Roam Guide / Mount Rainier National Park
Dr. Jenny Lee is a native of Fargo, North Dakota. She studied Biology at UND and went to medical school at the University of Minnesota. As a child, Jenny's family spent as much time as possible at their cabin and camping, fostering her love of the great outdoors. She now shares her passion for nature with her teenagers who have already visited 11 National Parks! She lives in Minneapolis where she practices Dermatology and is married to her high school sweetheart Greg. Next up, they are headed to Glacier National Park.
Mount Rainier National Park / Ashford, Washington
When to go?
We always take our National Park trips in early June, when it's less crowded. This time, Rainier was around 60 degrees and sunny, perfect temperature for hiking. You can also wait until July and August so it to warms up a little and the wildflowers are in full bloom.
How to get there?
We took the Amtrak Empire Builder from St. Paul, MN to Seattle. If you take the train from your home base, I suggest renting a sleeping cabin. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers you some private space to sleep and relax. Our train left at 11 p.m. and arrived two days later in Seattle. When we were not sleeping we spent time in the observation cabin watching the scenery roll by, playing cards and eating. We also spent time back in our cabin, you can fold the seats up and get comfortable, read and relax. On our return trip we flew from Seattle, although the kids wanted to take the train again.
My daughter Ana joked, 'Wow, that's impressive!' when she saw our sleeping cabin. Roughly the size of a large closet.
Seattle is walkable so we didn't pick-up our rental car until our last day. We got up early, bought food for our trip at the Market and made the two-hour drive to Mount Rainier.
Where did you stay?
In Seattle, we wanted to spend some time in the city and be near the water, so we stayed at the Inn at the Market for three nights before we traveled to Rainier. Normally, we do a 'luxury' hotel stay after our National Park trip but we changed it up this time.
In Rainier, we stayed at the Alta Crystal Resort, it's in a great location near the park with a nice kitchen and a deck. There is even a little market to grab staples. I would buy fresh eggs and coffee for breakfast in the morning. We did look at the Paradise Inn when we were initially booking, but it was already full. It is a stunning, historic property nestled in the forest and offers a unique, National Park experience. I have also heard wonderful things about Wellspring Lodging and Spa and The Little Owl Cabin. Both hidden gems. Think cedar saunas and hot tubs after a day of hiking.
What should we do?
In Seattle, we walked to Pike Place Market early to watch the fisherman bring in their catch and sort them. Picked up fresh fruit to snack on, lots of Washington cherries, of course. You can also do a behind-the-scenes food tour of Pike Place Market, it takes about two-hours and it is family friendly. Afterwords, grab a beer at Kells Irish Pub, and sit on the patio.
My daughter Ana loved the fish toss, she asked to watch every morning.
One day we took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, walked around and enjoyed some ice cream. The ferry ride is lovely, it alone is worth your time. We also visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass park. It is really incredible and located right at the bottom of the Space Needle. If you have time, walk to Kerry Park and check out the unsurpassed view of the city, where you can occasionally catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier.
Another fun spot to check out is Chophouse Row in Capitol Hill. This secret pedestrian alley has a cozy European feel. Filled with shops, cafes, and even a night market. Check out the yummy ice cream at Kurt Farm Shop.
RTip: If shopping is your thing, you have to check out Lucca Great Finds, gift shop in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. Honestly it's hard not to buy the whole store.
In Rainier, we hiked. You could spend a week exploring here there is so much to see. It is a huge park with 5 regions; Carbon/Mowich, Longmire, Ohanapecosh, Paradise and Sunrise. We drove about 40 minutes between hikes because we picked the ones that most appealed to us. We prefer loop hikes, to avoid back tracking. To get an idea of the magnitude of this mountain, Everest is 29,000 ft. and Rainier is 14,410 ft. At half the size of Everest, it is really breathtaking.
Paradise is my favorite region, focus on that area if your time is limited.
My favorite hike of all time, and I have been on hundreds, is the Upper Skyline Trail in the Paradise region. It passes by one of the base camps where mountaineers begin their ascent of Mount Rainier. A 5.5 mile loop, we took our time so it took around 4 hours. You have a view of the Nisqually glacier most of the time. It's strenuous but not dangerous. Once you descend, you'll arrive in a beautiful 'Narnia', full of gorgeous flowers, birds, butterflies and lush moss. Heavenly. An easier trail in Paradise to consider before or after the Skyline Trail is Steven's Creek, also pretty, with the moving water and a waterfall.
If you do not have hiking boots, stay home. Too slippery for tennis shoes as you make your way through water, rocks, snow and mud. It is dangerous not to have the right gear.
Day two, we headed to the Longmire region early to hike the Trail of Shadows, an easy educational hike (more like a stroll) where you learn about the first family who settled in that area from placards as you walk through a pretty meadow. Then we drove to Ramport Ridge trail, a 5.5 mile loop that took us around 2 hours. Outstanding views of Eagles Peak, Mt. Rainier and the Nisqually River Valley. You climb up 1200 ft. the first mile but then it levels out. Keep in mind, finding parking can be difficult, so go early.
Day three, we headed to the Ohanapecosh region and hiked the Grove of Patriarchs, an easy, beautiful 1.5 mile hike. You enter an old growth forest with gargantuan trees, like Hemlocks, Douglas Fir and Western White Pine, some are 1,000 years old. Afterwards we hiked the Silver Falls Loop from the Ohanapecosh Visitors Center. It's an easy, family-friendly hike, very pretty with hot springs and a waterfall.
Where should we eat?
In Seattle, we got sandwiches at the Market Grill at Pike Place, an unassuming, seafood counter frequented by locals and tourists. They have really fantastic fresh Salmon and Halibut sandwiches. If you want pizza, the place to go is Delancey, so delicious, you may want to go more then once. For breakfast, pastries or to grab a loaf a bread for sandwiches in Rainier, head to the London Plane. For dinner it was suggested we try Smith or Oddfellows Cafe, both near the Cal Anderson Reflecting Pool. We heard great things but unfortunately could not fit them in, but you should.
In Rainier, we made breakfast at our lodge with food from the little market at our resort. We packed lunches during the day and went to the Paradise Inn for dinner and Sunday brunch. If you want a burger, on your way in our out of the park, I always recommend stopping at Scaleburger in Elbe. A cute, family-owned and operated burger shack. Remember to buy food and beverages in Seattle, there are not many stores near the park.
Tell us something we don't know?
The mountain is actually an active volcano, so one day it will erupt again.
What should we bring with us?
As always, I suggest you split supplies between two backpacks. And always bring two sets of keys. God forbid you loose the backpack with your car keys in it! Someone, somewhere will thank me for that tip someday. For this mountain bring warm gear and layers. It gets cold at higher elevations. Remember, hiking boots and good socks are essential. My favorites are linked here and here.
Click here for Jenny's National Park hiking essentials.
I always check on-line for risks at National Parks before I go. That could be bears, weather, road conditions, etc.
What is the one can't miss item on your itinerary?
The Upper Skyline Trail, it is the most beautiful hike I have ever experienced.
RTip: If you have a 4th grader, be sure to check out Every Kid in a Park, they offer free passes to all National Parks in the U.S. The pass is exclusive to 4th graders but includes all children and up to 3 adults.
Click to see everywhere we explored in My Maps.