Pacific Northwest Mount Rainier National Park

Thank you for visiting my family vacations on a budget blog. My family loves to travel! However my husband & I are both teachers making a budget all the more important.  We have one child, our son is 13. I want to show him as much of this wonderful world as I can before he is grown. This summer we visited the Pacific Northwest for our family vacation.  We traveled July 11th-20th throughout this beautiful area of the United States. In this blog post I will tell you about our day spent in Mount Rainier National Park: where we stayed, things we did, & travel tips to help you as you plan your next vacation. In the coming weeks I will feature a different destination or travel tip from our Pacific Northwest journey. Subscribe to my blog so you don't miss any of my posts from this fantastic family vacation (on a budget). 

Where did we stay?
Mount Rainier, as with most of the national parks we have visited, has limited accommodations in the two on-site lodges Paradise Inn & National Park Inn. The lodging that is available is usually booked well in advance & the price is considerably higher than the same type of accommodation outside the national park. As I searched for a place to stay inside Mount Rainier National Park, I found the rooms I might have been interested in were already booked & were too expensive for my budget. The rooms that were available were rustic & I had to share a bathroom with other rooms around me for a price that was considerably more money than I was willing to pay for such accommodations. The National Park Service website gives you suggestions for lodging depending on the entrance you choose.  We entered the park at the Steven's Canyon entrance near the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center.

Since lodging inside the national park was not an option, I had to find it elsewhere. After spending our first day heading east along the Columbia River Gorge we were either going to have to double back or enter Mount Rainier from the southeastern corner. Instead of doubling back we decided to go to Yakima, Washington to spend the night. Yakima is a good sized small city with a population of about 100,000. You will find many hotel & dining options in Yakima. 

The hotel we selected was the Comfort Suites in Yakima, Washington. The hotel was recently renovated. I was able to book this hotel during the height of tourist season for $100 per night by checking room rates weekly after I made my initial reservation to see if the price dropped. Remember to choose the easy cancellation option when you book your hotel room so you are not locked into a rate. Comfort Suites Yakima was in a quiet location that was on the highway to Mount Rainier National Park. The hotel was very clean, a top priority for me to stay at a hotel. We liked the room was a suite, it was nice to have a sofa to relax on. The beds were very comfortable. The breakfast was tasty & had the usual breakfast fare, eggs, sausage, waffles, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels, pastries, etc. We only stayed one night but would stay here again if in the area. 

Comfort Suites Yakima, WA - We recommend this hotel!

I like the rooms are suites.  The sofa & extra space makes for a more relaxing stay.

The beds were very comfortable. 

I prefer the sink to be outside the bathroom, but at least the bathroom had plenty of space.
What did we do at Mount Rainier National Park?
We only had one day at Mount Rainier National Park, I wish we could have stayed at least 3 days so we could see everything. Thankfully it was July so the days were long giving us more time to see this beautiful state. Below is how we chose to spend our day in the order in which we visited the different sites. Mount Rainier National Park might just be the most beautiful place we have ever seen!

At the bottom of this blog post you will find a Google Map with our stops marked you can use as you plan your trip.

1. Getting There: Since we did not have a hotel inside Mount Rainier National Park we had to drive about 1 1/2 hours to get there. We left the hotel in Yakima, WA a little before 8 AM and took Highway 12 to the Stevens Gap entrance. The drive was absolutely beautiful! We stopped several times to take photographs. 
One of the many beautiful places on scenic US Highway 12.

You can see the falls from miles away as you are traveling west on scenic US Highway 12. Make sure when you stop at the overlook that you take the trail to your left & follow it for a great location to view the falls. 
Clear Creek Falls on scenic US Highway 12

One of the many beautiful places on scenic US Highway 12. 
Washington Highway 123 takes you to the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park.  

Stevens Canyon Entrance Mount Rainier National Park

2. Entrance fees for Mount Rainier National Park: At the time of our visit in July 2017 the entrance fee for Mount Rainier National Park was $25 for one vehicle and passengers for seven consecutive days, $10 per person, & $20 per motorcycle. We paid nothing for our entrance fee. We had the America the Beautiful national parks pass that is good for one year. We purchased it when we visited Grand Canyon National Park in November 2016. The cost was $80 for the year & it gave us free entrance to all national parks, national forests, & any federal lands or historic sites. If you plan to visit 3 or more national parks, forests, lands, or historic sites within a year I recommend investing in the America the Beautiful pass. We have gotten our money's worth from the pass.  The National Park Service offers several other passes such at active military & their dependents get free entrance, senior passes are available at reduced rates, passes are available for the disabled, Every Kid in the Park lets 4th grade students in free.  To learn more about the passes that are available visit America the Beautiful Passes.

