybe aside from a few people who’re like, “Yeah, but there’s all this other stuff I could be doing,” because it’s Mount Rainier and you could probably spend every day of your entire life exploring it and never see it all. There’s gotta be some been-there-done-that folks who give Paradise a miss so they can explore some of those places they’ve not yet been. And there’s likely a person or two with social anxiety who makes a beeline for the backcountry instead. But all those sorts of people must be few and far between, because there’s signs when you first come into the park that will tell you whether the Paradise parking lot is full.
It’s spectacular, is why.
So I’m going to tell you some stories about Paradise. First time I ever went, it was May, and some of the buildings were still buried in snow. I’m talking over-the-roof snow, and these weren’t small buildings. The trail to the Nisqually Glacier vista was just a path stomped in snowpack and marked with poles. I didn’t realize there was a maclargehuge forest there because apparently lots of the trees were hiding under the snowpack. Wild.
Then Cujo and I went up there in August one year, and it was snow-free but socked in by clouds. Absolutely magical. You couldn’t see the mountain and it didn’t matter because it felt like being in Faerie.
This trip, B and I hit it on a perfect day. Granted, there were thunderstorms building over the jagged peaks of the Cascade range.
But the only clouds we encountered were ones that played with the mountain, making it look like it was experiencing steam eruptions in places.
We couldn’t stay long in Paradise – I desperately wanted to get to Box Canyon before sundown – but we’d got there with plenty of time to do the Nisqually Vista Trail. You walk down through the meadows and strike the trail, which in the spring is just a snow field. You’d be amazed at what the snow hides. For instance, last time I did that trail, I had no idea this was there:
Couldn’t really make heads or tails of it while we were there, but it looks like it could be a tree cast. That would be pretty awesome. But it could be something else. Ideas?
The Nisqually Vista Trail is absolutely filled with meadows and trees and awesome things. We saw tadpoles! And more avalanche lilies than I’ve ever seen in my life. Mount Rainier is often hidden by the forest, but then you get places where it stands out majestically.
And, of course, there are the vista points where you’ve got the Nisqually Glacier grabbing you by the lapels, yanking you nose-to-nose with it, and barking, “Look! Look at my amazing valley glacier features! Stand in awe, small human! Oh, and can you maybe try to do something about this climate change bullshit before I’m gone forever? Thanks for that.”
I tell you what, if Ron Schott ever gets out here, I’m taking his arse gigapanning up that trail. Da-yam.
So we did that, and it was outrageously beautiful and geologically fascinating – I have to admit that glacial landforms make me squee. A lot. And so do mountain meadows filled with lupine and mountain heather and Indian paintbrush and avalanche lilies and I dunno what else. Watching B’s reaction to all that scenery was a great reward, too. I like people who don’t try to be all stoic about things like this.
We made it out of Paradise eventually, but it sucks you back. We paused on our way to Box Canyon to view the glacial valley the Paradise River flows through, and I noticed something I’d missed before: a delightful little trail across the street, alongside the Paradise River. So we zipped across.
It amazes me how these rivers start out as swift little mountain streams. This one’s done some wonderful carving and polishing to the rock it flows over. Just fantastic. A perfect place to be on a hot summer’s day.
We had to get our arses in gear, though, so we didn’t linger long. We wanted to make a quick stop down by Reflection Lakes, because on a clear day, how can you not?
Not a calm enough day for reflections, I’m afraid, but still fabulous. And so many avalanche lilies! All of those white flowers you see there are them.
Next, the Cowlitz Glacier will start to dominate our experience. And you will see one of the wildest examples of what water can do to solid rock.