Mount Rainier National Park

The Best of Paradise – in Mount Rainier National Park

Wildflower meadows surrounded by groves of fir and hemlock, stunning views of the volcano’s snowfields are the main reason we call Mount Rainier National Park’s Southwestern corner Paradise.

It was one of the early pioneers back in the 1800s, Martha Longmire, who gave the place its name. When she first hiked up to this place and saw the wildflowers in the meadow on the side of the mountain, she exclaimed: “Oh, this is Paradise!”. Every time I go, I feel the same way.

Mount Rainier National Park

“This is Paradise!” – Mount Rainier in August

Nothing beats the view from the lodge of the snowcapped crest of the volcano, surrounded by lush green meadows filled with wildflowers. Hundreds of species blanket the ground from late July through August.

But even if you’re not there at the peak (hard to catch since it is different every year), you’ll still see a few of them blooming, and the vistas are amazing, no matter what time of the year you go..

Flowers in bloom in Paradise, Mt Rainier
IMG 0711
After rain in August in Paradise (Mt Rainier)
Flowers in Paradise. Mount Rainier NP
Flowers in Paradise. Mount Rainier NP

It is easy to get to the Paradise area where the Visitor Center and the Historic Lodge are. Just follow the main road through the Park. Once there, you’ll find trails for every level, from easy, fit for toddlers, through more strenuous, and even some that summit the mountain. Since I was visiting the area with kids, I know the easy to moderate trails the most. They are spectacular, though very busy in the high season.

Trails in and around Paradise

I don’t know about you, but the main activity I enjoy in any National Park is hiking, and Mount Rainier is no exception. This Park offers over 260 miles of designated and well-maintained trails for visitors and hikers of all abilities. Some of the most popular ones start around Paradise.

The Nisqually Vista Trail

One of the easiest and still spectacular hikes in the park is the Nisqually Vista Trail, starting at the end of the lower Visitor Center parking lot.

It is usually the first one we do when we drive up to the Visitor Center. We got used to doing this when the kids were younger, and it became somewhat of a tradition. We hike this trail round trip in less than an hour, even with multiple stops to enjoy the forest and the views.

On the trail in Paradise. Hiking in a cloud.
The cloud cover was sudden. Rain followed. On the Nisqually Vista Trail in Paradise. Mount Rainier.

During our last trip, we noticed a small group stopped in front of us, in one of the denser forested areas of the trail. They were looking into a clearing, taking pictures. We guessed they found wildlife and walked quietly until we were next to them. We were right: a fawn and its mother were grazing among the trees.

A fawn grazing in the forest by the Nisqually Vista Trail
A fawn grazing in the forest by the Nisqually Vista Trail

The Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls

Two trails start behind the Visitor Center. The shorter loop, called the Life Systems Trail, is only half a mile long but goes through spectacular dense green forests. It is our choice trail after a long hike or when we only have a short time.

On the Trail in Paradise. Mount Rainier
On the Trail in Paradise. Mount Rainier

But it’s worth taking the Skyline trail, even if for a short time. The full trail is 5.5 miles long and difficult, but the first mile and half to Myrtle Falls is mostly level and easy enough for kids. After crossing the bridge above the falls, you can loop back to Paradise or continue on the Skyline trail towards the mountain.

Mt. Rainier. Silver Falls
Myrtle Falls in Paradise

Last time we visited, two marmots were playing around the bridge and seemed to be posing for the hikers.

Marmots by the Silver Falls Trail in Mt Rainier
Marmots by Myrtle Falls

The trail gets slippery around the waterfall, so watch your step. Weather is unpredictable; we were in a cloud one minute, enjoyed the full sunshine and got rained on during the same hike once.

Rainy Day in Paradise.
Rainy Day in Paradise

Living full time in the desert we enjoyed even the rained-on part. We took at least two hours for this hike, with frequent stops along the river and sitting by the small wooden bridge watching the marmots play.

Paradise Inn

When possible, we try to stay at Paradise Inn, one of two lodges in the park. For a few years, it was under renovation, and we could not stay there, so we enjoyed the Longmire Lodge during that time, but couldn’t wait until Paradise reopened.

Paradise Inn - Mt Rainier National Park
Paradise Inn

Built in 1916, the lodge’s design fits into the surrounding landscape. Because of its rustic beauty, it’s listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Filled with heavy furniture built from local materials, the Great Hall at the entrance is spectacular. Two big stone fireplaces warm up hikers who summited the mountain, a spectacular grandfather clock sits on the side, and a rustic piano with heavy log corner-posts awaits players to try it.