3. Our first stop in Mount Rainier National Park was Grove of the Patriarchs: The Grove of the Patriarchs is home to trees that are thousands of years old & hundreds of feet tall. The Grove of the Patriarchs is located just past the Stevens Canyon entrance. We arrived around 9:30 AM to temperatures around 45 degrees F in July! So we zipped up our hoodies & headed out. This easy hike is a loop trail that is about 1.2 miles long. The trail runs alongside the Ohanapecosh River to an island of old growth trees.  To cross the river & get to the island you must traverse a suspension bridge. The bridge is a one person at a time crossing so you might have to wait your turn.  Thankfully we were there early enough that we did not have to wait to cross.  It was fun to cross the bridge to this world of giants. It felt as if we were in a fairy tale. Once on the island you walk through the grove on a wooden boardwalk. We spent about 1 1/2 hours hiking the Grove of the Patriarchs. How often do you get to see trees that are 3 to 4 stories tall? When you visit Mount Rainier National Park make sure to stop by the Grove of the Patriarchs - you will not be disappointed. 
The Grove of the Patriarchs is near the Stevens Canyon Entrance

This easy trail to the Grove of the Patriarchs follows the beautiful Ohanapecosh River to an old growth forest island.

The Ohanapecosh River was crystal clear.

The suspension bridge takes you to the island of old growth trees.  

Grove of the Patriarchs 
4. The Drive to Paradise... We drove 21 miles (it took about 40 minutes) from the Grove of the Patriarchs to Paradise & never left the national park. The drive was stunning even though at the time clouds were low. We stopped at a couple of scenic viewpoints along the way.  
Tunnels are always fun to drive through!

The highway was literally carved from the mountainside.

The clouds were low as we drove to Paradise offering a serene setting.

A waterfall is barely visible through the clouds. 
The drive between the Grove & Paradise was filled with views such as this.

4. Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park: Paradise is an appropriately named place. During the summer you will find alpine meadows filled with wildflowers surrounded by snow capped glaciers. I have never been to the Swiss Alps but from the pictures I have seen, Paradise looks just like it. At an elevation of 5,400 feet stunning views are at every turn. 

5. A Picnic in Paradise: When we arrived in Paradise we decided to eat our picnic lunch before hiking for the afternoon.  As I have said on previous posts, I bring soft sided lunch kits with me on vacation for picnics.  I also take gallon sized Ziploc bags that I fill with ice in the hotel before we leave each morning. This keeps our drinks & lunch cold & saves us some money eating out. We parked in the lower parking lot near the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center & found a bench to eat our lunch. We saved money not eating expensive food from the restaurants in Paradise. The restaurants are pricey & did not get very good reviews. 
Our view while picnicking in Paradise
6. Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center Paradise: After our picnic we walked up the hill to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. This visitor center looks more like a Swiss Alp lodge than a visitor center.  Inside we found a line of people waiting to speak to a park ranger.  I stood in line while my husband & son explored the two story building. The wait was less than 10 minutes. I am so glad I spoke to the ranger.  He was able to tell me Skyline Trail was closed in parts due to dangerous conditions so I could not make the loop as I planned.  If I had not spoken with him we would have hiked the trail not knowing the potential dangers. He was able to suggest trails I could take instead.  When you visit Mount Rainier make sure you go to the visitor center & speak to a ranger about the conditions of the mountain before you head out for your hike. In addition to talking to the ranger we also explored the museum upstairs that explains the formation of Mount Rainier, visited the gift shop, & we watched a movie about Mount Rainier National Park that lasted about 25 minutes. After the movie we were ready to begin our hike.
The visitor center has picturesque windows with fantastic views! 

Take the time to speak to a park ranger before hiking at Mount Rainier National Park.
7. Take a hike! After speaking to the ranger we were ready to hike the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park. The first hike was to Myrtle Falls using the Skyline Trail & it was a pretty crowded trail perhaps because it was paved.  It is wheel chair accessible & is 1 mile round trip. We decided to hike past the falls continuing on Skyline Trail until we came to the snow drifts as the ranger had warned us about.  The trail just seemed to call us to explore just a little more, so we did. After Myrtle Falls the number of people on the trail reduced significantly to almost no one.  This is the kind of hiking we prefer, not a Disney World hike, an adventure hike. It's hard to decide because we have been blessed to see so many beautiful things over the years but our hike on Skyline Trail might be the most beautiful place we have ever been. We spent about 2 hours on the trail that day & words cannot describe the beauty so I will try pictures:
These steps are located behind the visitor center & serve as a trail head.

The first 1/2 mile of Skyline Trail is paved & has ropes up to keep you off the wildflowers budding beneath the snow. 

Myrtle Falls is gorgeous but crowded.

This foot bridge crosses Myrtle Falls & is the start of Skyline Trail.

The Texas boy enjoying some snow! We do not get snow during the winter & they still have it in July!

We crossed a small creek. Thankfully no one got their feet wet in the frigid water.

We found beauty at every turn.

This is where we turned around & headed back toward the visitor center.
We were told by fellow hikers the snow was too deep to go much further than this point.
This might be the most beautiful place we have ever seen. It is definitely top 5 on our list!

