Get Off the Beaten Path
The Pacific Northwest has some of the most unique natural and historical spots visit. We recently traveled to Washington for a Spartan Race and decided to take a few extra days to explore this gorgeous state. While Seattle has many popular spots including the Space Needle, the Fremont Troll and Pike Place Market (all of which we visited), we like to go off the beaten path. Not many people take the time to travel to Mount Rainier, Snoqualmie Falls and Mount Saint Helens. There’s so much to see that will truly make you appreciate nature and all its glory.
Mount Rainier National Park
Entering Mount Rainier National Park, you drive along a winding road surrounded by lush greenery and the smell of fresh pines. The variety of trees in the forest makes it easy to get lost staring at their uniqueness. The ground is completely covered with beautiful ferns and vines. This is what they call an “old-growth” forest, and it feels every bit enchanted.
There are many pullout spots where you can watch waterfalls and creeks rushing down from the mountain. Just down the road from the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Sluiskin Falls was our favorite. The falls crash down a steep, jagged part of the mountain and offer great views with the mountain on one side and meadows on the other.
One word can describe Mount Rainier and that is “massive.” Sitting at an elevation of 14,410 ft, Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range. From any part of the state you can see this iconic mountain, and every view of it is different. Because of its elevation the weather can change at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t until the end of our day that the mountain fully appeared to give us a beautiful sunset view.
On the steps leading to the mountain at the visitor center, you’ll find this famous quote:
…the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.
John Muir, conservationist, 1889
His words speak truth. The meadows here are so beautiful it’s hard to believe such a place exists below a massive volcano covered in snow. As you hike to the cliffs edge just beyond the visitor’s center, you see meadows that seem to stretch an eternity until they reach the Tatoosh Mountain Range. It’s an awesome spot to stand and really take in the grandeur.
Advice for Exploring Mount Rainier
- Don’t be discouraged to go on a cloudy day. Mount Rainier has so much to offer that even gazing as the clouds hug the peak gives you an awestruck feeling.
- Hike as many trails as you can. Every meadow is different, and you’ll find all sorts of cute woodland creatures running around.
- Be prepared for cold weather. Layers work well for changing conditions.
Named after the Salish word meaning “moon,” Snoqualmie Falls is just east of Seattle and worth the drive for a spectacular view of Washington’s most famous waterfall. Snoqualmie Falls is 270 feet high with a width ranging from 50 to 150 feet depending on water levels.
There are two viewpoints, a lower and an upper. We recommend parking at the upper level near the gift shop and taking the trail to the cliffs edge for an incredible view of the waterfall. After spending some time soaking in the beauty of the falls, follow the trail as it winds down the hill through the old forest. As you get closer to the end of the trail, you’ll pass an old brick powerhouse. The trail continues past the powerhouse along a boardwalk against the cliff wall. This wooden path leads to the lower viewpoint and a great photo opportunity. You can backtrack and take a nature trail down to the water. If you’re an adventurer, bring a picnic and tube to float around. It’s perfect area for a family adventure.
This particular place is more about the experience than the hike which is less than a mile and very easy. The peacefulness of the area and the sound of crashing water add to this breathtaking spot. It’s no wonder for thousands of years the Salish people have considered this a sacred place.
Mount St. Helens
One of the most impressive National Monuments we’ve ever visited, Mount St. Helens and the Johnston Ridge Observatory should not be missed! As you drive toward the mountain you get a overwhelming feeling of what a volcanic eruption can do to its surroundings. As you pass signs that you’re entering a blast zone, you’ll slowly start to see more and more devastation from the 1980 eruption.
Around every corner you see hillsides covered with re-planted pines and a river bed once raging with water that now looks like a mere stream because it’s been covered in ash. The entire valley along this mountain range has risen hundreds of feet from the ash that fell. Looking down on it you see a beautiful forest growing into a damaged surface. There are many spots where you can pull over, and we suggest stopping at all of them to see different views of the eruption’s effects.
As you approach the mountain, the forest disappears. Once covered with trees, the mountain is now covered with dead trees that were literally blown right off their stumps and have been laying there for over 30 years.
After exploring the visitor’s center we ventured onto the trails to take in the surrounding views. In every direction we saw hundreds of stumps that looked like they had been shattered into a billion pieces. From the trail, we were on we were able to see right into the crater of the volcano. Naturally, the photographer in me took over, and I used my 600 mm lens to zoom in and see steam billowing out of the crater. All signs along the trails are really informative and well worth the time it takes to read them.
These are just a few of the many spots to visit in Washington. While we love exploring nature and natural history, we also enjoy sightseeing in city. Don’t miss Pike’s Market in Seattle. The fish throwing is hilarious, and the flower market is gorgeous. Stop by Bubble Gum Alley and the Fremont Troll, a hit for kids of all ages.
Finally, the iconic Space Needle is a must do. We suggest an evening visit so you can catch sunset and experience the city at night.
Axle and Royce began their adventures together in Spring 2017. After serving in the Air Force, Axle found his passion in photography. Royce is an athlete, an outdoor adventurist and a photographer. They’ve combined forces to inspire others to get outside. Living in Northern California, they’re lucky to be in close proximity to mountains, desert and beach. There’s no shortage of adventure where they live, and there’s no destination they won’t explore. Follow their adventures on Instagram @axleethington and @casunshine0508