Wedding-cake white and big beyond adjectives, Mount Rainier dominates Washington state like Buckingham Palace towers over a sand castle. Indeed, the Mountain soars almost a mile and a half above the Puget Sound basin, resting upon and covering approximately one hundred square miles of the Cascade Range. She’s a magnet for summer crowds and anyone who loves the Great Outdoors, especially the bold feral beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
But visiting Mount Rainier National Park can be a headache and a hassle if you’re not prepared.
Here are eight quick tips to help you enjoy your visit to Mount Rainier:
Tip #1: Unless you have a penchant for crowds and rubbing elbows with zillions of other people at every turn, never, EVER plan on visiting Mount Rainier National Park during peak season (mid-July thru Labor Day) or on sunny summer weekends if you can avoid it. At popular park attractions like Paradise, Reflection Lakes or Grove of the Patriarchs, you can spend half the day trolling for a parking spot.
If you prefer solitude and serenity and can swing it, plan your trip for the off-season or week days.
For example, we hiked to Owyhigh Lakes on the NE side of the park in mid-August. It was a Tuesday. I can count on one hand the number of people we met on the trail.
Tip #2: Obey speed limit and other signage. That “15 mph” sign just before the next hairpin turn heading to Paradise from Longmire? They MEAN it. “Fifteen” means 15, not 30 or 40 – unless you have a death wish.
Tip #3: None of the campgrounds have showers or hot running water. Flush toilets and sinks are available at Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh. If you want hot water for washing or doing dishes, be prepared to haul it and heat it yourself. Gift shops are available in Longmire and Paradise. A smaller selection of items can be found at the Ohanapecosh Visitor’s Center.
Tip #4: DO NOT FEED the animals! That chipmunk, fox, Stellar’s jay or red squirrel may look cute munching part of your lunch. They aren’t nearly as charming when they try to break into your tent at two o’clock in the morning looking for a hand-out.
Human food can also make the animals sick and dependent on people for a free lunch. If that doesn’t deter you, consider that feeding animals inside the park is illegal and may result in a hefty fine.
Tip #5: To prevent unwelcome animal visits, stow all food and scented items (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, hand lotion, etc.) in your vehicle/trunk, NOT IN YOUR TENT. (See #4, above.)
Tip #7: Mount Rainier National Park is rustic. Much of the park is a designated wilderness area. You won’t find any Denny’s or Golden Arches here. Bring your own food. A limited supply of sundry and grocery items can be found at the general store in Longmire, but do your main shopping before your arrival.
Tip #8: If you’re looking for a nice place to eat inside the park or a cozy setting to mark a special occasion, consider National Park Inn in the historic Longmire District. The menu is limited, but the ambience is homey, the food good, and the scenery one-of-a-kind.
Choose a window seat and enjoy a look at the Mountain as you eat. Hint: Try the Oven-Baked Salmon and the Mountain Blackberry Cobbler. Mouth-watering!
Do you have a “top tip”? What would you add?