Your luggage is packed. You’ve got enough camping gear to choke a mule. Your feet can’t wait to hit those Mount Rainier trails. But you haven’t quite decided on where you want to set up camp. Which Rainier campground is best?
That depends. Mount Rainier National Park offers three auto campgrounds – Ohanapecosh, White River, and Cougar Rock. So “best” is pretty subjective. But if you prefer rustic, peace and quiet, a beautiful setting on a rushing river surrounded by an incredible old-growth forest, check out Ohanapecosh. Been camping there for years. In fact, Ohanapecosh is our favorite campground at Mount Rainier National Park. Hands down.
Perched on the southeast flank of the park, Ohanapecosh is roughly twenty minutes and eleven miles up the road from the quaint mountain burgh of Packwood. It’s about three 3 miles north of the park boundary on highway 123. The campground inclues several loops, though only a few are open during the off-season. (A Loop is our favorite.)
The Ohanapecosh campground is rustic. It has flush toilets but no hot water. No showers. The road through the campground has been recently re-paved. A nice place for bicycling or walking with the fam. Each camp site has a picnic table and a fire grate.
The sprawling, 188-site Ohanapecosh campground at Mount Rainer often gives first-time visitors the impression that they’ve fallen into a vast vat of verdure. Lichen leaks from boughs and bower. Giant conifers litter the forest floor like fallen behemoths. Sunshine skips across so many shades of emerald that the landscape looks like Oz, especially near Silver Falls.
One of the park’s most popular trails, the Silver Falls Loop is a pleasant three-mile walk from the Ohanapecosh campground to a thundering gusher. It’s one of the first trails to melt out in the spring and is a favorite for families, seniors, youngsters, and pretty much anyone who’s vertical and breathing. It’s an easy hike to and from Ohanapecosh and a great introduction to the treasures and timelessness of an old-growth forest.
Tip: If you’re tent camping, be sure to select a campsite that’s fairly level rather than one in a divot or a downhill slant. If you don’t, you’re liable to wind up in a floating mattress if it rains during the night.
Ohanapecosh is usually open from late May to late September/early October, depending on weather. $20 a night. Reservations required during peak season. Otherwise, it’s first come, first-served.
Other tip: Avoid peak season (late summer through Labor Day) if you can, especially if you’re allergic to uber crowds. Every site in the campground will be packed during this time frame. Ditto any summer weekend when the forecast is for clear skies and sunshine. If you want to avoid crowds and soak up some solitude while decent weather is still likely, the best time visit Ohana is after Labor Day or during the week (don’t tell anyone).
For more information, click on Mount Rainier Campgrounds or call: (360) 569-2211.
There’s just something about exploring the great outdoors with Hiker Dog that makes the great outdoors extra great. Everything is new to her. She loves everyone and never met a trail she didn’t take to immediately. But I learned a long time ago that when it comes to hiking with my dog, not all trails are created equal.
In fact, Hiker Dude has noted more than once that if we’re planning to hike inside national park boundaries, we can get into big trouble if we’re not observing park rules regarding where and how we can take Hiker Dog.
Most national parks have pretty strict rules about how and where you can take your dog. Trail options are usually pretty limited. Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park are no exceptions.
Bag your pet’s poop
Always wear a leash
Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
Pets can harass or harm wildlife by making noise or scaring wildlife away.
Know where you can go
Pets are allowed on these trails inside Olympic National Park:
Peabody Creek Trail
Rialto Beach parking lot to Ellen Creek (1/2 mile)
The beaches between the Hoh and Quinault Reservations
Madison Falls Trail
Spruce Railroad Trail
Pets are also welcome in campgrounds and picnic areas in Olympic National Park. But they aren’t allowed in public buildings, on interpretive walks, or in the wilderness. Certified guide animals excepted.
Mount Rainier National Park welcomes pets as long as they and their owners adhere to the following:
- Pets must be on a leash at all times or in a crate. Leashes may not exceed six feet in length.
- Pets must be with and under the control of their owners at all times.
- Owners must pick up and dispose of all fecal matter.
