On this tour we circumnavigate “The Mountain” (as Mt. Rainier is known to locals), contemplating the highest concentration of glaciers anywhere in the U.S. outside of Alaska, and taking time to get to know the residents as we go. Deer, elk, black bear, marmots and mountain goats abound in the untouched forests and alpine meadows of this high-country wonderland. We also make a side trip to Mt St Helens to view the changes that have taken place since the cataclysmic eruption 40 years ago. Together, these are the two most active volcanoes in the Cascades. Triumphant views provide a continual backdrop for our classroom as we explore the natural history of these singular environments on some of the most spectacular trails the area has to offer.
The August tour is scheduled to be after most of the snowmelt to improve trail accessibility and still catch the tail end of the wildflower season. In September you should enjoy spectacular fall color! We operate this tour during midweek-only to avoid the weekend crowds from the city.
Day 1: Sunrise
Sunrise Visitors Center. Yakima Park. Burroughs Mtn.
Begin at Sunrise Visitor’s Center with a hike above the tree-line through open heather and rocky alpine tundra on the north side of the mountain. Tree islands of whitebark pine and mountain hemlock float upon seas of meadows dotted with wildflowers. From Glacier Overlook, peer down on nearly 4.5 square miles of ice – Emmons Glacier – the largest river of ice in the contiguous states. From Second Burroughs Mountain, Mt Rainier hovers so close you can wrap your arms around her. If you can manage to tear your eyes away from the mountain for a moment, look north over the endless green carpets of Grand and Berkeley Parks and marvel at the Cascade Mountain Range extending to the horizon. Mt Baker, Glacier Peak, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains – all are visible on a clear day. Watch for mountain goats and black bears foraging or cooling themselves on the snowfields. In the evening, we head to a nearby ski resort to spend the next two nights at the Quicksilver Lodge.
Walking Distances: – 6 miles; 1300ft gain; 6400-7400ft
– 1 –
Day 2: Naches Peak
Chinook Pass. Tipsoo Lake. Naches Peak.
From Chinook Pass (arguably the most beautiful pass in Washington State) hike this quintessential Cascade Crest loop around Naches Peak to views of Mt Rainier from the east. From this vantage point you can easily see the (missing) profile of volcano’s former cone and imagine what she looked like 5600 years ago before the Osceola eruption when, like Mt St Helens, she lost 2000 feet from her summit. Looking to the south along the Pacific Crest the snow-capped tops of Mount Adams and Goat Rocks are now visible. Notice how the lush green meadows here contrast sharply with the tundra you saw around Burroughs Mountain yesterday. If you’re feeling spry, head down to the clear waters of Dewey Lake for lunch. It doesn’t matter what you choose, there are continuous views all the way back to Tipsoo Lake, an enchanting tiny alpine gem resting just beneath Chinook Pass.
Walking Distances: Naches Peak: 3.5 miles; gain 600ft; 5200-5600ft
Dewey Lake: adds 3 miles and 700ft gain
– 2 –
Day 3: Mount St. Helens
Windy Ridge. Bear Meadow. Norway Pass.
Hear the incredible story of the mountain that garnered headlines around the world in 1980 and witness the fascinating changes that have taken place in the “Blast Zone” since the eruption. Listen for the eerie calls of bugling elk in the early fall while watching for the majestic bulls whose antlers frequently feature 6 or 7 points and measure over 5 feet long. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention… the views along the drive aren’t half bad either. We are headed to Paradise, after all! Have dinner on your own at the Inn tonight.
Walking Distances: Norway Pass: 4.5 miles; 900ft gain; 3600-4500ft
– 3 –
Day 4: Hiking in Paradise
Paradise Meadows. Nisqually Glacier. Tatoosh Range.
Today, hike up the flanks of Mt Rainier toward Camp Muir – and spend another night in, yes…Paradise! Berry patches abound on these slopes. The natives referred to these gardens as Sahalee Illahee. “land of peace”. Famed conservationist John Muir dubbed them “the lower gardens of Eden.” Whatever you choose to call them, do not miss the opportunity to savor the flavor of the highly coveted mountain huckleberry in season. With luck, gather a sampling grouseberries. A mere thimbleful of these miniscule, generally overlooked, treasures has more flavor than an entire box of Popsicles. Contemplate the workings of the Nisqually Glacier from above while gazing at the rugged peaks of the Tatoosh Range. Relax upon a rock and take some tea in the sunshine with the adult marmots and watch while their youngsters wrestle each other in the meadows. Visit the spot where the native guide “Sluiskin” waited for Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump to make the first summit climb in 1870. This is where you have your chance to cheer on the intrepid climbers set to ascend to the 14,411 foot summit. At night, don’t forget to step outside for a moment to take in the panoply of stars overhead.
