Mt. Rainier National Park was an unexpected delight. Perhaps it is because it reminds me so much of my beloved Smoky Mountains, at least until you round the corner and catch a glimpse of the white peak soaring above you! The park is spectacularly beautiful, with lush green forests, numerous streams and waterfalls, and tall craggy peaks. It was a visual feast.
We have found that Washington is frequently cloudy/drizzly, so we seized the one sunny forecasted day to make our 2 hour trek to the Park. Many visitors never see the Mt. Rainier peak, because it is so often cloud-shrouded. We never got a perfectly clear view, but we were able to see much of the mountain top through partly-cloudy skies. As I pondered the peak, I thought this was likely how Mt. St. Helens looked before she blew her top. Mt. Rainier is still very much an active volcano, with steam vents keeping edges of the mountain clear of snow even in the deepest winter. Mt. Rainier has even more destructive potential than Mt. St. Helens, due to the proximity of so much population within reach of the predicted lahars (mud flows). I sincerely hope I never see this one erupt.
14,411 foot high Mt. Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascade range and boasts over 25 major glaciers. The Emmons Glacier has the largest area (4.3 square miles) and the Carbon Glacier has the lowest terminus altitude (3,600 feet) of all glaciers in the contiguous 48 states. I just think they look cool – when you can see them!
The park has many wonderful hiking trails, of which we barely scratched the surface. However, many of the beautiful features can be seen from the road or with a short hike. We hiked to gorgeous waterfalls and old growth trees. There’s even a hot springs area, that used to host a Victorian “health spa”. Some of the upper trails were still snow covered and inaccessible, so we’ll have to come back sometime in later summer when all of the trails are clear.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park will always be first in my heart, but Mt Rainier may just be my new second favorite National Park. We will be back!