Lovers of epic vistas, rugged hikes, and wildlife viewing are called to this adventure. We have picked our favorite hikes on different sides of Mt. Rainier to experience all that the famous volcano has to offer—from cascading waterfalls to mammoth old growth forests, panoramic views to ancient glacial ice. We take in incredible vistas and keep our feet moving, exploring the various facets of this geographic landmark and the remarkable terrain which surrounds it.
On this tour, we circumnavigate “The Mountain” (as Mt. Rainier is known to locals), witnessing the highest concentration of glaciers 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 forests and alpine meadows of this high-country wonderland. 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 Pacific Northwest has to offer.
The August departure 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 midweek-only to avoid the weekend crowds from the city.
DAY 1: Sunrise
Begin at Sunrise Visitor 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 lower-48. 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, Salish Sea, 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.
Walking Distances: 6 miles; 1300ft gain; 6400-7400ft (options for more, depending on the group)
DAY 2: Hiking in Paradise
Today, hike straight out the door of historic Paradise Inn up the flanks of Mt. Rainier toward Camp Muir. 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 will overwhelm you with their intense flavor, somewhat reminiscent of Juicy Fruit gum.
Contemplate the workings of the Nisqually Glacier from above while gazing at the rugged peaks of the Tatoosh Range. Relax upon a rock and refresh in the sunshine with 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.
Walking Distances: Muir Route: 6 miles; 1600ft gain; 5400-7000ft (options for more, depending on group)
DAY 3: Meadows, Lakes, Waterfalls, and Forest
Beginning at Paradise again, we head west toward Longmire, dropping 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 canvas this part of the Park as well. Early in the day is the perfect time to visit Narada Falls and witness the fabulous rainbow created by the morning sun’s rays passing through the spray from the falls.
Walking Distances: Hiking distances variable according to the group.