Paradise: A Place Where Reality Exceeds Imagination
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir
Established in 1899 as America’s fifth national park, Mt. Rainier National Park is comprised of 236,381 acres. Paradise is the location of the main Visitor’s Center and Paradise Inn. A popular destination in all seasons, this area receives an average of 53.6 feet of snow each year. Winters in the Pacific Northwest typically come with months of gray skies. The forecast promised at least partially sunny skies for the weekend, so we decided to plan a trip to Mt. Rainier for some snowshoeing.
Intermittent sunshine graced our drive to the park, so we were hopeful the weather would stay clear. We had tire chains with us, since it’s a requirement for all vehicles in the park to at least carry them during winter. We had to stop at Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford to pick up a pair of rental snowshoes. This is a great pit stop for coffee, bathroom breaks and gear rentals, and they also offer tire chains for those who don’t have their own.
After a quick stop, we continued our journey. The park gates hadn’t opened until midday because there had been an issue of broken pipes in Paradise. We expected to meet a line of traffic, but to our delight, there was little back up at the entrance. The roads were fairly clear of snow and ice, and we never needed to attach our chains.
It was time to gear up and hit the snow. The clouds cloaked the skies initially, and while visibility wasn’t terrible, the peak of Rainier was obscured. A light snow was falling, and it was a brisk 26 degrees with slight winds. We were prepared for the weather. Clad in our KÜHL gear, the elements were no match for us.
The trail began at a play area; children and parents with sleds and tubes cover this area like ants scurrying to and fro. Laughter and joyful shouts of playing children greeted us as we began our trek.
Past the play area and through a small stand of evergreens, the trail wound to the left along a ridge. The well trodden path of snowshoe prints was easy to follow. Ahead was wide open snow with rises to either side and trees atop hills. In the distance, we could see skiers and snowboarders gliding down from high above. A scattering of other snowshoers in larger groups made tracks ahead of us.
We followed the prepared path, stopping to admire scenery as the clouds permitted.
We made our way atop a hill to our right, and the clouds suddenly cleared to reveal the peak. Distances are deceptive in the snow. Reaching the peak looked like an easy task, but we knew better. With the clouds gone, the sky was a brilliant blue backdrop for the magnificent white peak.
This was what we came to see.
Pristine white snow. Cerulean blue skies with swirls of misty clouds. Frosted trees. Beauty beyond imagination.
We followed the crest of this hill, and then we dropped down, moving closer to the peak. We set our sights on a saddle a bit higher up, and within 15 minutes With another 15 minutes, we reached this higher spot and were greeted with even more incredible views of the peak and the valley spread below. We took a brief rest, had a snack and made our way back, retracing several miles to get back before the gates closed.
We’re thankful to have access to National Parks. We’re grateful these places have been set aside and preserved so that all might enjoy and appreciate the uniqueness each park offers. Mt. Rainier is magnificent in every season. Snowshoeing allows us to get out and enjoy the areas covered in snow, just as hiking gets us out there the rest of year. Whatever your outdoor activity of choice, even if it’s just a picnic or stroll, we encourage your exploration of these wonders, set aside for all to see!