Hiking the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

Quarantining and recent advisory against traveling long distances has given Vlad and I a newfound appreciation for hiking over the last few months. We still have plenty of trails in Washington state to check off our now-growing bucket list, but I wanted to share Mount Rainier’s Skyline Trail with those of you who haven’t been.

We did this hike before the recent wildfires along the West Coast, including the one over Labor Day weekend last month that destroyed 80% of Malden, a town in east WA. The fires this year have been devastating and serves as a reminder that we must never take nature, fresh air, wildlife, and an intact home for granted. As I’m writing this, the August Complex fire in California has just become a “gigafire”, burning more than 1 million acres. Put simply, climate change is real. This may be a wake-up call for many of us to reduce our carbon footprint and push for stronger environmental protection. I’m really hoping that whatever learnings, actions and mindsets that we adopt during this time will be enduring – and that we won’t need another disaster to remind us of our responsibility to care for our Earth! Hopefully the pictures and my recounting of our hike below will inspire all of us!

Skyline Trail

The Skyline Trail is a moderate-to-hard, 5.6 mile loop that starts at Paradise, Mount Rainier’s south hub. It has excellent views of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Glacier, and if you go during the summer months, the meadows are beautiful with subalpine wildflowers. Mid-July to mid-October – when enough snow has cleared off the path –  are the recommended months to go.

Getting There

From Seattle, we drove about 3 hours down the I-5S and WA-7S to Mount Rainier National Park. It should only take 2 hours, but we didn’t leave Seattle until 9:30am on a Saturday and winded up hitting traffic past the town of Ashford. This was largely due to a line of cars (and motorcycles) being backed up all the way from the park entrance. We didn’t have an America the Beautiful pass at the time, so we paid the entrance fee ($30) for our vehicle. And from there, off we went!

Along The Trail

The trailhead starts right by the Jackson Center in Paradise, not too far from the parking lot. We did the loop clockwise and while the initial ascent was pretty steep, Mount Rainier was in our view the whole time – serving as extra motivation for us! Along the way, chipmunks would approach and then scurry away. About a little over 1 mile in, we were rewarded with views of the Nisqually Glacier and to the back of us, mountain ranges that extended beyond the horizon. We decided to stop here for some peanut butter sandwiches and fruit that Vlad packed for us; it was already 1:30pm around this time and we hadn’t had lunch yet!

As we continued on, we took a bit of a detour to Glacier Vista, where we saw Nisqually Glacier up close. The path here was covered in snow and while a couple of hikers had poles, we were mostly fine with our hiking boots. It was here, we saw an icefall and 2 mountain goats from afar. I wish I were able to capture them on our cameras but with quite some distance between us and their coats camouflaged with the snow, you could hardly tell they were there.

Moving on, we made our way southeast to Panoramic Point, about 7000 ft above ocean level, where we caught views of Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. This is typically the point where folks either continue on the Skyline Trail or make their way back. From here, we hiked up to the High Skyline Trail (the Lower Skyline was closed due to snow and ice). Here, the terrain turned into rocky rubble mixed with snow. By the time we began descending there were patches of meadows, interspersed with melting snow and streams. We spotted at least 7 Hoary Marmots around this area!

The Paradise valley, evergreens, and backdrop of mountain ranges appeared before us as we rounded out the second half of the loop. Mount Rainier was in our view again. Here, we saw Myrtle Falls and passed by this iconic scenic bridge spanning Edith Creek. We didn’t know at the time, but apparently there’s a path with a unique viewpoint of the waterfall underneath this bridge. Oh well, we’ll have to capture this the next time we come!

Towards the Finish Line and Back

By the time we finished the trail and got to our car, it was already 5:30pm. Vlad and I were both physically drained and could not wait to get back home! But as luck would have it, we encountered this deer passing through. The whole setting was very serene, almost as if she (or he) were bidding us a safe journey back.

FYI – we were famished as well and in need of more water. We made a quick pit stop at Copper Creek Inn on the way back. This gem of a place is not too far away from the park entrance. We were tempted by the salmon with blackberry vinaigrette on their menu, but decided it was probably best to get home earlier. We did get their homemade blackberry pie with vanilla ice cream to go and boy, am I glad we did. Hands down, the best pie I’ve had so far!

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