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

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Skyline Trail
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!”

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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

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

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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

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Here you see a bit of the blue tint that indicates super-compressed ice

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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:

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There was a blanket of fog hovering over the valley:

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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

Moonscape

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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:

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Mount Rainier in autumn

By early afternoon clouds had begun to envelop the mountain

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Steve was in a daze as we walked through this area

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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!

 

 

Next Up:  Peninsula and Coast



 

Exploring Mt. Rainier National Park – Washington

Comments 18 Standard
Mount Rainier

Autumn is a wonderful time of the year to visit Mount Rainier, perhaps only second to spring time when the wildflowers are blooming.  At the time of our visit in early October, the meadows of Mazama Ridge had turned from colorful wildflowers to colorful autumn foliage of mountain huckleberry, vine maple and mountain ash.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

 Mount Rainier

A rare clear view of Mount Rainier with clouds just starting to form

This 14, 410′ volcanic peak was called Tacoma or Tahoma by generations of Northwest Native Americans.  Then in 1792 it was renamed Mount Rainier after Admiral Peter Rainier by English explorer George Vancouver.  Vancouver sighted the enormous mountain while exploring Puget Sound.

Mount Rainier is the natural wonder showcased in 365-square-mile Mount Rainier National Park, established in 1899 as the nation’s 4th national park.  It’s the highest mountain in Washington and in the Cascade Range, and the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States.  On clear days it can be seen from 100 miles away, and on our way there we caught our first glimpse from many miles away on I-82.

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier viewed from westbound I-82

Mount Adams

An added bonus was a glimpse of Mount Adams, overlooking Yakima Valley at 12,307′

Tree stump mountain

Doesn’t this look like a monolithic tree stump? as seen along White Pass

Our home base was Mounthaven RV Park (Steve’s review here), only 3 miles from the Nisqually Entrance on the southwest corner of the NP.  Had it been summer we would have loved our site here, as Betsy was shielded by tall trees.  But rain and fog enveloped the area during our stay, and being in the dark and cold all the time gave us a case of cabin fever.

Mounthaven RV Park

Betsy snuggled in between tall old trees, making our site dark (and muddy) most of the time

Checking out the forecast for our one-week stay, we saw three days of mostly sunny weather and planned our hikes around them.  To experience the maximum in scenic splendors we chose three trails: Rampart Ridge Loop, Lakes Loop and Skyline Trail via Panorama Point. They were all over five miles long and averaged 1,500′ of elevation gain.  Of course, we started early in the morning and had to survive temps in the mid 30’s – brrrr!  The lengths we’ll go to just to avoid crowds!

Mount Rainier National Park

Nisqually Entrance

Christine Falls

A 40 ft waterfall along the park’s road – Christine Falls framed by the bridge

Rampart Ridge Loop

This steep loop took us deep into the forest, with lush vegetation and giant old growth trees along the ridge known as “The Ramparts.”  It’s a remnant of an ancient lava flow which originated at the summit of Mount Rainier and retained it’s 1,000’+ height when glaciers around it melted.

Our trek was cold and damp due to the thick tree canopy that blocked out the sun most of the time.  We took time to notice the various mosses and lichens clinging to the trees, and lots of fungi on the ground.

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Rampart Ridge Trail

Looking Up- its green

Rampart Ridge Trail

Looking down more green

Wooden Arch - Rampart Ridge Trail

A fascinating wooden arch tree that seems to be growing back into the ground

The Ramparts

The Ramparts is the remnant of an ancient lava flow which originated at the mountain’s summit

rampart ridge trail

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A variety of fungi were everywhere along the mossy carpeted forest floor:

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This would be a great summer hike, as it’s covered by tall trees and is a good way to get some elevation gain.  Beautiful forest views and a fantastic vista of Mount Rainier, all in just over five miles!

Mount Rainier

The only view of Mount Rainier from this trail

Lakes Trail Loop

Just over five miles around, this trail traverses through a myriad of delightful lakes at the base of Mount Rainier.  Fog added a new dimension to the hike, making it mystical, moody and chilly.  We were the only ones up there, and it was peaceful and easy to be one with nature as we trudged along the dreamy landscape.

Reflection Lake

Just imagine Mount Rainer behind that cloak of clouds

Tatoosh Peaks

At Faraway Rock with Tatoosh Peaks in the background and Louise Lake below

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The only wildlife we spotted during these hikes

We were not disappointed, as the trail was a succession of gradual ups and downs passing through lakes, ponds, streams and waterfalls.

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Myrtle Falls

Myrtle Falls

Writing this post, I had planned on putting all of our hikes together but soon realized the Skyline Trail needs its own post.  It was the highlight of our stay, and we hiked it on a mostly clear day which made us discover exactly why this area is called Paradise.  Stay tuned!

Mount Rainier

The mountain remained hidden as we headed for Paradise

 

Next Up:  Incredible Fall Colors in Paradise