A SHORT VISIT TO THE NW #3 - Paradise & Sunrise at Mt. Rainier
A SHORT VISIT TO THE NW #3 - Paradise & Sunrise at Mt. Rainier
This edition is still in Mt. Rainier NP and includes the Paradise and Sunrise areas.
LEADING TO PARADISE
As described last time, on the way to Paradise from Portland, we saw the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, Silver Falls, Grove of the Patriarchs, Box Canyon, and Reflections Lake. As we continued on up toward Paradise, every turn in the road offered another spectacular view just aching to be photographed. In some places there was room to pull off and take a few shots and in other we just had to zoom on by.
Mt. Rainier from Switchback near Paradise
Mt. Rainier from Steven’s Canyon Rd.
With so many stops along the way, by the time we were approaching the Paradise area it was getting near sunset. Of course, for a photographer that’s some of the best light there is and you always wish you could be in several different places all at once when the light turns to gold as it did that day. We didn’t have time to go for a hike before dark but we were still treated to some great scenery as the golden light faded into night. In fact, right out of our hotel room window, the sinking sun painted the forest and mountains around us with a golden brush.
View from our room after checking in
View from our room
View from our Room
The Paradise area is drop dead gorgeous. At least it was when we were there at the end of September. As I mentioned before the weather was ideal, the mountain was not hidden in clouds, the fall colors were rampant and the air crystal clear. Of course now I believe it’s that way all the time.
The paradise area of Mt. Rainier NP is the most popular, and developed, part of the park. There is a major visitor center, many trail heads, and a hotel where we stayed. This area is on the south flank of the volcano at an elevation of 5,400 ft. In 1885 (think Civil War period), Virinda Longmire was taken by the wildflowers in the alpine meadows in the area and called it Paradise, and the name stuck. According to the NPS (National Park Service), of all the places in the world where they regularly measure snow, this is the snowiest of them all, boasting an average of 55 feet per year. All the snow info I gave in my last article were actually for Paradise.
The hotel. or Inn. at Paradise. where we stayed. was built in 1916. During the war years it was used to house troops who trained on the mountain for winter conditions they would soon find in Europe. Although they were later taken out, at one time there was a golf course and rope tow for use of the Inn guests. The Inn was built with local materials, and later an extension was added, but it looks much the same today as it did when built.
The giant lobby follows the tradition of US national Park lodges with a clear story architecture and open log beams with large fireplaces at each end and is quite majestic. It is furnished in a rustic style with overstuffed chairs and couches and game tables. The large dinning room is of the same style but with a lower ceiling. When sitting in the lobby or dinning room, one expects to see Clark Gable come by in has dapper suite with Katharine Hepburn on his arm in a flowing evening gown. But, the reality is that of tourists in shorts and T-shirts – but without the standard cell phone in their ear as there is no signal here.
Paradise Inn Lobby
Paradise Inn Dinning Room
The elegant public areas of the Inn give way to the not so elegant guest rooms. I’d call the rooms “Retro” but that implies a modern construction in an older style. These are the original older rooms that had a dismal upgrade in the 1950’s or there about. Part of the that upgrade was to install a bathroom for each guest room rather than making you go down the hall. In order to do that they had to make the rooms smaller. In our room one side of the bed was up against a wall requiring one to climb over the other person to get out of bed. The ceiling of our room was those 2 x 3 ft drop in acoustic tiles and the walls were cheap wood paneling. – a step below the standard 1960’s basement look. It was really quite humorous. The bathroom was on the small side of tiny. You could wash your hands in the sink while still seated on the throne with no trouble at all. But, we weren’t there for the ambiance of the room.
The next morning we went for a hike (stroll?) along the Skyline Loop Trail up to Myrtle Falls a half mile up the trail. This section of the trail is asphalt with gentle grades and no steps and as such is accessible to wheel chairs. Myrtle falls is a cute waterfall that is quite close to being a cascade rather than a waterfall. The paved trail crosses Edith Creek at the crest just above the falls so you can’t really see it from that trail. However, there is a little side trail (not suitable for wheel chairs) that leads down the hillside for a view of the falls with Mt. Rainier in the background. Quite lovely.
Skyline Trail near Myrtle Falls
Myrtle Falls, Skyline Trail, Mt. Rainier NP
Myrtle Falls, Skyline Trail & Mt. Rainier
But, Myrtle Falls was not the highlight of this little hike. Rather it was the fall color along the trail. When we think of fall color we typically bring to mind Maple and Aspen trees and those scenes from New England. Here the colors are as vibrant as new England but it’s not the trees – which are predominantly evergreens. It’s the ground hugging bushes that give the colors. I don’t know the names of these plants but even nameless they were putting on quite a show. Entire sections of hillside were covered with different hue’s of red, orange and yellow offset by a the green of the evergreens and the deep blue sky. Absolutely wonderful.
