Time to visit Mt Rainier National Park. In fact, I plan on a series of blogs about this majestic national park. First, let me start with a little background information on this “Jewel of the Northwest.” Mt Rainier is a the largest and tallest of the Cascade Range volcanoes, standing at 14,410 ft. It is covered in glaciers year long. This fact tends to confound tourists that have never visited a glacier covered mountain before thinking that it must be very cold to visit. Not so! Summertime temperatures can be very warm in the mountains. Also, this mountain is so tall that it makes its own climate. It may be serene and calm at lower elevations, but treacherous, windy conditions can exist near the summit. As well, Mt Rainier is a popular destination for mountain climbing and is used as training for other mountain expeditions such as Mt Everest. Aside from climbing, visitors take advantage of the many trails in the park that have varying degrees of difficulty. I recommend visiting the park during the different seasons to take in the radically different scenes of natural beauty during each season.
Today I would like to mention a very special trip I made to the park just before the first snows of the season. I decided to visit the Mowich Lake area on the northwest side of the park. This section of the park is not as frequently visited as the other parts due to its remoteness. To get there, if you are coming from the Greater Puget Sound Metropolian Area, drive south on Interstate 5 to Hwy 512. Drive east and merge onto Hwy 410. Once you get to Buckley, exit to Hwy 165 and travel south through the small towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado. You’ll eventually come to a fork in the road and you will see a sign for Mowich Lake. Follow that one. The other road takes you to the park’s Carbon River Entrance. (We’ll come back to that after our visit to Mowich Lake.) After a few miles, the road turns into a well maintained unpaved road for a good 14 miles if my memory serves me right. You will gain altitude as you travel through the forest. Have your camera ready. Along the way are spectacular views of Mt Rainier (as seen above) along with sweeping views of large valleys. At the park boundary, there is a self-serve pay station. It’s a good idea to have exact change unless you don’t mind contributing extra. You must display the park permit visibly on your vehicle dashboard once you arrive at Mowich Lake. The road ends here and you must exit the same way you came in. There is a small campground to pitch a tent if you plan to stay overnight along with a few picnic tables. There are also rudimentary restrooms. This section of the park is open only from July to October. Mowich Lake is a beautiful, clear alpine lake. Depending on lighting conditions, the lake can take on a dazzling teal blue color, which is so typical of alpine lakes. There are hiking trails along the lake that I strongly encourage anyone visiting to explore for beautiful views of the lake and mountain. Below is a glimpse of Mt Rainier from the lake.
Mt Rainier as seen from Mowich Lake
On the way back from Mowich Lake, take the time to visit the Carbon River Entrance to the park. It is closed to vehicle traffic due to road wash-outs, but one can still acess the park by foot or bicylce. There are plans to upgrade the hiking and bicycle trails to make this area even more accessible. The road follows along the Carbon River for 6 miles to the popular Ipsut Creek Campground. But the reason I am mentioning to stop by this area is to explore the fantastic inland rain forest exhibit. It is located just outside the main entrance and you don’t have to pay a park fee. Make sure you bring a jacket or sweater on a cool day because this forest is very cool and dank and quite dark in some spots. Even on a summer day, it’s quite a bit cooler inside the rain forest. As you walk along this short trail, you’ll notice all kinds of rain forest vegetation, including ferns, mushrooms, giant leafed plants, cedars, and lots of hanging moss. Did I say moss? Lots of moss!