on January 22, 2006
The last stop on our swing through Washington, we arrived at Stone Creek Lodge near Nisqually Entrance near dusk. That left just a day to explore this large park, which can't possibly do justice to this beautiful area. Most of the driving is on (paved) mountain or near-mountain roads, so don't let the distances fool you into thinking you can get everywhere with ease. Plus, this place is best experienced by getting out of the parking lots and visitor centers, and into the meadows, mountainsides, and trails.Paradise, the aptly named subalpine valley on the south side, is a 35-minute drive from Nisqually Entrance. Here, you'll find the soon-to-be-replaced Jackson Visitor Center, slated to be torn down partially because its round concrete structure doesn't fit with the 'feel' of the park and the rest of its architecture. Since Rainier is only about two hours from Seattle, this place can fill up fast on a nice day, so arrive early, park your car, and get going.The meadows here are gorgeous. Late June was too early for the blanket of wildflowers that arrives later, but there was still plenty to see. A spiderweb of trails head up the mountainside in all directions. Many here are paved, but they can still be steep--and you're a mile high. Check with the helpful (but busy) ranger's desk just inside the visitor center for trail suggestions. The trail to Nisqually Glacier is a good one--easy, little elevation change, and with many of the features that make this park so attractive: wildflowers, mountainside, glacial valleys, and yes, the glacier. You'll probably encounter lots of deer as well. The skies were pretty gray, and without the sun, it's cold here in the summertime. Air temperature was about 45 degrees, so dress in layers to allow you to adjust for the day and your temperature after hiking.Unfortunately, we left without seeing the mountain that day. (The following morning was a different story, though. A quick way to gauge the weather is to drive 5 miles past Nisqually to Kautz Creek, and look north: if it's clear, you'll see Rainier's summit from there.) There's other neat sites along the road to Paradise: Christine and Narada Falls plus Ricksecker Point west of Paradise, and the gorgeous drive along Stevens Canyon as you leave headed east.This takes you toward Ohanapecosh and the SE corner. At Stevens Canyon Entrance is the Grove of the Patriarchs, a spectacular 1.5-mile trail along the Ohanapecosh River. The crown jewels of this easy walk are the thousand-year-old cedars and Douglas firs on a small island accessed by footbridge. This place, along with Hoh in Olympic National Park, inspired real feelings of reverence in me, and helped me picture what the Northwest must have been like 300 years ago.You hear lots about the crowds at Rainier. We were there on the weekend preceding July 4, but didn't find them bad at all. Don't let that stop you from seeing this magnificent place.
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