There are several areas to enjoy Mount Rainier National Park, but none is more popular than Paradise. Located on the south slopes of Mount Rainier at an elevation of 5,400 feet, there’s a good reason this place is called Paradise. During the summer, the area gives you stunning views of Mount Rainier, beautiful wildflowers, and awesome wildlife.
There are a couple different ways to get to Paradise from Seattle. Driving to Paradise in the summer takes about two and half hours. You can cruise through Eatonville to the south or Enumclaw to the east. When Tove and I most recently visited Paradise, we were staying at Crystal Mountain Resort. Located east of Mount Rainier, Crystal Mountain Resort is a little more than an hour from Paradise. No matter what roads you take, the drive to Paradise is part of the fun. There are plenty of incredible views along the way.
NOTE: The entrance fee for Mount Rainier National Park is $15 per vehicle (not per person). The single pass gives you a week-long permit into the park. You can also purchase an annual pass to Mount Rainier National Park for $30.
When you first get to Paradise, stop by the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. Even in the heat of the summer, many of the hiking trails near Mount Rainier are covered with snow. The friendly rangers are more than willing to help you figure out the best trails to hit around Paradise. There are also restrooms, a little restaurant, plenty of interesting information, and a gift shop inside the visitor center. If you have the time, be sure to also check out the Paradise Inn, which has provided dining and lodging to park visitors since 1916.
With miles of hiking trails, Paradise offers plenty of options for everyone. Tove and I wanted to get as close to the mountain as possible, so we hiked to Pebble Creek. It was easily one of the most spectacular treks we’ve ever done. The 2.5 mile (5 miles round trip) trail puts you right next to Mount Rainier and leads to the highest elevation (7,200 feet) you can reach (on hiking trails) from Paradise. After Pebble Creek is the Muir Snowfield and eventually Camp Muir, where many climbers start their trek to the summit of Mount Rainier. If seeing Mount Rainier isn’t enough for you, the hike to Pebble Creek also offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, including Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and even Oregon’s Mount Hood. There’s a great chance you’ll also see plenty of marmots scurrying around near the trail.
Our adventure to Paradise didn’t end at Pebble Creek. Tove and I cruised a few miles down the road to the Bench and Snow Lake Trail. This moderate hike takes you through beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers (beargrass was really popular when we were there) to two subalpine lakes. You first reach Bench Lake after .75 miles, and if you choose to continue on, you get to Snow Lake in another .5 miles. Snow Lake is probably what you imagine when you think of a “mountain lake.” It’s crystal clear and it’s nestled right at the foot of stunning peaks. Here’s an insider tip: the best view of Snow Lake is from the campsite on the north side of the lake (oddly — follow the sign to the toilet when you see it). As you probably expect, the Bench and Snow Lake Trail also offers amazing views of Mount Rainier (it’s pretty hard to not see the mountain when you’re in the area).
If you’re searching for more near Paradise, Tove and I also recommend the Grove of the Patriarchs. Located about 30 minutes east of Paradise on Stevens Canyon Road, this hike is popular with families. It’s a very easy mile-long trail (two miles round trip) that leads to some of the largest trees you’ll ever see in your life. Sitting on an island on the Ohanapecosh River, these old-growth trees have been protected from wildfires for centuries (some of the trees are 1,000 years old), allowing them to grow to massive proportions. One of the trees, simply named Big Cedar, would take at least seven or eight people, with their arms stretched as wide as they could, to fully reach around the base. On top of the incredible trees, hikers also seem to enjoy the suspension bridge you cross to get to the Grove of the Patriarchs.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy Paradise. There are several awesome places to visit in your vehicle. One of our favorite stops was Reflection Lakes. In fact, this was Tove’s favorite place in all of Paradise. Located less than four miles from Paradise (to the southeast), Reflection Lakes is one of the most picturesque areas we saw in Mount Rainier National Park. With Mount Rainier in the background, the lakes reflect a mirror image of the massive mountain to awestruck visitors nearby. It’s a truly unbelievable sight. Paradise Valley Road (right next to the Paradise Inn) and Inspiration Point (just east of Paradise Valley Road on Stevens Canyon Road) are also notable “roadside attractions,” according to the National Park Service.
Unlike several areas of the park (like Sunrise, etc.), Paradise is open all year. With an average of 641 inches of snow per year, Paradise is also a hot spot in the winter. It offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even sledding/tubing. It’s always smart to check the current road conditions before planning a trip to Mount Rainier National Park.
If you want to experience everything Mount Rainier National Park has to offer, Paradise is a perfect place to start. You’ll likely tangle with crowds of tourists in the summer, but it’s totally worth it (in our opinion). A visit to Paradise put Tove and me closer to Mount Rainier than we’ve ever been before. It was an unforgettable experience and one we want to live over and over again. There’s no doubt we’ll be back to Mount Rainier National Park soon!
Have you ever visited Paradise? Do you have a favorite hike in the area? We would love to hear from you! The more people share, the more we can all enjoy this incredible Pacific Northwest playground. Please leave a comment below or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t forget to also visit Seattle Bloggers for more awesome places to experience in and around the Emerald City.