"Oh, what a paradise!"
That was Martha Longmire’s reaction upon seeing the lush meadows and spectacular wildflowers of Mount Rainier’s southern valley for the very first time in 1885. The name would stick. Today the most popular area in Mount Rainier National Park is known as “Paradise”, and once you set your own eyes upon it you’ll understand why.
Based on the photos and the information I gathered beforehand, I had the feeling that the Skyline Trail in the Paradise Valley was going to be great hike. However, I probably underestimated just how amazing it really would be. The Paradise area is absolutely stunning. In fact, I would probably have to rank the Skyline Trail among my top 5 hikes of all time.
First time visitors may find the network of trails at Paradise a little confusing. You’ll have several options, but the most popular route is the Skyline Trail loop. You can hike the loop “as is”, or you can tack on side trails to explore additional territory, or use connectors to cut-off portions of the hike and decrease your overall mileage. Fortunately the trail junctions are all well marked.
For our hike we basically stayed on the main loop and hiked in a clockwise direction. Our only deviation was the side trip to visit Alta Vista, which is a little more than a half-mile from the trailhead.
The hike begins near the Paradise visitor center. Here you’ll find one the most interesting and unique trailheads you’ll ever come across. Etched into the stone steps is a quote from John Muir about his reaction to seeing this incredibly beautiful valley in 1889:
"... the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."
Although it was a little late in the season there were quite a few wildflowers that were still in bloom during our early-September hike. As the wildflower season progresses you’ll have the opportunity to see avalanche lilies, pink heather, Western pasque, Rosy spirea, purple lupine, cinquefoil, magenta paintbrush, bistort, Jacobs ladder, lousewort, valerian and many others at various times throughout the spring and summer.
Despite the top of Mount Rainier being shrouded in fog that morning, we still had outstanding views of the rugged Tatoosh Range towards the south, as well as views of the Nisqually Glacier towards the north and west. Nisqually is the 7th largest glacier on the mountain, and covers an area of roughly 1.8 square miles.
With so much of the mountain covered in ice and snow, it’s hard to believe that Mt. Rainier is part of the “Ring of Fire,” a string of volcanoes that almost circles around the entire Pacific Ocean. Indeed, Rainier is still an active volcano. It occasionally spews ash and steam, and there are periodic earth tremors. The last small eruption took place in the late 1800s, while the last large eruption occurred about 1000 years ago.
Trail: Skyline Trail
RT Distance: 5.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1650 feet
Max Elevation: 7015 feet
TH Location: Paradise
Map: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails Illustrated Map
Day Hike! Mount Rainier uncovers the best trails for the day tripper, whether you’re a newbie hiker or a veteran with hundreds of miles on your boots. Northwest outdoors expert and Seattle Times's Trail Mix columnist Ron Judd reviews more than 50 of the best day hike trails in Mt. Rainier National Park, from Paradise and Sunrise to the lower foothills. The book describes classic routes - from easy to moderate to extreme - giving hikers the choices they want.