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This year, the centennial of the National Park Service, seems like a perfect time to take a run to Mount Rainier Park. Most people go to the southern part of the park, where the Longmire Museum and the Henry Jackson and Ohanapecosh Visitor Centers are located. But there’s a lot to see and do on the other side of the park, and this blog will feature the Sunrise area. The park’s website has a ton of info and a downloadable Wilderness Trip Planner and the current park newspaper. In the past, and again next year, you’ll be able to reserve campsites ahead of time, but this year the park is developing a new system and it’s first come, first served. There are two inns, the National Park Inn in Longmire and the Paradise Inn in Paradise, both in the south part of the park. Otherwise, you can camp. Bring what you need and be sure you’re gassed up, because you won’t find supermarkets or service stations in the park.
From Tacoma, take SR 512 to Puyallup, then head north on SR 167 to SR 410. Take SR 410 through Sumner, Buckley, Enumclaw, and Greenwater (where you might want to stop at the historic and biker-friendly Naches Tavern). Continue on SR 410 to the White River Entrance. Stop for a look at Tipsoo Lake and its spectacular wild flowers. If you hike around the lake, please stay on the trails to protect the meadows and the wild plants.
If you plan to camp overnight, get your spot at the White River Campground now. It’s about five miles into the park from SR 410. The campground has flush toilets, water, picnic tables, and fire platforms. You must buy your firewood at the campground; you cannot pick up sticks from the forest floor—they will eventually rot and nourish new growth—nor can you bring wood from home—that’s prohibited because even firewood that looks dry can harbor insects. You can hike in to wilderness campsites with a wilderness permit.
At 4,232 feet, White River Campground is the highest of the parks three drive-in campgrounds. It’s an ideal starting point for hiking or climbing as well as for riding on park roads. Check the bulletin board for activities. There are campfire activities for adults Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and daytime programs for kids Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Loop C, you’ll find the historic White River Patrol Cabin, which was built in the late 1920s as part of a network of cabins that help rangers protect the park.
If you’re just at the park for the day, or if you’ve settled in, take a ride up the road to Sunrise, the highest point (and most scenic) in the park that you can reach on wheels. On the drive up from the campground, look on the left banks of the road for the gray-black columns of andesite formed by an ancient lava flow. Take time for a full-circle view of Mount Rainier, the Emmons glacier, Mount Adams, and other peaks in the Cascade Range. The visitor center here uses modern interactive techniques to explain the mountain and its flora and fauna. Pick up a snack at the cafeteria and check out the gift shop in the rustic Day Lodge. From the upper end of the Sunrise picnic area, you can take the mile-and-a-half-long Sunrise Nature Trail, a self-guided tour with views of Mount Rainier, Emmons glacier, and alpine meadows. The meadows around Sunrise are called Yakima Park and were once a “grocery store” for the Yakama people. Several other trails, from three to six miles long, start at Sunrise.
The White River is just down the bank from the camping area. Though it’s just a creek here, note the scoured-out banks that show its power in flood. The Wonderland Trail runs through the campground, which is a hub for many other trails, of which the Great Basin Trail is the most popular. From the campground, the trail climbs for just over three miles to Glacier Basin Camp at six thousand feet, then wanders through meadows (and over some rockfall that can be treacherous) to end at the foot of Inter Glacier. Watch for the remains of old copper mining operations in the meadows and along the trail.
The Summerland hiking trail is just three miles west of the White River Entrance and goes from dense forest to subalpine meadows. It features glorious views of Mount Rainier and Little Tahoma—and you might see elk herds and mountain goats. The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail takes you to a historic fire lookout; you can see tundra on the Burroughs Mountain Trail. Remember to check trail conditions before you set out. Bring water so you don’t dehydrate and let someone know where you’re going.
Mount Rainier National Park is just one of many natural wonders with which our Pacific Northwest is blessed. Let’s get on our bikes, get riding, and enjoy them this summer.