Incredible Fall Colors in Paradise – Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Brown Jay
First capture of a brown jay!

We used our last hiking opportunity before the weather changed to follow the Skyline Trail Loop in Paradise.  As the tallest peak in the Cascade Range, Mount Rainier magnifies area rainfall by stimulating the flow of moist air coming in from the Pacific Ocean.  As such it also creates its own weather, which is why it’s obscured by clouds on most days.

We were unsure if we’d see the mountain this day, as fog hovered around us until we climbed through it at Paradise.

Nisqually River
We never saw the mountain up there behind Nisqually River

The moment we stepped out of the car we were awestruck by what lay before us.  We echoed John Muir’s impressions of 1889 as inscribed on the steps, and agreed with James Longmire’s daughter-in-law when she exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!”


This was our third hike here (click here for the previous ones), and definitely the highlight of our stay.  For folks coming here for just a day trip, Paradise is the best bet for digging into the mountain’s offerings of a landscape that will take your breath away.

There’s an intricate maze of trails with options for gentle or strenuous hikes, and the junctions are well signed.  We followed the Skyline Trail counter-clockwise via Panorama Point and extended our trek to High Skyline Trail, completing a 5.5-mile loop with a 1,700′ elevation gain.

Paradise Hiking Trails
Maze of trails within Paradise

The trailhead to the Skyline Loop is up those concrete steps, initially steep and then easing into a more gradual climb.  During summer the asphalted trail on this section is lavishly bordered with wildflowers, but today in early October the display before us was the brilliance of fall colors.

Blazing red
Blazing red


Climbing higher, we got a closer view of Mount Rainier and Nisqually Glacier:

Up, up, up!
Mount Rainier
Nisqually Glacier is one of the 25 glaciers of Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier
The mountain is an active volcano overlaid by snowfields and glaciers
Here you see a bit of the blue tint that indicates super-compressed ice
Several glacial waterfalls added a pleasant soundtrack to our trek

Besides great views of Mount Rainier and Nisqually Glacier from here, looking below displayed a maze of trails in the area:


There was a blanket of fog hovering over the valley:


Skyline Trail

Several marmots and squirrels scurried about along the trail, making final winter preparations.  They were adorable!

It was mostly clear at Panorama Point, and there were views of rugged mountain peaks poking through like islands in the sea of fog.

Panorama Point
At 6,800′ Panorama Point
Tatoosh Range
Tatoosh Range with Mount Adams peeking through in the distance
Mount Adams
Zooming into Mount Adams back there

The High Skyline Trail continued to climb above Panorama Point to its maximum elevation of 7,051′.  Then it dropped down into the moonscape rubble of an ancient moraine interspersed with patches of snow.

Highling Trail
Hikers below us where we were at Panorama Point
Skyline Trail
Yeah, it gets a bit windy up here!

As we descended, the landscape of rock and snow gave way to a tranquil carpet of fall colors.  The steep meadows flanking the mountain burned with hues of gold, magenta and yellow, the wonderful palette of Paradise’s fall colors.  I kept stopping to soak it in as I snapped away.  Steve took the most pictures he has since Bryce Canyon!

I will let the autumn colors speak to you, as descriptions nor my photos can do justice:







Mount Rainier in autumn
By early afternoon clouds had begun to envelop the mountain




Steve was in a daze as we walked through this area




In retrospect, hiking this trail clockwise was best, for at the beginning we got a clear and close-up view of Mount Rainier and the glaciers, saving the astounding meadows for last.  We’ve never seen nature’s color like this!

Skyline Trail
Oh yeah, this is paradise!




  1. Just amazingly beautiful! and I’ve always wondered how you get great shots of wild animals, do you zoom? how long do you wait for that perfect shot? Wildlife is so skittish, you probably need to wait maybe 30 minutes for that perfect shot?

    • Oh Terri, most of the time it is by sheer luck that these wild animals are close by. But I do have a zoom camera when I go birding and you are right, I wait a long time to get an almost perfect shot.

  2. I have never heard of a brown jay. Beautiful.
    Oh my gosh. How were you able to leave that trail. These photos are just gorgeous. I can just image how much more beauty you saw in person. Speechless!

  3. And, I thought the most colorful fall landscapes were found in the forests of the northeast. Astounding colors. You really hit the jackpot, girl. Thank you for the fall beauty.

  4. Wow Mona Liza what colors and that mountain behind. It really is just amazing. I can’t imagine the trees will be able to compete at all. Your photographs are just spectacular. You two just keep bringing on more and more beauty. Wish I were caravaning with you that’s for sure. Did you happen to be or plan to be here for this display? If the latter, you seriously get the travel planning award.

  5. Wow! Your facebook photos were beautiful but putting all of them together in the blog was spectacular! What a wonderful hike. So glad the mountain made an appearance for you:) The colors are so beautiful. There truly aren’t words to describe what you saw. I can only imagine how the colors is person. The low valley clouds made for some awesome photos! Thanks for sharing so many photos! There is never enough for this type scene. Your header is amazing as is the shot of you on the steps:)

    • Thank you Pam. I really wished you and John was there to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. It was a wonderful surprise! Half the hike was all around the brilliant colors. Even Steve was amazed.

  6. Wow!!!! I had no idea that Mt. Rainer would be so spectacular in fall! We were there in 2012 for the summer wildflower bloom and it was fabulous, but the fall is equally stunning. We did the same loop hike that you did and loved it. A fall visit is definitely now on my list. Your photos are gorgeous—the one of you on the steps is especially wonderful. And your header photo, of course!

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