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!”


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!



Next Up:  Peninsula and Coast


Exploring Mt. Rainier National Park – Washington

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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.



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


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


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




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.





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




Hangin’ out in “Da U.P.” – Newberry, Michigan pt. 1

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Upper Peninsula

As Don and Lisa headed southeast back to Ohio, we drove Betsy the farthest north we’ll be this year – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The state of Michigan is made up of two peninsulas, the upper and lower.  The northern, Upper Peninsula is commonly referred to as Upper Michigan or “Da U.P”.  It’s separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Strait of Mackinac, a five-mile channel where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, and connected by the Mackinac Bridge.

Michigans, Upper Peninsula

Want to drive across the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula?  Get your wallet out!

Mackinac Bridge

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge northbound puts you on the Upper Peninsula

Although we had already crossed into the Upper Peninsula while exploring Mackinac Island and Sault Ste Marie with our friends, this time we were heading deeper into the northwest U.P.  We selected Newberry, Michigan as our home base, as it was well-located at the south end of the “Great Waters” (aka Lake Superior) for our planned activities.  The Upper Peninsula consists of 29% of the land area of Michigan, but just 3% of its total population. Residents are frequently called Yoopers (derived from “U.P.-ers”), and they have a strong regional identity with living in almost one-third of the state’s land area.  Indeed, driving the wide-open roads and seeing few other cars reminded us of some of the highways in Alaska!

Along M28

There is a lot of natural beauty and several attractions to explore in the U.P., but we could do only so much during our one-week stay at the quiet Clementz’s Northcountry Campground (see Steve’s review here).  We ventured out to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, just 20 miles away, then made it to the Wild Blueberry Festival in the town of Paradise.  In my next post I’ll detail our explorations of Whitefish Point, with its museum featuring amazing stories of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

We visited Tahquamenon Falls twice, the first time driving with the hordes of tourists to admire the heavily-developed Upper and Lower falls.  On our second visit we hiked both directions on the 4-mile River Trail that connects the Upper and Lower Falls, plus another loop near the Lower Falls.  That visit ended at the Camp 33 Pub and Brewery, located within the state park – never seen that before!  Enjoying a micro-brewed beer after a 11.25 mile hike was a sweet reward, and their Falls Tannin brew was so good that we dug our growler out of the back of the car and had them fill it up!

Luckily, the mosquitos that this area is famous for seemed to have taken the day off during our hike between the falls.  The River Trail was rated moderately difficult, not for elevation gain but for the exposed roots and series of stairs that we had to traverse.  The fairly long hike was the best way to get away from the crowds, who mostly stayed near the viewing platforms.  And the best part was that the trail ends were at the Upper and Lower Falls, both nice destinations.

For those folks who wanted to hike only one way, there was a shuttle that would take them back to the other falls – but at $20 for two people we thought the price was pretty steep. So after a rest and snack at the Lower Falls, we added another 3 miles to our trek by hiking the loop there before heading back to the brewery and our car. Now that I think about it, ending our hike at a brewery doesn’t sound quite right.  Oh well, it was fun!

Tahquamenon River

Colorful Tahquamenon River

There were some flowers still blooming, but these purple leaves were plentiful.  I just don’t know what they’re called – anyone know?

Purple Leaves

There were several bunches of these purple leaves along the trail

Tahquamenon River

Tahquamenon River

Tahquamenon Falls is actually two separate falls located along the Tahquamenon River – the Upper and Lower falls.  According to Indian lore, the origin of the name Tahquamenon (it rhymes with Phenomenon) is attributed to the water’s amber color – the result of the leaching of tannic acid from cedar and hemlock swamps feeding the river.  After Niagara, it’s the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi.  The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is over 200′ wide and 48′ high, on a  sandstone precipice.  Over 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded spilling over this beautiful waterfall!

Upper Tahquamenon

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

Upper Tahaquamenon Falls

Another angle of Upper Tahaquamenon Falls

The Lower Tahquamenon Falls is located 4 miles downstream of the Upper Falls, and consists of several small waterfalls that cascade around an island.  On this warm day we observed a few folks wading in the water, or paddling small boats that can be rented there.


Lower Tahaquamenon

Lower Falls, Tahquamenon River

Paddling around near the Lower Falls

We could tell Tahquamenon Falls is a very popular destination, with the parking lots getting jam-packed fairly early in the day.  We never get tired of waterfalls, even after seeing so many – each has its own beauty and story to tell.

Wild Blueberry Festival

On another beautiful day we took a drive to the Wild Blueberry Festival in Paradise – yes, there is a town called Paradise in the U.P.!  Since I’m a sucker for wild blueberries, I dragged Steve along to check it out.  I was expecting bushels or baskets of wild blueberries to be displayed for sale.  Instead, the long line was for blueberry pies, muffins and a pancake bake – no actual blueberries were to be had.  I was a bit disappointed, as I was looking forward to baking some blueberry scones and maybe a blueberry pie 😦

Paradise, MI

Wild blueberry festivalAnyhow, I learned that wild blueberries are part of the local heritage here, and they’ve been celebrating blueberries since 1984.  Long before cultivated blueberries were around, Paradise’s wild berries were in great demand.  During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, up to 1500 laborers moved here to pick berries. The local blueberry industry peaked during  the Great Depression, but declined with the advent of WWII when labor was scarce.  Then the natural succession of vegetation and forest reduced the availability of blueberries.  Today, wild blueberries thrive and there is still commercial picking – but not like the old days.

After a taste of the delicious blueberry pie we checked out various local arts and crafts, but left Paradise blueberry-less.

Wild blueberry festival, Paradise

Look – I’m a blueberry…something!!!

Considering the festival was located on the shore of Lake Superior on a gorgeous day, I guess this stop wasn’t so bad after all!

Paradise Wild Blueberry Festival

A band playing with Lake Superior in the background

On a technical note, we’re in the process of copying our campground reviews from rvparkreviews back to our own site, for more timely access and better content control – although we like rvparkreviews and will probably keep posting there as well.  So far, we’ve updated our 2014 map so you can click on any of our stops and visually see where we stayed, in the hope that our reviews will be helpful to folks going into those areas.  We think the new format of our upcoming reviews will be more useful to RVer’s in our situation.  Steve started reviewing every campground where we stayed in March of 2013, and we plan to have that year’s map updated shortly.  Let us know if it’s helpful or if we can make it more useful!


 Next up:  Part 2 of hanging out with the Yoopers!