Mount Rainier has called to me since the first time I saw it with my own eyes nearly 15 years ago. I plan to hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around the perimeter of this mountain someday.
This 14,411-foot stratovolcano and glacial peak towers over Seattle and Tacoma in Washington state on the days when “the mountain is out,” but it is often elusive, as less than half of Seattle’s days each year are sunny. My visit to the Pacific Northwest was no exception.
I originally planned this outdoor escape for myself last year, but canceled at the last minute when my dog, Otto, took a turn for the worse. Since then, sadly, both Otto and his brother Ford have passed away.
I was headed to Seattle to speak at a conference, and needed a few days to clear my head, refine, and practice, so I re-booked the trip. It has been hard to focus as I work through the grief of losing my dogs, so I thought this time would be ideal to pause, reflect, and appreciate some quiet solitude.
I rented a small cabin in Ashford, Washington through HomeAway, just a few miles from the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park.
Within minutes of arriving and setting my things inside the cabin, a doe and her two fawns walked past the big bedroom windows. I saw many more deer on my hikes in the National Park.
While I was hunkered down in the cabin, I alternated between working on my presentation and hiking in Mount Rainier National Park. With the space, silence and foggy mountain views, it felt like a proper writer’s retreat.
A friend of mine gifted me the book Day Hike! Mount Rainier: More Than 50 Trails You Can Hike in a Day and it was the perfect tool for finding the right hikes to suit my mood and time available each day. I knocked out about 7 small hikes in three days, including Twin Firs Loop, Trail of the Shadows, Comet Falls, Nisqually Vista, and others – yet I’ve barely made a dent.
Even just the drive up the mountain and stopping at the outlook points is stunning – but to truly appreciate this place, you need to get out on foot and take to the trails.
The first hike I did was the High Lakes Loop in the Paradise section of the park. This three-mile loop trail begins at Reflection Lake, and once I got onto the trail from the lot, I had the entire loop nearly to myself.
It was a peaceful hike on a gently rolling path that gave me sample views of wildflowers, forest cover, alpine lakes, and sleeping deer. In true PNW fashion, the drizzle started and stopped throughout my hike.
The highlight of this hike was the stunning cliff-edge view of Lake Louise from Faraway Rock as a misty rain rolled in. It made me pause and breathe deeply, hoping to imprint this view in my memory.
As Mount Rainier has some 25 glaciers (the most on any peak in the mainland U.S.), it’s easy to come across water moving down the mountain.
From alpine lakes to glacial waterfalls to babbling creeks to fog rolling between the peaks and valleys, this is a pleasantly damp place throughout.
Day two I mostly spent in the Longmire area of the park combining several short hikes to make a day of it. I also spent time just driving slowly on the winding roads up and back down the mountain.
If day one was about rocky, snow-capped mountain views and alpine lakes, day two was all about forest cover, ferns, moss and lichens, and soft, woody earth underfoot.
Dew, mist, drizzle and dampness fuels an incredibly lush, rich and green landscape. Where some parts of Mount Rainier have stark contrast and rocky terrain, these hikes engender a feeling of abundant softness and quietude.
I marveled at the old growth forest of giant firs and cedars, some dating back as far as 850 years. I love it when nature makes me feel small. It puts things in perspective – I, and the moment I’m in, are just blips on the radar of the history of everything.
Summertime is a great time to see beautiful wildflowers blooming everywhere on Mount Rainier. I saw dozens of varieties in dozens of colors throughout my hikes. These are just a few of the many interesting blooms.
The tree-covered hikes were just about perfect, but my favorite moments of day two were when I came across open meadows surrounded by conifers that were blanketed in fog. It was an eery but comforting silence as I had the meadow to myself late in the afternoon.
As I have gotten older, I have become more introverted, but my career requires constant communication. I love what I do, but I need space to recharge. This time alone hiking in the mountains, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of being outdoors in beautiful places like this, is everything I need to feel whole again.