A travel journal
to Mt. Rainier National Park by lcampbell
Quote: Because I worked as a Park Ranger at Mount Rainier National Park for 2 summers, I can tell you how to see it for FREE! I will concentrate on the east side of the Park, since this is where I worked, with Packwood, Washington as the "base."
I am making Packwood, Washington sort of the "base" for seeing Mount Rainier and surrounding area. Packwood was at one time a successful logging community. But in recent years the logging company went out of business leaving many folks unemployed. Many left the area, and what remains is a small rednecky town of about 300 (I’m guessing) people, which has not really turned to tourism at all. Packwood has minimal gas, food, and lodging, and if you blink when you are driving through you might miss it all together. But all told, I kind of like the place.
Hiking is definitely the highlight of MRNP. I also highly recommend seeing the free Ranger programs that are given at Visitor Centers at the park – they are interesting and fun, and can help you understand and appreciate more what you see when you are alone on the trail.
Please practice Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. Leave No Trace is a guideline/educational program with the goal of treading lightly on our natural resources (i.e. take only pictures, leave only footprints, but don’t even leave footprints!). Find out more at Leave No Trace.
You can contact the park at (360)569-2211 or you can check out National Park Service and search for Mount Rainier National Park.
Restaurant | "Cheap eats in Packwood, WA"
Ma and Pa Rucker’s is a hamburger/ice cream shop on the main drag in Packwood. My favorite is the calzones. You pick out what you want in them and they are made to order. They are HUGE and are maybe $6. And ice cream and candy – yummy!
There is a grocery store across from the Blue Spruce. It is small but it has a decent selection.
You can find fresh fruits and veggies at a roadside vegetable stand about two miles west of Packwood on Highway 12.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 8, 2001
Cheap Dining in Packwood
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Attraction | "Free Camping"
"Little Tijuana" – from Packwood, go 7 or 8 miles (or so) east on Highway 12, then turn left on Hwy 123 as if you are going into the Park. Turn left about ¼ mile before the Mount Rainier National Park border arch. If you get to the log arch, you’ve gone too far. The little dirt road is easy to miss. Follow this little rough road down a short ways and you will start to see campsites. This area is nice because you camp next to the awesome Ohanapecosh River, and also due to it’s proximity to the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. Low clearance vehicles may not do too well on this road…maybe walk down the first stretch to determine how you think your vehicle will do.
"Forest Road 1270" – from Packwood, go about 5 miles east on Highway 12, then turn left on Forest Road 1270. After you cross the bridge over the Cowlitz River you will find some campsites on the north bank of the river.
"Skate Creek Road" - from Packwood, take Forest Road 52 (Skate Creek Road) north for a few miles, and you will start to see campsites on the right side along Skate Creek. This road is about 20 miles long, so if you don’t find anything right away, keep going and you eventually will find a camp spot. Forest Road 52 is paved and starts at the only obvious intersection in Packwood right next to the Texaco.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 8, 2001
Camping at North Fork Campground
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Attraction | "Hikes outside the Entrance Station"
Silver Falls/Grove of the Patriarchs – Start at Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. Hike is 3 miles round trip to Silver Falls, a small but pretty falls on the Ohanapecosh River. Hike is about 5 miles round trip if you continue past Silver Falls to the Grove of the Patriarchs. I highly recommend seeing the Grove. Basically, it is an island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River. About 400 years ago there was a big wildfire that came through the area, and burned everything except the island. Therefore, the trees on the island are as much as 1,000 years old. They are HUGE and amazing. Also, the Ohanapecosh area is considered a sort of rain forest. Watch the trail for banana slugs and licorice slugs.
Shriner Peak – 8 miles round trip, 3400 feet elevation gain. This hike starts in the woods, and then opens into meadow as you get to an old burn area. Because most of the hike is in the open, it is very hot at times but also has great views! You can see Mount Rainier when it isn’t too cloudy and also it has a 360 degree view of the surrounding Cascade range. At the top there is an old fire lookout tower. You cannot go into the tower, but it is nice to sit on the walkway. Bring lots of water as there is no water source. In the fall there are tons of huckleberries to feast on, but make sure to share if you see a bear on Shriner Peak (which I have).
Crystal Lakes/Crystal Peak – 6 miles round trip to Crystal Lakes, 2300 feet elevation gain. Hike ends at Upper Crystal Lake which is in a bowl surrounded by peaks, Crystal Peak being one of them. Add an additional 5 miles to the hike if you want to summit Crystal Peak. The trail to Crystal Peak is not maintained by the park, so expect to have to go over and under fallen trees.
