Mount Rainier National Park… There is noting small or obscure about this central Washington state treasure. It is named for it’s highest and most prominent summit, Rainier. I had the opportunity to spend a few days here in August, and it immediately captured my heart. The park’s beauty is completely mesmerizing.
Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is absolutely iconic amidst the landscape. An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A., spawning six major rivers. Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes. Wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems (According to NPS.gov).
Mt. Rainier National Park is only about a two hour drive from Seattle’s SEATAC international airport and 3 hours from Portland, so it’s easily accessible from anywhere in the U.S.
The stars are spectacular from up near Paradise. There are several lakes around this high area that are accessible by paved road and have several benches to just sit and marvel at the night sky.
Bordering the National Park to the South and East is Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Named after the turn-of-the-century conservationist and politician, this National Forest is nearly 1.5 million acres of gorgeous forests, rivers, and mountains. And there are dozens of free (or cheap) campsites. Some even just outside the borders of Mt. Rainier National Park.
The scenic Ohanapecosh River to the South of the Park, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest has many incredible campsites for those seeking the beauty and solitude of nature. A wonderful reprieve from the seemingly unending crowds of the nearby National Park.
National Park tip #1: Many of our parks are directly bordered by National Forest land. If you want to save some $$ and avoid the crowds, plan to get a campsite here instead of inside the park.
Mount Rainier National Park is unique because of it’s proximity to so many beautiful areas. Heading south east out of the park toward Yakima, you can see unparalleled vistas from White Pass. Coming down from the pass you’ll hit Rimrock Lake, a beautiful area for recreation and food.
You’ll be reminded many mornings that you’re in the wonderfully moody Pacific Northwest with eerily beautiful fog. It’s not so helpful when you’re trying to photograph Rainier though, so be sure to a lot yourself more evenings than mornings to ensure you get the shots you want. It can be a tough area because of the often wet weather. But with that bad weather can come some really magical photographs. So don’t be discouraged! Make sure you prepare for the elements and for your patience to be tested.
Mount Rainier is one of the “must see” National Parks in the U.S. It offers excellent opportunities for incredibly scenic drives, hiking, and mountain climbing. Most of the roads are open from late May to early October and all provide really stunning views and access to trials and historical sites of interest.
For photographers, whether active or not, there are so many opportunities! If you are not much of a hiker, the main roads provide some of the most killer spots like Reflection Lakes, near Paradise, or the amazing morning shots from the Sunrise/ White River area.
If you’re more ambitious, you can even summit Rainier or several of the peaks around it.
Mount Rainier National Park deserves a few days at a minimum. It is very large and one of the most photogenic landscapes I’ve seen. I can promise I’ll be going back for years to come!
Please let me know you thoughts and experiences about Mt. Rainier in the comments below. And let me know what other kinds of information would be helpful to you in these posts… I have a bunch more coming soon…
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