A Day in Paradise – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part IV)

I’ve been a lot of cool places. The US map on my bedroom wall is covered in pins; I’m up to 43 states and 57 National Park Service sites, not to mention 7 Canadian provinces and numerous national and provincial parks up there as well. So when I say that the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier is quite possibly the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done, I have a decent number of locations to compare it to.

In fact, it’s one of the two Skyline Trails that can be found on my All-time Favorite Hikes list.

Of all our days in Mount Rainier National Park, this one was the warmest, sunniest, and by far the best. It began with a cloudless view of Mount Rainier from the main road as we drove from Cougar Rock Campground to the Paradise turnoff.  Continue reading


Feeling Small – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part III)

Day three at Mount Rainier was full of lakes and waterfalls. Once again, we were greeted by blue skies as we headed out of Ohanapecosh, traveling west down Steven’s Canyon Road to Cougar Rock campground, which would be our home base for the remainder of our time here. We took the entire day, stopping along the way at the multitude of pullouts as well as taking a few short hikes. The first stop was Grove of the Patriarchs, an interpretive trail that leads through giant old-growth forests and across the Ohanapecosh River on a suspension bridge.

If ever there was a place to do a handstand, it would have been on the bridge. My bad. I’ve learned my lesson for next time.

Continue reading

First Glimpse – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part II)

The next morning we woke to blue skies, the fog of the previous afternoon long gone. This was excellent news for us, as we were headed up to the northeast section of the park to catch our first glimpses of the mountain. 

From Ohanapecosh, we drove north to the White River entrance. Five miles in, the road forks; left leads to White River ranger station and campground and right leads to the Sunrise area of the park. We went left. 

From the White River Campground, we followed the Glacier Basin trail; one mile up, it intersects with the 1-mile Emmons Moraine trail, which leads to an overlook of Emmons Glacier. Continue reading

At the Edge – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part I)

Mount Rainier is a giant, snow-capped peak located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. It rises to 14,410 feet above sea level and, though not the tallest mountain in the continental US, is the most topographically prominent one. The summit of Mount Rainier is often above the clouds; on a typical day, you’re probably more likely to see it from your flight into Seattle than from the ground. A glance at the peak reveals numerous glaciers and snowfields. A lesser-known fact, though, is that Mount Rainier is actually an active volcano. Luckily there are no signs of an imminent eruption.

The mountain and surrounding area form the beautiful Mount Rainier National Park, a highlight of the Cascade region. The mountain is encircled by the 93-mile Wonderland Trail (it takes 93 miles to get around the mountain – that gives an idea of just how big it is!). In addition to backpacking this trail and summiting the mountain (neither of which I have done), there are many other hiking and sightseeing opportunities in the park. In the summer of 2012, we set out to accomplish some of these. Continue reading

Top of the World – Beartooth Plateau, Montana & Wyoming

This post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time, because I get to talk all about one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been: The Beartooth Plateau.

The Beartooth Plateau is located high in the Beartooth Mountains, reaching a maximum elevation of nearly 11,000 feet. The Beartooth Mountains – named for a pointy, canine-shaped mountain called the Bear’s Tooth – are located in south-central Montana and north-central Wyoming. The highest mountain in Montana is located here: Granite Peak, which rises to 12,807 feet. Numerous other jagged, rocky peaks tower above the expanse of the plateau, giving rise to an incredibly beautiful and fragile ecosystem. Here in the Beartooth Mountains, snow persists year round. Between the wind and the altitude, even a summertime visit requires a sweatshirt. Wintertime visits are rare, as the plateau is buried under many feet of snow from mid-October to Memorial Day Weekend.

Fortunately for those of us crazy enough to want to venture up to 11,000 feet, there is a way to do so. The Beartooth Highway is designated as an All-American Road, and it’s easy to see why. This stretch of US Highway 212 climbs up and over the plateau and provides 69 miles of beautiful scenery and incredible views. From the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Highway 212 travels through Cooke City, MT before beginning its ascent to the top of the plateau. It’s a long and steep – but absolutely beautiful – drive up to the top, and there are plenty of pullouts at which to stop and enjoy the view.   Continue reading

Porphyry – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, Montana

The United States has 120 National Scenic Byways – sections of road that pass through an area of significance, be it scenic, natural, cultural, historical, archeological, or recreational. The Kings Hill Scenic Byway is one such road. Notable for its scenery, nature, history, and recreational opportunities, it has been dubbed a Scenic Byway by the state of Montana. This 71-mile stretch of US Highway 89 travels through the Little Belt Mountains between junctions with US Highway 12 and US Highway 87.

It took us an hour and a half to get to the southern terminus of the Byway, just outside the small town of White Sulfur Springs, so this was more of a driving day than a hiking day for us. To drive the length of the Byway takes about two hours, not including stops – of which there are many. We stopped first at a picnic area along Newlan Creek, where we saw a tiny frog and lots of wildflowers! Continue reading