The above video shows images of Mt Rainier National Park primarily from the Stevens Canyon Road and beyond into the Paradise area. There are two entrances to the park that join up with one another: Stevens Canyon and Nisqually. If you want to travel from the west side of the park all the way across to the east side of the park, or vice-versa, this is the route to take. But unlike the Nisqually Entrance, the Stevens Canyon Entrance is open during the summer months only, so plan accordingly. To take in the best views of the mountain itself, start from the east end, the Stevens Canyon Entrance. There is a lot of mileage to cover, (at least 30 miles) so plan ahead and be sure to top off your fuel tank in an urban area.
Driving to the Stevens Canyon Entrance of Mt Rainier National Park is an adventure in itself. There are a couple of ways of getting there. If you are coming from Eastern Washington, Chinook Pass (Hwy 410) is one option. If you are traveling from the Puget Sound Area, use Hwy 410 through Enumclaw. Continue past the White River Entrance to the park and watch for signs directing you to Hwy 123 and continue to Stevens Canyon. I need to let you know that you will be driving down a steep grade for miles into the forested canyon area. It is quite exciting. What is even more exciting is when you finally get to see Mt Rainier suddenly pop into view. What a sight!
If you are coming from southwestern Washington, use Ste Rte 12 and head east from Interstate 5. Continue to the town of Packwood to access Hwy 123. Follow the signs to Ohanapecosh, which is located in the southeastern part of the park and has a prime campground along with hiking trails. Be aware that this area is open only during the summer months as well. Along with a visitor center, this is a lovely, secluded forest area thick with Douglas Fir, Cedar, and Western Hemlock that the Ohanapecosh River runs through. Continue driving through this area and you will reach the Stevens Canyon Entrance.
Forest Trail at Ohanapecosh
Now that you are inside the park via the Stevens Canyon gate entrance, (park fee is required) just a tiny bit up the road is a small parking area on the right for a popular hiking destination: Grove of the Patriarchs. Be advised that this parking area fills up rapidly during the high tourist season. What is special about this 1.5 mile roundtrip trail is that it takes you via a single file suspension bridge across the Ohanapecosh River to an island filled with ancient giants that have withstood the test of time. Many of these magnificent trees are 25 ft in circumference and more.
Next must-stop is Box Canyon, which has restrooms and a small parking area to take in the sights. Dare to look down into the deep canyon at the Cowlitz River’s raging waters while bending over the side of a bridge overpass. It’s a long way down! There is also a short walking trail showcasing the effects of massive glaciers that once carved through this area. Also highly visible is Mt Rainier. Opposite the mountain, one can also view Mt Adams quite well.
Mt Adams as seen from Box Canyon
Mt Rainier with Cap Cloud
View of Rainier from Stevens Canyon Road
As you climb and meander west on Stevens Canyon Road, you will eventually come to the Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake. There is ample parking along the side of the road adjacent to the Reflection Lakes. There are hiking trails in the area as well. You can view a pretty reflection of Mt Rainier in the larger of the lakes when the winds are calm, especially early in the morning. This area is especially beautiful during the peak wildflower season. There have been times where I have visited this lake area and it was still frozen over with plenty of snow and ice in late June and early July due to a long, cold spring.
Once past the Reflection Lakes area, there is one more look-out point before joining up with the main road that leads to the Nisqually Entrance and Paradise. There is an ample parking area to view a large expanse of the Nisqually Valley. If you happen to come upon this viewpoint when there are morning low clouds hanging in the valley, you will be treated to a heavenly-like scene.
Morning low clouds resting in the Nisqually Valley
Stay tuned for more fantastic viewpoints as I blog about the last and most visited park entrance in Mt Rainier National Park—the Nisqually Entrance.