Naches Loop – This is a 3.5 mile loop around Naches Peak which includes part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Park at Tipsoo Lake, near Chinook Pass and hike from there. Hike clockwise to get the best views of Mount Rainier. Also, to make the hike longer you can drop down to Dewey Lakes (on Forest Service land), but I’m not sure of the distance.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 8, 2001
Mount Rainier National Park
55210 238th Ave. East
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington 98304
Attraction | "Hiking at Sunrise"
Hikes in the Sunrise area are all in the subalpine and alpine tundra – which makes for great wildflowers and great views. Some hikes are:
Mount Freemont fire lookout tower – 5.5 miles round trip, 1200 elevation gain. Great views of Mount Rainier and surrounding peaks. Sometimes there is a ranger at the tower to give folks an orientation. I have been to Mount Freemont when you are actually above the clouds – so the people down below and at Sunrise cannot see Mount Rainier, but you can see it as well as the tops of peaks that stick out above the clouds.
Burroughs Mountain – 5 miles loop if you only do First Burroughs. Add on Second and Third Burroughs to get closer to Mount Rainier. Great chance of seeing mountain goats (you may need binoculars). Awesome views of Mount Rainier.
Skyscraper Peak is similar in distance and elevation gain as Mount Freemont. You can actually see the Mount Freemont Fire Lookout Tower from the top of Skyscraper Peak. Hike on the trail to Skyscraper Pass, then head off trail up the peak (maybe 15 minutes to the top - easy to get up).
Ask at the Ranger Station or Visitor Center for more suggestions.
My favorite backpacking trip at Mount Rainier (and I’ve done quite a few) was the Northern Loop trail. It is a 36 mile loop, with a TON of elevation gain and loss. My knees were aching after this one – but it was worth it! This trip leaves from Sunrise, and takes 3-4 days, depending on your daily mileage (remember the elevation gain and loss). A sample trip (I picked out what are the best campsites in my opinion, but there are many other combinations) would be to stay the first night at Grand Park. For the most part at Mount Rainier (and most national parks), there are designated campsites that you have to stay in. But in Grand Park, which is a huge meadow on flat mesa, there is a cross-country zone. You just have to camp a quarter mile off the trail, preferably hidden in the trees. Unfortunately, at certain times of year there are a lot of mosquitoes. Also, there are often many elk.
A good place to camp the second night is at Yellowstone Cliffs. To get from Grand Park to Yellowstone Cliffs you have to go through Windy Gap, which is soooo gorgeous. For the third night, hike to Mystic Lake. You will first drop down through some nice rainforest to the Carbon River. As you move up the trail along the river, you will get to the base of the Carbon Glacier. What an amazing sight! There is a huge wall of ice with big cracks in it and covered in rock. As you stand and watch it, pieces will fall off into the river. It is amazing. From there you go up to Mystic Lake. On the last day, hike from Mystic Lake back to Sunrise. It might be worth it to pay the $20 reservation fee to get these sites if you plan to do this trip. I think you can reserve up to 6 months in advance.
Backpacking the Northern Loop Trail
Mount Rainier National Park
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
So should you feel guilty about not paying the Entrance Fee even though you are using the park? In my humble opinion (and I worked in the Entrance booth for a while, and as a Park Ranger for many years), if you take care to find out what the park regulations are and follow all of them, and if you practice Leave No Trace (see Overview) and respect the natural resources, then you are "paying" the park in other ways that are equally as valuable as money. Folks who pick flowers, feed animals, walk on the tundra, destroy the park, and break rules (almost everyone does at least one of these things) should be the ones to pay, because their ignorance "costs" the park many times over.
So now that you know you to get into the park, you can visit the two most popular areas – Paradise and Sunrise. Paradise, on the south side of Mount Rainier, is the busiest place in the park, but also has the best Visitor Center. Since I didn’t spend much time in that area, I cannot recommend any hikes – ask a ranger when you get there!
A place that I did spend a lot of time is at Sunrise (I lived there), on the north side of Mount Rainier. I highly recommend going through the Entrance Station really early and catching the sunrise at Sunrise – breathtaking! Then you can go for a morning hike (suggestions below) and come back in time to catch a picnic lunch or lunch at the snack bar. Then hit the visitor center for a Ranger program! Sunrise is about an hour drive from Packwood. Allow about 40 minutes to the Entrance Station, then about 20-30 minutes to get up to Sunrise.
Port Angeles, Washington