Walking Distances: Muir Route: 6 miles; 1600ft gain; 5400-7000ft
– 4 –
Day 5: Meadows, Forests and Falls
Reflection Lakes. Narada Falls. Comet Falls.
Heading west from Paradise toward Longmire, drop down out of the meadows and tree islands of the alpine zone into lush old growth rainforests on the western slopes of the volcano. Visit the home of northern flying squirrels and spotted owls and learn about the plants and animals that are unique to and dependent upon these original forests. Waterfalls, too, abound in this area. Early in the day is the perfect time to visit 320-foot-high Comet Falls and witness the fabulous rainbow created by the morning sun’s rays passing through the spray from the falls. Sample some of the most delicious mountain-fresh water the world has to offer. If we have the energy, we will keep on past the falls to say our farewells to the meadows and the mountain from another triumphant picnic spot in Van Trump Park.
Comet Falls; 3.5 miles; 1600ft gain; 3600-4900ft
Van Trump Park: 6 miles; 2200ft gain; 3600-5800ft
– End –
Mount Rainier National Park Tour Details
- Tour Highlights
- Tour Inclusions
- Accommodations & Food
- Customizations for Your Family or Group
- Additional Information
- Tour Preparation
Enjoy two nights in Paradise Inn, the Park’s premiere accommodation, and two nights at Crystal Mountain’s Quicksilver Lodge.
Explore the diversity of the Park by hiking on three sides of Mt. Rainier.
Visit Mt. St. Helens 40 years after the eruption.
Naturalist guides connect you to the story behind the scenery.
Naturalist tour leader
National Park entry fees.
Overnight accommodations – all included
We will pack our trail lunches from fresh, local, organic (where possible) ingredients.
Full breakfasts – all included
Full dinners – including appetizers. Alcohol at restaurants is not provided. One dinner on your own.
Snacks, water, sparkling water, local wine, local beer, etc.
- The National Park Inn at Longmire is a 25-minute drive from Paradise and offers accommodations and meals.
- The Ashford area southwest of the mountain, a 45-minute drive from Paradise, offers several choices, including Alexander’s Lodge, Nisqually Lodge, and Cabin Creek Resort, among others. Dining options are either onsite or nearby.
- The town of Packwood, a one-hour drive southeast of the mountain, has several basic hotels. Dining options are available but limited.
- Olympic National Park 3-day, or 6-day tour.
- North Cascades National Park 3-day, or 5-day tour.
- Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood 3-day, or 5-day tour.
Seasons (What to expect):June to mid-July is generally considered early season for hiking at higher elevations in the Park. Some hikes in the high country will be impassable due to snow until mid-July. Others will be passable, but partially snow-covered. July is usually when the wildflowers are at their peak! The unfortunate caveat is that this is also when the bugs (mosquitoes, biting flies etc) are at their peak. August is considered an optimal time to visit by many. Only patches of snow remain on the high-country trails and there are still ample wildflowers. The bugs begin to settle down and the berry season begins - YUM! September weather is cooler, but generally still nice. Fall colors begin to appear around mid-September, but usually don’t reach their peak until early October or so. Fall is indeed one of the most picturesque times to visit the Park! The road to Paradise is open year around (conditions permitting) so it is possible to plan an adventure in any season. Snowshoe adventure, anyone?!
National Parks and Monuments:
Below is a suggested list of items that you may want to bring on your upcoming hiking tour. When packing, remember that the weather can offer surprises, especially in the mountains. Plan to dress in layers and carry extra clothing every day for lunch and rest stops.
- Hiking pants or convertible pants
- Casual clothes—jeans, shorts, sport shirts
- Dinner clothes—nice casual attire is fine
- Hiking boots suitable for rocky trails
- Casual shoes
- Hiking socks (no cotton) and casual socks
- Sweater or light jacket
- Waterproof jacket
- Bathing suit for hot tubs and spas
- Camera, extra batteries, charger, and memory cards; dry bag (optional)
- Daypack with hydration system
- Driver’s license
- National Parks or Federal Recreation Lands Pass (optional; bring it if you have one)
- Reading material
- Ball cap for sun protection
- Sunglasses – dark enough for snow and bright sun
- Insect repellant of choice
- Toiletries and blister kit
- Vitamins and / or prescription drugs
- Extra set of glasses or contacts
- Small headlamp or flashlight
- Trekking poles (collapsible)
- A spirit of adventure
Additional Items for Cooler Seasons and High Elevations
- Baselayer shirts and tights
- Long sleeve fleece or mid-weight jacket suitable for active hiking
- Warm jacket for mornings and evenings
- Fleece or wool hat
- Winter gloves
- Thermal socks
- Wool sweater
- Waterproof rain gear