Our visit in June was a wild surprise — there was snow! And not on the peak, it was plentiful on the ground. The elevation at Paradise Inn at the base of Mt. Rainier is a tame 5,400 feet (1650 meters).
The twenty-one mile drive that starts out at 2,000 feet (610 meters) rises quickly and beautifully from the Nisqually Entrance on SR-706. There were a lot of opportunities for us to get out and hike around a bit in the sunshine and crisp water flowing from the mountain.
We drove up first to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center/Paradise Inn at the base of Mt. Rainier and found it an icy cold summer paradise. The kids immediately ran up to play in the snow and before we knew it, snowballs were flying. For kids who’ve lived in sunny South Florida for ten years, THIS was nirvana. If there was any pain from frigid fingers and stinging snowballs, they didn’t show it.
The Road Beyond
The climbing road beyond Paradise Inn was still closed in June, so we wandered back down towards camp, taking a few-hour detour at Stevens Canyon Road which tracks back eastwardly. A winding descent took us on a great adventure of both snow and dry hiking. Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake offer some great photo opportunities.
We walked beyond the pullout into the two to three-feet so hardened snow that covered the terrain and a small creek feeding into the lake. Grandpa had a funny little scare that tickled the kids as he found a soft spot that sunk one leg up to his hip, dipping his foot into the cold stream. Truman could not get enough of the snow — true to his Great Pyrenees mountain dog heritage.
Beyond the lakes, there is a winding bend with a pullout that has a stunning view of Mt. Rainier. It made for a great picnic lunch stop and basked in the sun.
So Washington was turning out to be a great treat with Mt. Rainier and Mount St. Helens (see our visit here) — and we hadn’t even made it yet to Seattle or Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.
We wrapped our day at Base Camp Grill just 2.5 miles from the Nisqually Entrance for great service, great pizza and burgers and a nice local collection of beers. The small rock wall for the kids was a bonus.