8. Paradise Inn: We hiked back to the visitor center & decided to check out the Paradise Inn located next door. This century old inn has old world charm abound. The Inn has a large lobby with a fire burning in the fireplace - in July! The lobby just seemed to beckon us to sit a while and so we did. We had a snack & enjoyed a bit of relaxation in this beautiful old lodge.  
Paradise Inn Lobby

A fire burns at Paradise Inn lobby mid-afternoon in JULY!
9. Take ANOTHER Hike! After some down time at the Paradise Inn we set out for our final hike of the day - Nisqually Vista hike from the west side of the lower parking lot for the visitor center. This hike is a 1.1 mile loop trail that is paved but not wheelchair accessible.  It is more strenuous than the Myrtle Falls trail but I would still consider it to be easy. As we hiked we kept watching the top of Mount Rainier to see if it would emerge from the clouds for us.  As fate would have it, the top never showed. The hike was beautiful all the same, but not as beautiful as Skyline Trail. 
Follow the trail for spectacular views of Mount Rainier & the Nisqually Glacier.

Take the steps to the trail head.

If you take the trail counter clockwise you will have views of Mount Rainier as you hike.

We kept hoping the top of Mount Rainier would emerge from the clouds but it did not.

The Nisqually Glacier has receded significantly over the years leaving what you see here.
 Our day at Mount Rainier National Park was memorable. My only regret is we did not stay for more than one day.  Guess we will have to visit again!

10. Dinner with the Locals: Our hotel was 2 hours from Paradise so I found towns between & began searching for restaurants that sounded good. I struck gold in Eatonville, WA! Eatonville is located about an hour and 15 minutes north of Paradise. We stopped in at a cafe just off the main street in town called Cruiser Cafe. When I vacation I like to eat where the locals eat & Cruiser Cafe was exactly what I was looking for. My husband and son had the beer battered cod & I had the hamburger. The food was fantastic! The wait staff was friendly. The prices were affordable! What more could you ask for? I highly recommend a stop at Cruiser Cafe so you can dine with the locals.
We recommend Cruiser Cafe, 106 Washington Ave S, Eatonville, WA

11. With our bellies full we headed out to our final stop for the day, our hotel one hour away in Auburn, WA. The car ride to the hotel was filled with conversation about the things we had seen that day & the absolute beauty that is Mount Rainier National Park.

Where did we stay after our visit to Mount Rainier National Park?
As I have said in this blog post, lodging at Mount Rainier National Park is quite expensive & difficult to acquire during peak tourist season. Therefore we had to find a hotel that was outside the national park in the correct direction for where we would visit next.  I knew after Mount Rainier National Park we were going to the San Juan Islands in far northwest Washington so I needed a hotel somewhere along the way.  The largest choice would be Seattle.  However, hotels in Seattle are quite expensive & parking is a nightmare in the city.  We opted instead to look at smaller towns along the way to San Juan Islands. I knew I did not want to drive more than 2 hours to the hotel after leaving Mount Rainier National Park. 

I chose the LaQuinta Inn in Auburn, Washington for our one night stay. We had never stayed at a LaQuinta Inn prior to this trip.  Let me start with good: the hotel was clean & the beds were comfortable.  We liked there was an over sized chair in the room for us to relax in after our day at Mount Rainier.  The staff was friendly & helpful. Now for the bad... The air conditioner would not cool the room. The thermostat was not set to a cool temperature when we arrived, unlike all of the other hotels we had stayed in on the trip.  We lowered the temperature on the wall thermostat & the AC would come on for only a few minutes & then it turned off & the room was still very hot. After an hour we called the front desk & were told maintenance had left for the day so they brought us a box fan to help cool the room.  About 2 hours after we arrived the room finally started to cool & we were able to sleep. The LaQuinta Inn Auburn in next to a very busy highway.  Our room faced the highway & even though there were trees planted to block the noise, we heard road noise ALL NIGHT LONG.  The shower head came off in my hand as I attempted to lower it for my height. The next morning we awoke early & headed to breakfast at the start time.  The breakfast options were limited compared to the previous hotels we had stayed in.  The milk was not cold - yuck! The eggs & sausage did not taste good either. The apple I had was brown on the inside - isn't Washington known for its apples? Overall we would NOT recommend this hotel.  I am sure if we were in a different room on the other side of the hotel away from the highway with a working air conditioner we would have had a different opinion.  However, based on our experience we will not stay at LaQuinta Inn Auburn, Washington again. 
LaQuinta Inn Auburn, Washington our least favorite hotel of our trip. LOTS of road noise among other problems.

The GOOD: The room was clean & the beds were comfortable.

The GOOD: We liked the over-sized chair for relaxing in after a day at Mount Rainier.

The BAD: The shower head came off in my hand.

The BAD: The breakfast selection was limited & tasted bad.
The BAD: The room would not cool due to a faulty thermostat.

The map below has the places we visited on day 2 of our Pacific Northwest vacation & can help you as you plan your vacation. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog so you don't miss any of our 1gr8vacation to the Pacific Northwest! 

Wherever your travels take you, may God bless you each step of the way.