A Taste of Paradise at Mt. Rainier National Park

✍️ 🕑 • Series: Steve in Seattle • Tags: mountainssunsetsMt. Rainier National Parknational parkswildlife photographyground squirrelsmarmotsflowersmeadows • Places: Paradise, Mt. Rainier National Park

Washington State's most famous and scenic mountain is, of course, Mt. Rainier. It's an active volcano covered in glaciers, a mere 60 miles or so from the city. If or when it erupts, it is likely to be catastrophic.

Besides that, it's the most prominent mountain in the contiguous United States. In other words, it's wayyy taller than its surroundings.

Given that Seattle residents can only see Mt. Rainier a little under one in four days per year, it's no wonder that Seattleites and tourists flock in droves to visit Mt. Rainier National Park, a place I skirted the edge of, but absolutely didn't otherwise visit because it's a long (~3.5 hr) drive and I'm lazy.

So, when a colleague asked about recommended hikes for wildflowers, and another colleague (V.) gave a strong recommendation the Skyline Trail, I knew I was interested. A few messages later, we overcame our mutual desire not to do the work of planning, and agreed on an afternoon hike. And on carpooling.

Mt. Rainier & Wildflowers!!!

(Or, a taste of some of the beauty that you'll find in this 'ere blog post.)
Mt. Rainier & Wildflowers!!!

(Or, a taste of some of the beauty that you'll find in this 'ere blog post.)

 

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A Long Car Ride

We met south of Seattle, departing together a bit after 12 -- caught by some unusual Saturday traffic and one accident. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the traffic.

As we neared the park, it became clear that V.'s warnings about long lines to enter the park were no joke.

An out-the-window shot of the forests near the park entrance. A.k.a., our view for a good long while.
An out-the-window shot of the forests near the park entrance. A.k.a., our view for a good long while. open_in_full   info

The park entrance does require fees to be paid, and so basically everyone entering has to stop at a very narrow area. We probably sat basically in park for roughly an hour before a ranger glanced at our National Park Pass and waved us through. I think if either of us were solo, we probably wouldn't have had the resolve to keep sitting there.

(Also, if I wasn't driving, I wouldn't have had the choice to get out and buy a waffle stick from the waffle stick stand. I still chose not to, but at least I could have made that choice without ceding my place in the queue.)

Car crawl selfie.

Can I just say I was glad to be in the passenger seat?
Car crawl selfie.

Can I just say I was glad to be in the passenger seat?
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One curvy drive later, the parking lots in the Paradise area were a zoo as well. Traffic backed up, and eventually an official directed us down a parking loop where we parallel parked. By the time we were ready to head on our way, it was already around 4PM -- a later start than either of us had intended, but one which we were prepared for.


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Rather than hiking the whole Skyline loop, we opted to also utilize the Golden Gate trail and cut a mile or so off of our distance. (Click here to view a GPS Track showing our full route here if you want.)

Could we have done the full Skyline loop safely and within a reasonable time frame? Sure, but we agreed that we would much rather take our time and soak in the views. It's not like the Golden Gate trail was a slouch in that respect. I wouldn't have done it any other way.

 

Trail Information
Name Skyline/Golden Gate Loop
Type loop / portion of a trail system
Location Mt. Rainier National Park
State WA
Country USA
Miles 5.6
Check out the trails index for information on more trails!

 


Evening Ascent

A Crowded Beginning

Starting from the parking lot, you're already above the treeline, and already the views of the surrounding mountains are spectacular, let alone the closer-up look at Rainier.

Continue onwards, join the trail, and find yourself in many crowded spots.

Like all National Park hikes, they dissipate once you keep going. You're not going to find much solitude here on a Saturday in August, but you are going to be awestruck, and that's more than enough.


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The only problem with the crowds, of course, are the people who feel free to traipse around off trail, damaging the fragile meadows. This is ideally a place to minimize human impact, not a place to take wedding photos.


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It's also a fantastic place to admire the streams and waterfalls crisscrossing the landscape.


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Somewhere around here, at a junction, we departed from the Skyline Trail in favor of the Golden Gate Trail, which would be our route for the majority of our climb upwards...


