I have been waiting for just the right moment to visit Mount Rainier National Park, to photograph the subalpine fall colors. This autumn season has started out spectacular and will continue to do so until the snow starts falling, which could be anytime. The trick is trying to outguess when the snow will start falling in these higher elevations. Some years I have seen it as early as the first part of October, and other times, not until November. I just follow my gut feelings and pay attention to weather reports. One can also get a good sense of conditions by visiting the park’s live webcams.
With the very fine weather we’ve had this past week, I decided that now was a good time to visit the park. To get a complete eyeful of the autumn colors throughout the park, I recommend starting on the northeast side of the park and working one’s way towards Paradise via the Stevens Canyon park entrance. But first, a stop at Tipsoo Lake is a must, along Chinook Pass. Follow Hwy 410 from either side of the mountains, and once you cross the national park boundary, you will find some parking areas along the side of the highway to take in views and to gain access to hiking trails. Tipsoo Lake is a popular attraction here, with its scenic hiking trails. (There are actually two, small lakes.) Approaching from the west side of the pass, this is what you will see when arriving at the Tipsoo Lake area. Notice the red colors in the subalpine meadows in the upper lake area.
There are more parking areas just beyond the bend in the road. Park the car and get a sweeping view of the lower lake area.
From this same viewpoint, you will also get a spectacular view of Mount Rainier.
Pearly Everlasting flowers were seen still thriving in this area.
Drive down the highway just a little way further and you will find another parking area to gain access to more hiking trails and to get a sweeping view of the valley, where the highway continues along the ridge.
Turn your back from the view of the valley and take in the autumn colors across the road.
To complete your tour of autumn colors, make your way along Hwy 410 westward, just a few miles, until you come to where Hwy 123 joins. This is Cayuse Pass. Make a sharp left turn onto this highway and continue driving down into a deep valley. When you finally reach the bottom, turn right at the sign that directs you towards the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park. Some miles into the park, you will get a fabulous view of Mount Rainier. Continue driving along the canyon rim. As you start to climb in elevation again, on the opposite side of the canyon drive, make sure to stop at a viewing point to look back at a spectacular view of the mountain and the autumn colors alongside the canyon walls. It is really magnificent!
Next stop will be the Reflection Lakes. There are parking areas along the lakes to take in views of the mountain and the autumn colors along the lakes.
Continue to the end of this road and then turn right to continue up to Paradise. Here you will experience the most amazing autumn colors! And here you will want to spend some time walking on the meadow trails to take in even more color or visiting the park lodge and visitor center.
I hope you enjoyed my mini tour of Mount Rainier National Park during its colorful autumn season. This is an especially nice time of the year to visit the park, since the mass throngs of summer visitors are gone. Parking is more readily available. The upper Paradise parking lot has just been repaved. The parking stripes had not been painted yet when I visited, but visitors were allowed to park here. They are in the process of milling and repaving the over-night, lower lot, and it was closed off when I visited. Visit the park’s website below for more information on road construction in the park.
All photos property of Peggy A Thompson