Paradise at Rainier
We stayed overnight in Ashford at Whitakers Bunkhouse. Staying here meant that we could head off early and get to the trailhead as the sun was rising. We parked at the Paradise Jackson Visitor’s centre; almost empty at this early hour. The Skyline Trail is the most popular hiking route at Paradise. Walking on Rainier’s south side it is one of the most popular hikes in Washington and provides hikers like us a unique opportunity to see up close the breath taking beauty of Washington’s grandest mountain.
Paradise Inn was constructed in 1916, but before even before it was built, Paradise valley was already one of the state’s most loved hiking destinations. In early summer the hills are adorned with alpine meadows full of lupins, mountain heather, scarlet paintbrush, cascade asters and bistort; none left in September but I my thoughts wandered back to our fabulous hike over Fuenta De in the Picos de Europa in Spain on the Camino Lebaniego.
The Skyline Trail
We climbed the steps from the car park, where the American Flag was now flying at half-mast to honour the Queen, and started towards the trailhead. You had the choice of going left or right, because the Skyline Trail is a 10 kilometre loop; we chose left. Looking back to the parking area, we could see the sky change colour from grey to apricot and finally to blue; I love this time of day!
Upwards we walked, we weren’t alone as this is a popular route. Before long there are choices, there are little spurs you can take to take a closer look at the glacier. Onwards and onwards and upwards and upwards we walked. We passed a Groundhog, he seemed to be greeting this morning hikers. Up and up, following groups of skiers or mountain climbers, we could tell by the mix of gear and ropes attached to their packs that they wouldn’t be following the skyline loop like us.
We reached Nisqually Glacier Vista and stopped for photos and a drink. We could look down through the valley and see the glacial’s retreat. Many hikers turn around here and walk back to the trailhead, but not us. We were walking on. I can’t understate the beauty of this trail. Even as we left the tree line and on past the retreating snow and walked across the stony alpine scree it remained beautiful.
Onwards to Panorama Point. There were less and less hikers as we walked on and the terrain became more rustic. And as we continued we watched the skiers and mountaineers head off, away from our path and onwards on their own journeys. We reached the high point of our walk, at 2,149 metres we stood on a particularly windy point and took a selfie. Around us in the distance through the morning haze we could look out at the other giants that the area is famous for, namely Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and an a clear day Mount Hood.
The High Skyline
We continued up along the high Skyline Trail, picking our way along and down the path and soaking up the views. Onwards and onwards and down and down we continued, and slowly the landscape changed back from stone to green, with plants and trees and streams and waterfalls.
The lower we walked the busier the trail became until we reached Paradise Inn. We thought of stopping for a drink but it was very busy and we decided instead to refill our water bottles in the visitors centre. We had a long drive ahead and it was time to leave.
We came to the US to visit Rainier. We weren’t disappointed. Today ranks as one of our greatest hiking days.