With the exception of service animals, pets are NOT allowed in the following areas at Mount Rainier:
- On trails (The Pacific Crest Trail is an exception. Make sure your dog is on a leash no longer than 6 feet.)
- In wilderness and/or off-trail areas
- Inside buildings
- In amphitheaters
- On snow covered roads closed for winter, except designated snowmobile routes
Pets are permitted in parking lots, campgrounds, and on paved roads. While in these areas, pets must be leashed or crated and with their owners.
Incidentally, if you’re a dog owner and think these rules don’t apply to you, think again. If you’re think you can sneak Lassie or Marmaduke onto a verboten trail and no one’ll notice, think again, again (that’s not a typo.). This is especially true if the trails are muddy or Lassie has just had breakfast. You’re not fooling anyone, and you make the rest of us look bad. So kindly knock it off.
Bottom Line: Fido, Fifi or Fluffy can’t join you on most trails in these parks. And you’re not allowed to leave them in a vehicle or anywhere else unattended. So either plan your visit around picnicking or hanging out at the campground, or make sure your furry friends are well looked after at home.
And not to restate the obvious here or anything, but when selecting your next hiking adventure to share with your canine, remember to factor in your dog’s age and physical agility and ability. Also the weather, altitude, and terrain. As always, be sure to carry extra food and water for your dog. Ditto protection from ticks and chiggers and the like.
My top recommendation for a great dog-friendly hike near Mount Rainier National Park? Sheep Lake, hands down. Just outside park boundaries at Chinook Pass, near Naches Peak.
A little over 4 miles RT, the trail to Sheep Lake has it all: stunning vistas, a dense forest, gentle uphill grade, and a beautiful, clear-as-glass lake ringed by towering mountains. In season, the wildflowers at the lake are outrageous! There are also camping spaces at the lake.
Part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Sheep Lake Trail is one of the most popular in the area. Get an early start if you prefer solitude.
Hiking is a great way to explore and enjoy the Great Outdoors. But it’s also a great way to get hurt. Or worse.
In fact, I’ve seen boatloads of “hikers” who qualify as “Exhibit A” on how NOT to hike. These folks seem to forget or willfully ignore the fact that national parks, my favorite hiking sites, are often wilderness areas. As in, if you break your leg here bub, don’t come running to me! These peeps could star in any one of the following:
- How to Become Backcountry Bear Bait in Three Easy Steps
- Five Sure-Fire Ways to Induce Hypothermia and Not Live to Tell About It
- What to Wear on the Trail to Ensure Utter Misery and Certain Injury
Some of these folks give more thought to ordering Chinese take-out than they do a six or eight hour hike over terra incognita in uncertain weather, at altitude.
They never fail to renew my faith in a merciful God.
Courting disaster in open-toed shoes over loose shale fields, rocky terrain or bramble thickets the size of Montana, “short-cutting” through unknown terrain so treacherous it’d give Sasquatch cause for pause, these people keep mothers everywhere on their knees in fervent prayer. They also give rangers conniption fits.
While we’re on the subject, here’s my Top Tip for dramatically increasing your chances of becoming headline news or an avoidable trail tragedy: Hike alone. Yep, hiking solo is just about the dumbest thing you can do most anywhere.
There are those towering intellects among us who insist they like the “solitude” and “peace and quiet” of hitting the trail alone. They may feel differently after twisting an ankle. Having no one else slower behind them when an angry bear charges. Or getting bit by whatever, twenty miles from the nearest valley in a valley that eats cell phone signals for breakfast.
Remember: Lewis had Clark. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Donner had… well. Let’s not go there. Even if you have to haul Aunt Matilda away from her pinochle party or Cousin Elmer out of the hoosegow, never, ever, ever hike alone. And never hit the trails without the 10 Essentials.
