I now come to the last of my four part series on Mt Rainier National Park—the popular Nisqually Entrance located in the southwestern part of the park. This entrance to the park has relatively good accessibility to the major metropolitan areas of Puget Sound. There are a couple of routes to take if one is coming from Tacoma or Seattle and beyond, but with my experience over the years, I have found that the SR 7 route, also known as Mountain Hwy, is the most expeditious. From Interstate 5 through Tacoma, take Hwy 512 east, and shortly there afterwards, exit onto SR 7 south. Follow the highway all the way past the town of Elbe and then watch for signs to Mt Rainier National Park. You will end up on SR 706 and continue through the town of Ashford before arriving at the park entrance. Mountain Highway (SR 7) can be a challenging drive in itself through certain areas with its many winding, steep curves in some places as you start to gain a bit of elevation. Slow down and take it easy and you’ll do just fine. If you are traveling from the southwestern part of Washington or Portland, there is another option. Take SR 12 east from Interstate 5 to the town of Morton, and then take SR 7 north. And, as I have always recommended, fuel up in the suburbs or larger communities because there are very few gas stations available as you get closer to the park, and expect to pay quite a bit more.
Park attendence has been up the past few years, most likely due to more families choosing to vacation closer to home, and the park fills quickly during the summer months. It is wise to arrive early if you want a parking space at the Paradise area. You do have an option to catch a shuttle bus during the summer months that originates in Ashford, located outside the park entrance. There are areas as well within the park to gain access to a shuttle bus. All of these parking areas fill very quickly during the high tourist season.
Once you are inside the park, (after paying the entrance fee) you will travel some miles through dense, lush Pacific Northwest forest following along the banks of the Nisqually River. There used to be a picnic and campground at Sunshine Point, but major flooding from a severe winter storm a few years ago washed away a good part of the area along with part of the main road. The road has since been reconstructed, but alas, the picnic area is no more. The first parking area that you will come to, along with your first glimpse of the mountain, is at Kautz Creek. Here you have an opportunity to have lunch, use a restroom, or do some trail hiking. It’s also a very popular spot for tourists to snap some beautiful photos of the partially exposed mountain.
Mt Rainier as seen from Kautz Creek
The next major stop along the way is Longmire, the site of the National Park Inn, along with the Longmire Museum, a souvenir and grocery store, and restrooms. I always spend a lot of time here perusing the souvenir store, taking a lunch break, or taking photos of the now prominent view of the mountain. You may be hard pressed to find parking here during the high tourist season. Again, take my advise and get to the park early in the morning for best parking accomodations. By the way, the National Park Inn is open year-round.
Mt Rainier as seen from Longmire
Once you leave Longmire, you will start climbing more rapidly in elevation as you head for the ultimate destination—Paradise. You’ll pass by a turn-off for the Cougar Rock Campground. Also, I would be remiss in not mentioning the many hiking trails along the way thoughout the park, one of the many reasons visitors come into the park. Continuing up the mountain drive, there will be many exciting viewpoints and natural wonders to explore, for example, Narada Falls and Christine Falls. At each of these sites, there are parking areas. Christine Falls is directly viewable from the roadway, but one has to negotiate a steep downhill hike to get the full view of Narada Falls. Be sure to take in the spectacular views of the mountain where indicated by the viewpoint signs. You won’t be disappointed unless, of course, there is total cloud cover. But many times, on your way back down, the mountain will finally decide to show itself.
The road to Paradise can be challenging with its steep climb and several hairpin turns. Take it easy and enjoy the sites. It’s even more fun coming back down! Just put your vehicle in a lower gear and you won’t have to use the brakes so much. Yes, even with an automatic transmission you can do this! So much for my crash course in mountain driving!
So now you’ve made it all the way up to the 5400 ft elevation level and can see the mountain full view in all its splendor—a view that has inspired poets and artists, and the everyday park visitor. No wonder it’s called Paradise. There are a few large parking areas to choose from. Again, they fill quickly during the summer. At Paradise, you have options to visit the new Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and the Paradise Inn, or enjoy the many hiking trails geared towards various levels of difficulty. Trails are prominently marked with signs and you can obtain a map of the trails inside the visitor center and lodge. Speaking of the lodge, here are a few photos of the Paradise Inn.
View of Paradise Inn Against the Tatoosh Range
View of Paradise Inn and Mt Rainier
And so I come to the conclusion of my four part series on Mt Rainier National Park. Needless to say, it took a lot of planning and time to put it all together, but this is my passion, my love of nature, and wanting to share a little bit of my world with your world wherever that may be. I hope I have inspired a few of my readers near and far to visit this great natural wonder, Mt Rainier National Park.