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Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is the star of the Seattle-Tacoma area's breathtaking mountainous skyline. The highest peak in Washington, snowy Mount Rainier is a popular destination for both serious mountaineers and recreational visitors.

The sprawling, 360-square-mile national park surrounding the mountain offers a number of amenities to visitors, including lodging, food, campgrounds, winter sports and over 260 miles of hiking trails.

Midsummer is the busiest season at the park, so it's best to visit mid-week during those months to avoid the crowds and parking hassles. Spring and fall are more leisurely seasons to plan a visit, but the weather can shut down some areas. To avoid disappointment, pay attention to the snow forecasts and call ahead. During the winter, most of the camping and hiking activities are closed down, but the Longmire Museum, the National Park Inn and the Longmire Grocery Store are generally open year-round to provide a cozy winter getaway.

There are over a dozen choices of campground and picnic areas around the park, but the most popular is the Ohanapecosh Campground, and for good reason. Located at a lower elevation than most of the park, Ohanapecosh offers verdant, old-growth forests and a sparkling river instead of snow. A campground amphitheater and a summer program of family activities make it a camping favorite.

For those preferring less rugged accommodation, there are two hotels in the park: the National Park Inn, offering cozy atmosphere, a full-service dining room and a general store, and the Paradise Inn, which is the largest of the two with 121 rooms, a gift shop and a tantalizing brunch menu.

The Wonderland Trail is the ultimate hiking experience at the park for those with the skill and endurance to take it on. It is a strenuous 93-mile trip that makes a loop around Mount Rainier and takes the hiker through lowland valleys and forests and up into alpine terrain. For the less ambitious, there are many trails available throughout the park: the Trail of Shadows is a short, 20-minute loop offering a visit to a 19th century cabin replica and some education on Longmire's history, and the Green Lake Trail is a popular day hike for its centuries-old Douglas fir trees and the stunning Ranger Falls.

For legendary views available nowhere else, Mount Rainier has a number of not-to-miss sites. To see what it looks like on top of the world, ride the Mt. Rainier Gondola up to the Summit House atop Crystal Mountain. The Summit House provides delicious food and an amazing view of the Cascades, but it's the ride up that's the real attraction; during the summer, the gondola glides over scenic mountain streams and a sea of wildflower meadows.

 In the northwestern corner of the park, the serene Carbon River forest is a peek into an actual inland temperate rainforest. One of the most beautiful sights in the park, however, are the famed wildflower meadows at Paradise that gave the area its name. There is so much to see and do at Mount Rainier, it's best to choose one of the areas and focus on exploring it in-depth. Indulge in learning at Longmire, be pampered in Paradise, camp in natural splendor in Ohanapecosh, hike through Carbon and Mowich, and admire the alpine displays at Sunrise. This is one mountain that has something for everyone.

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