Hiking safe and sane starts with preparation. There’s a reason the National Park Service calls its list of must-haves for the trail the 10 Essentials. Not the 10 Suggestions. Not the 10 Maybes. It’s the 10 Essentials. Here, according to the NPS, are the 10 Essentials you should take on every trail, every time:
- Map of the area
- Extra food and water
- Extra clothing (warm) and rain gear
- Emergency shelter
- First aid kit
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Sun glasses and sun screen
- Pocket knife
- Matches (waterproof)
Also, be realistic about your hiking abilities/physical shape. Hike within your ability. If your idea of “exercise” is doing 12 ounce curls of Bud or Pepsi, a first-time hike of 10 miles through mountain goat terrain probably isn’t a great idea.
Also, let someone know where you’re going and about when you plan to be back. And be prepared to spend the night outdoors if an emergency situation arises.
- Water: Carry at least one liter per person. Resist the temptation to refill in what looks like benign lakes or streams unless you’ve brought a water purification system or have cast-iron innards.
- Walking stick/trekking poles. Unless your nickname is Old Iron Knees, consider investing in a stout walking stick or trekking poles to save wear and tear on your knees, especially on the downhill.
- A hat. I’m not talking chic here. No one cares how cute you are when you look like a sun-dried prune or a vine-ripened tomato. Make sure your hat has a 180 degree, broad brim. A lanyard is helpful on windy days.
- A compass. Know how to use it. Techno-gadgetry may be fine for city slickers or amateurs. But don’t count on it in the backwoods. When it comes to navigation, rely on a good ‘ole fashioned compass and map.
- Flashlight. To reduce weight, we carry three or four pen lights. They’re smaller and lighter, attach to a belt loop, and while not exactly able to light your way to Mars, they’ll still do the trick.
- Matches (waterproof). Fires aren’t allowed in most wilderness areas except for emergencies. If you find yourself in an emergency, you’d also be wise to carry a simple “fire-starter” material such as a few cotton balls soaked in Vaseline. Put these in your standard plastic film canister with a snap-on lid and you’re good to go.
- First aid kit. You can purchase a well-stocked, pre-manufactured kit as well as the twenty-mule wagon team needed to haul the item, but why bother? We make our own. Use due care and consideration in so doing. Augment a six by nine-inch “compact size” kit by Johnson & Johnson with tweezers, Q-tips, matches in a waterproof container, antiseptic, bandages, sterile gauze, tape and scissors, StingEze, alcohol pads, Bayer, Blistex, lens towelettes, Kleenex, a deluxe Swiss Army knife, and all the tea in China.
The point is, don’t skimp on your first aid kit. You may also want to include a whistle. Why a whistle? This is in case you forgot Items #1 and #2 – a map of the area and compass. You can blow a whistle a lot louder and longer than you can holler “Help!”
Not on the Official 10 Essentials List, but also consider bringing toilet paper and wearing long pants, preferably Gore-Tex, which both breathes and sheds water well. I know, I know. It’s a balmy eighty-two degrees and your legs are begging for shorts. Don’t listen to them puppies. Reasons more seasoned hikers avoid shorts: sunburn, insect bites, turning into lunch on legs for ticks and chiggers, brambles and scratches and other nasty trail souvenirs. Avoid these by protecting your legs with long pants, even if the weather is a bit toasty.
Repeat After Me
Got ’em? Good. Now, raise your right hand and repeat after me:
“I will not be a hiking moron. I will dress in layers. I will carry the 10 Essentials. I will thoroughly familiarize myself with trail and weather conditions before I strike out into the wild blue yonder so as not to become yet another sad statistic.”
Also, please don’t hit the trail without sturdy footwear. Please. Leave the sandals and flip-flops at home. Nothing screams “novice” or “clueless rookie” like tennis shoes. If you’re able, invest in a good pair of sturdy hiking boots. Do not get cheapies. You may spend more for a pair of high quality, waterproof boots but your feet, ankles, arches, heels, back, hips and joints will thank you.
Of course, the most important items to bring with you on the trail are a level head and common sense.
You may crawl home footsore, exhausted, grimy, reeking of Eau de Deet, with enough dirty laundry to open your own chain of laundromats after a week on the trails. But you’ll also bring home a mother lode of memories that are as priceless as they are eternal.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Last one to the trail head is a rotten chocolate eclair!