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Wildlife!?

Eventually we spied movement, somewhere in the field of flowers. What could it be?


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An old and grey groundhog?

Nope!

It was a marmot, and there were several of them in the area. They helped themselves to the wildflowers, and seemed relatively fearless around people.


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This was my first time seeing them (at least as far as I recall.)


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Flowers do also attract butterflies, and some of them were a brilliant blue color.
Flowers do also attract butterflies, and some of them were a brilliant blue color. open_in_full   info

The clouds in the distance moved dramatically.

At various points the clouds in the distance seemed to smother the view. 

There's something foreboding and lovely about looking out and only seeing the tippy top of a mountain.
At various points the clouds in the distance seemed to smother the view.

There's something foreboding and lovely about looking out and only seeing the tippy top of a mountain.
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Another of many waterfalls -- crossed after the marmots, but before the...
Another of many waterfalls -- crossed after the marmots, but before the... open_in_full   info

The marmot wasn't the only new-to-me mountain rodent I'd see that day.

Check out this guy:


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Looks like a chipmunk, but also a squirrel.

Well, that there is a ground squirrel and he darted away mighty fast.


Clouds, Meadows, Flowers, and Mountains

As we continued upwards, we started to emerge above the clouds, having climbed quite a long way from our start.


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Onwards, to the clichéd shots of wildflowers + Mt. Rainier. Other takes.


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I took a few similar shots from slightly different angles.

These were a challenge, because I was trying to get at some funny angles. If I closed the lens down enough to keep both the foreground & background in focus, the consequence was that the wind would move the flowers enough to blur them. So, I like the framing and colors in a lot of these, but they're unfortunately all a bit unsatisfactory.

This shot, by avoiding trying to tie together the minimum & maximum focusing distances, is sharper, but less dramatic.

Less creative framing = less interesting image
This shot, by avoiding trying to tie together the minimum & maximum focusing distances, is sharper, but less dramatic.

Less creative framing = less interesting image

After admiring those particular flowers, we continued upwards.


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And eventually, we were high enough to see some still intact patches of snow.


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Panorama After Panorama

Eventually, we started to hit the points labelled "Panorama Point" on the map,

Photo credit: H.K.
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We munched some snacks and watched the sunset.



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Descent At Dusk

The sun was setting (or, indeed, it had set), so it was absolutely time to be going down the mountain.


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Fortunately, not far from the panoramic viewpoints, the trail was basically a paved, gentle slope downwards, so it wasn't particularly difficult to follow.


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After choosing a direction at a trail intersection, a group of park visitors decided to follow us, grateful for the fact that we had headlamps. They thanked us for "lighting the way" as they went in front of us and disappeared from sight. They certainly had an interesting definition of "lighting the way."



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Return

By the time we reached the car, the stars were out, and they were well & truly visible.



Despite my best judgement, I decided to try doing a long exposure, with my camera pointed straight upwards on the pavement. 

If I had only managed to avoid moving it for the on/off, and if I had only managed not to get *my own head in the shot*, this could have been a passable shot.


Despite my best judgement, I decided to try doing a long exposure, with my camera pointed straight upwards on the pavement.

If I had only managed to avoid moving it for the on/off, and if I had only managed not to get *my own head in the shot*, this could have been a passable shot.
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There was much less traffic leaving the park than entering.

All in all, we were pretty content with the trail we hiked, despite the pain of getting there. I considered it the most beautiful hike I had been on since May 2021.



An Aside About A Gas Station Bathroom

Driving back, we stopped for gas at one of the gas stations closest to Rainier. I figured it would be an excellent time for a bathroom break, but it turned out that the gas station interior, with its lights on and two attendants was closed for the evening.

I tried the door. It was locked. The workers shook their heads.

I pointed towards my pants and gestured opening a zipper, thinking that I could maybe non-verbally communicate that my goal was merely using the facilities. Also, I figured it would be pretty hilarious if it worked.

They still shook their heads. I walked away.

Less than thirty seconds later, one of them opened the door to the station and said, "you just need to use the bathroom right?"

I was in. I can't believe it actually worked.

Fortune favors the bold.

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