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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
|Name||Skyline/Golden Gate Loop|
|Type||loop / portion of a trail system|
|Location||Mt. Rainier National Park|
|Check out the trails index for information on more trails!|
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.
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.
It's also a fantastic place to admire the streams and waterfalls crisscrossing the landscape.
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...
Eventually we spied movement, somewhere in the field of flowers. What could it be?
An old and grey groundhog?
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.
This was my first time seeing them (at least as far as I recall.)
The clouds in the distance moved dramatically.
The marmot wasn't the only new-to-me mountain rodent I'd see that day.
Check out this guy:
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.
Onwards, to the clichéd shots of wildflowers + Mt. Rainier. Other takes.
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.
After admiring those particular flowers, we continued upwards.
And eventually, we were high enough to see some still intact patches of snow.
Panorama After Panorama
Eventually, we started to hit the points labelled "Panorama Point" on the map,
We munched some snacks and watched the sunset.
Descent At Dusk
The sun was setting (or, indeed, it had set), so it was absolutely time to be going down the mountain.
Fortunately, not far from the panoramic viewpoints, the trail was basically a paved, gentle slope downwards, so it wasn't particularly difficult to follow.
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."
By the time we reached the car, the stars were out, and they were well & truly visible.
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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