Dining in Paradise Lodge is one of the most enjoyable culinary experiences. The food is exquisite, and you get to enjoy the view of the mountain while enjoying your meal.

The Paradise Jackson Visitor Center

The first time we spent time in Paradise, the Visitor Center was half-buried in snow. It looked like some UFO from an old sci-fi movie. No complaints the kids loved it. They got their first Junior Ranger badges there and enjoyed learning about the mountain and its surroundings.

But as we found out, its upkeep was hard. Its design, while interesting, did not fit with the surroundings. The mountain-home designs have a purpose, besides the looks. The heavy snow needs to fall off the roof, hence its sharp angle.

Jackson Memorial Visitor Center.
The new Visitor Center fits the surroundings.

The new Paradise Jackson Visitor Center is designed with the location in mind. Much larger than the old, it fits perfectly in the environment. It houses exhibits and learning centers about the mountain. Its walls are top-to-bottom windows, when open, but they are behind heavy doors, protecting them during snow storms.

The large hall when we enter is open and bright, and an open stairway leads up to a ledge where all the hands-on exhibits are. Impressive.


European explorers discovered the Pacific Northwest in the second half of the 18th century. However, people lived in the area long before that. Native American tribes lived in the Mount Rainier area for centuries before.

What’s in a Name?

The Natives had a different name for the mountain, calling it “Tacoma”. Though no one really knows the exact meaning of the word, most interpretations are similar, and they are all evocative of the mountain. The one I see most often, “frozen waters” could refer to the glaciers on the mountain, the 25 major ones.

Other interpretations I have seen, include “mother of waters”, just as fitting. The name is derived from the ancient Lushootseed language, now lost, in which “co” means water.

We could’ve kept the name Tacoma for this mountain, it would’ve been nice. However, a different name stuck.

When Captain George Vancouver noticed the mountain in 1792, while surveying the Pacific Coast, he named it after his friend, Admiral Peter Rainier.

During most of the 19th century, people used both names. But, later on, Mount Rainier was the only one used in official documents, and it became exclusive.

Regardless of what we call it, the mountain awaits all those who need its presence.

Who Lived Here in Ancient Times?

Archaeologists found evidence of people living here as far back as 9,000 years ago. The ancestors of a few Native American tribes lived close to the mountain and used its resources.

The ancestors of those ancient people, six modern tribes, the Nisqually, Puyallup, Yakama, Cowlitz, Muckleshoot and Squaxin Island still have traditions that connect them to the mountain…

And then the White Man Came… and in this case, he protected the mountain by

Creating a National Park

Mount Rainier National Park was the fifth one in the Nation, established in 1899. Yet, in the early days, this designation did not mean they protected the land from development. In the beginning, there weren’t enough regulations on what activities would be allowed, so a lot of mining and logging was going on.

Being so close to both Tacoma and Washington, the park had many visitors from early on. In fact, Mount Rainier was the first National Park to allow cars on its premises. They built the road to Paradise Park in 1910 to allow for the influx of visitors.

Created in 1916, the National Park Service changed things for the better. They started the interpretive programs, educating visitors about the park and its resources. In 1917 they built Paradise Inn, one of my favorite lodges in any National Park.

During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt came up with a so-called “New Deal”, with new funding and job offerings through the Civilian Conservation Corps, who worked maintaining trails, campgrounds and fire protection.

I’m no historian, I learned all this over the years of visiting, from ranger talks, exhibits and short films, and my kids, who earned their first Junior Ranger badges in this Park.

If you go…

Quick Facts About Mount Rainier National Park

  • Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet tall.
  • The mountain is an active volcano. It last erupted about 1,000 years ago.
  • It has 25 major glaciers.
  • Mount Rainier became a National Park in 1899 and was the fifth one established in the United States.
  • The Park is in Southwest Washington state.
  • Flora: It has 964 plant species documented within its boundaries.
  • Fauna: We know of 182 bird species, 65 mammal species, 15 reptile and amphibian species, and 12 fish species that call the area home.
  • For visitors, the park offers: five visitor centers, four accessible campgrounds, 260 miles of hiking trails, and 147 miles of roads
  • Paradise is the area around the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center and Paradise Lodge, in the Southwest corner of the park.
Mount Rainier
Mt Rainier National Park

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