Skyline Trail Trailhead, Paradise Area, Mt. Rainier NP
Mt. Rainier and Yellow Meadow at Paradise
Hillside ablaze with red and yellow, Paradise, Mt. Rainier NP
Red carpeted hillside cut by upper Skyline Trail
Red color cascading down the hill
Red and Gold meadow
After our little walk to Myrtle Falls we discovered that the Visitor Center had opened for the day so we spent some time looking at the exhibits. Our next destination at Mt. Rainier was to be the Sunrise area. But, as we found out at the visitor center, all the facilities there had already closed for the season. The bathrooms were still open but no food or store. So, we picked up some sandwiches for lunch and left the paradise area.
As you can see on the map included in this post, to get from Paradise to Sunrise you need to go all they way back down Steven Canyon Rd, then head north along the eastern side of the park and then go back west through another entrance.
Along the way down Steven’s Canyon Rd. we stopped to take more photos, many of which were the same places I talked about last time so won’t go through them again in this post.
The White River entrance – where you reenter the park to get to Sunrise - follows the picturesque White River for about 5 miles before crossing the river and heading up a series of long switchbacks. The area along the river goes through a deep evergreen forest where the road seems to be at the bottom of a canyon made of trees. Although there are many pull outs, and trail heads along this road, the two main attractions are Sunrise Point, than then a bit further on the Sunrise area itself.
At an elevation of 6,400 ft, Sunrise is the highest point in the park you can drive to. It is surrounded by meadows and mountain peaks with a great view of Emmons Glacier on the North side of Mt. Rainier. The area was originally known as Yakima Park. Unlike the more haphazard development at Paradise (and Longmire), Yakima Park was totally preplanned. The plan included a large hotel, a community of 200 housekeeping cabins, an automobile service station, toilet facilities, and a large set of unique blockhouses along with a stockade. However it is now a mere shadow of it’s former self. There are two main buildings remaining. One was the Inn at one time but is now a restaurant and gift shop (both closed for season) and offices. The other building is a visitor center (also closed for the season). Everything else, except the scenery, is long gone.
Initial construction of the area was completed in 1932 with the first phase of the Sunrise Lodge, the Sunrise Comfort Station, the service station, the South Blockhouse and the Stockade. The North Blockhouse and Community Building were completed in 1944. Unfortunately a small disagreement over in Europe and the Western Pacific curtailed much of the development; Only one wing of the hotel was ever completed and those 200 guest cabins were sold off and carted down the mountain. Many of those cabins became housing for migrant labor on eastern Washington farms or for regular housing around Puget Sound.
First (and as it turned out only) wing of the Lodge at Sunrise (no longer used as a lodge)
Lodge at Sunrise and meadow where 200 guest cabins once stood.
After our picnic lunch we headed off on the Sunrise Nature trail. This is a loop of about 1.5 miles with a 300ft elevation gain. It’s actually made up of portions of several other trails but goes up the hillside behind the lodge to Sourdough Ridge, follows the ridge awhile, and then comes back down to the lodge area. At this little bit higher elevation, most of the brilliant fall colors we saw at Paradise had already faded, but in their wake, was left bright golden meadows with Mt. Rainier as a backdrop.
Golden meadow with Mt. Rainier and Emmons Glacier from Sunrise Nature Trail
Antler Peak along Sourdough Ridge, Sunrise Nature Trail, Sunrise, Mt. Rainier NP
Silver snag along Sunrise Nature Trail
The Cascade range to the East from Sourdough Ride
More Golden Meadows along Sunrise Nature Trail
After leaving the Sunrise developed area we headed back down the mountain this time taking the opportunity to stop at Sunrise Point. At 6, 118 ft, Sunrise point is only a little bit lower than the Sunrise Lodge area. From White River the road comes up the side of the mountain right up to this point at the end of the ridge, makes a U-turn and heads on up the ridge to the Sunset Lodge area. From here you have a 360 degree view which includes Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and at times other major mountains of the north cascade range. This, coupled with stunning meadows and an emerald green alpine lake make this a great place to spend some time just gazing at nature.
Marcus Peak from Sunrise Point
Sunrise Lake from Sunrise Point
So, with the afternoon fading and 260 miles to go before we get to our next hotel, we headed down the mountain and said goodbye to Mt. Rainier NP.
In the next installment we’ll start our exploration of a farming area in the southeastern corner of Washington state called “The Palouse”.
- You can see images of this area on my website at
- My websie home page
Thanks for reading -- Dan
Keywords: DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogPalouse, Fall Color, Mt. Rainier, Paradise, Sunrise, Sunrise Point, Travel Blog, Travel Log, Washington
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