Mount Rainier Travelogue Parte the Thirde: To Paradise!

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.

An interesting bit of volcanic rock that is probably andesite, Mount Rainier, and Paradise Lodge.

An interesting bit of volcanic rock that is probably andesite, Mount Rainier, and Paradise Lodge.

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.

Thunderstorms and glacier-carved mountains. Yum!

Thunderstorms and glacier-carved mountains. Yum!

But the only clouds we encountered were ones that played with the mountain, making it look like it was experiencing steam eruptions in places.

Mount Rainier across the lovely meadow behind Paradise Visitors Center, with an artistic cloud at summit. Remember, kids: Mount Rainier is more likely to fall down than go boom.

Mount Rainier across the lovely meadow behind Paradise Visitors Center, with an artistic cloud at summit. Remember, kids: Mount Rainier is more likely to fall down than go boom.

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:

Large rock with mysterious cavity.

Large rock with mysterious cavity.

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.

Mount Rainier from Nisqually Vista Trail.

Mount Rainier from Nisqually Vista Trail.

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.”

Upper reaches of the Nisqually Glacier.

Upper reaches of the Nisqually Glacier.

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.

The Paradise River, near its birthplace.

The Paradise River, near its birthplace.

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?

Mount Rainier across Reflection Lakes.

Mount Rainier across Reflection Lakes.

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.


Parte the First

Part the Seconde


  1. rq says

    I have no idea what that hole could be.
    But I’m sure I could come up with a weird mysterious extraterrestrial magic version, if you need one. ;)

    Such clear pictures – it just looks fresh from a distance.

  2. says

    I’m very familiar with Paradise: I absorbed the ambience in utero. While my mother was pregnant with me, my father was a logger in the forests up that way, and they lived an idyllic life in a log cabin near Paradise. And when I was a boy we’d hike up there to pick salmonberries and mushrooms, and back in those days we could just drink straight from those icy mountain streams (not recommended anymore, unless you like parasites).

  3. TGAP Dad says

    Hey, I’m from Michigan. I’ve been to Paradise numerous times, the last just three weeks ago. We had a great lunch at The Blueberry Patch restaurant. There’s a nice view of Whitefish Bay, too!

    • Lithified Detritus says

      Paradise is also a long way north of Hell.

      Between you, me, brucecopplola and probably some others, it sounds like we have enough for a Michigan chapter of ETEV. We should invite Dana to Michigan, meet in Marquette, and show her some geology.

  4. rork says

    The Ohanapecosh. One of the most beautiful streams I’ve ever seen. Big trees. No rock flour.
    Not that alpine flower meadows aren’t good (I like plants), but they are good all over the cascades.
    I also like the drive from around Yakima to Rainer, the amount of rainfall steadily altering everything you see.

  5. Trebuchet says

    I’ve again realized I’ve not been to Rainier in at least 20 years. Dang.

    I think they’ve torn down the “UFO” visitor center at Paradise, is that right?

    • jane says

      Yes, Trebuchet, the flying saucer is gone, may it RIP. The new one is quite beautiful and has some good geology exhibits upstairs.

  6. jane says

    My dad used to take the family up there when I was little and we’d walk the trails before they were all paved. This had to have been on weekends because during the week he was doing field work on Rainier. The trip over to the ice caves sure did seem like long way back then. Too bad that glacier, along with the ice caves, disappeared.

    Your enthusiasm and joy you were experiencing up at Rainier sure is coming through in your posts. Love it!

  7. Lithified Detritus says

    Beautiful place, and great pictures!

    Some years ago I took a volcanoes class in which we visited a bunch of volcanoes and related sites in Washington, Oregon, & N. California. We did not go to Ranier, so I’ve only seen it from a distance. One more reason to revisit the PNW.

  8. viajera says

    So beautiful! I went to Paradise a bunch of times when I lived in the PNW, but it’s been years now. Lots of great trails up to glaciers and down through meadows from there. This reminds me that I need to try to get back sometime soon!