Locals Know Best Podcast Ep. 031: Hiking Above the Clouds in Mount Rainier National Park

Cindy Scott
(Last Updated On: February 17, 2024)
Disclaimer

Introduction to the Episode

Welcome to the thirty-first episode of Locals Know Best! I’m your host, Cindy. I’m a full-time RVer and lover of all things travel-related. Years of adventuring on the road have taught me one fundamental lesson; locals ALWAYS know best! Every episode of this podcast will dive into one local’s perfect day of outdoor adventure in their town!

Today, I’ll be speaking with Michelle Stelly about how to make the most of a weekend at Mount Rainier National Park!

Join Michelle and me as we first discuss Washington’s three beautiful national parks. Then, we’ll backpack, hike, and snowshoe throughout all four seasons in Mount Rainier National Park, as well as touch on a few of the surrounding areas.

We’ll be sure to see tons of epic waterfalls, lakes, and fire lookouts along the way, and of course, also have plenty of opportunities to view the incredible Mount Rainier!

About Michelle Stelly

Michelle Stelly tells us how to spend two days in Mount Rainier National Park

Learn more about Michelle Stelly at TheWanderingQueen.com.

Michelle runs The Wandering Queen, a travel blog to help fellow women adventurers travel the globe.

She’s a Texan-Panamanian who is passionate about adventure travel, as well as an expert on all things hiking, backpacking, and camping.

Michelle has been to 23 U.S. National Parks and has a goal in life that is very similar to my own, to inspire and help get people outdoors!

Listen to the Episode

Cindy at Rainier National Park Pano
Cindy on the Pinnacle Peak Trail

What We Cover in This Episode

  • All of Michelle’s favorite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
  • That it’s possible to get into hiking at any point in life.
  • Two great pro tips for anyone who’s looking to start getting more into backpacking.
  • The allure of the PNW for a Texan-Panamanian, and why she made the move up north.
  • What makes each of Washington’s three national parks (Olympic, Rainier, and North Cascades) unique, and the pros of visiting each one.
  • What it’s like visiting Mount Rainier National Park during each of the seasons throughout the year.
  • How to be aware of avalanche zones in the winter and spring snowshoeing seasons.
  • The hike in Mount Rainier National Park where Barrett and I have gotten some of our most epic photos ever!
  • What breakfast, lunch, and dinner look like for a backpacker.
  • How to best spend day one of our trip in the Paradise area.
  • The best waterfalls to hit up on your drive from Seattle to the Paradise Visitor Center area.
  • The 360-degree Mount Rainier views you can get from the most popular trail in Washington, and what makes this trail so unique when compared to most of the trails in the state.
  • The spot where all the photographers like to shoot sunset photos of Mount Rainier.
  • Cabin, camping, and RV lodging options around the park.
  • Why Packwood is an excellent town to home base from while you’re visiting the park, and where you should eat and drink while in the area.
  • How to best spend day two of our trip in the Sunrise area.
  • Michelle’s favorite hike in the entire park, where you might be lucky enough to experience a cloud inversion!
  • The best trail to hit up during wildflower season and the best one for seeing an alpine lake.
  • What you should do if you’re in the area for one more day.
  • The three best Instagram spots in the park.
  • How to make the most of a day in the park if Mount Rainier is cloud covered, as well as tips on how to avoid visiting on those days.
  • An overrated trail and the nearby underrated trail you should hike instead!
Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout, part of the two days in Mount Rainier National Park itinerary
Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout

Michelle’s Mount Rainier National Park, WA Travel Itinerary Map

Quotables

There’s so many epic hikes there. Mount Rainier is just fantastic! It’s my favorite mountain in the world. Even if you don’t go hiking, you can still just enjoy a day in paradise, having a family picnic with these amazing views. The waterfalls there are some of my favorite in the whole state. I feel like this is the perfect outdoorsy getaway with just outstanding views. I’m honestly gonna keep on going to it for years upon years.

Michelle Stelly

Links to Places Mentioned in this Episode

Spots in Washington’s Three National Parks that are Mentioned in this Episode:

Where to Stay in the Mount Rainier National Park Area:

Myrtle Falls, part of the two days in Mount Rainier National Park itinerary
Myrtle Falls

Mount Rainier National Park Area Outdoor Activities that are Mentioned in this Episode:

Mount Rainier National Park Area Restaurants and Brewery that are Mentioned in this Episode:

Comet Falls, part of the two days in Mount Rainier National Park itinerary
Comet Falls

Thanks for Listening!

We love our listeners! If you enjoyed this episode, please leave me a comment below and let me know about your favorite part!

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Transcription of this Episode:

 Michelle: There’s so many epic hikes there. Mount Rainier is just fantastic. It’s my favorite mountain in the world. Even if you don’t go hiking, you can still just enjoy a day in paradise having a family picnic with these amazing views. The waterfalls there are some of my favorite in the whole state. I feel like this is the perfect outdoorsy getaway with just outstanding views.

I’m honestly gonna keep on going to it for years upon years. So, I love it so much.

Cindy: Hey, this is Cindy Scott from Cinder Travels. Welcome to the Locals Know Best Podcast. This is episode 31. Locals Know Best is a biweekly podcast where my guests share the places and outdoor travel adventures they love most, right in their own backyards.

Topics range from unique lodging options, treasured outdoor activities, favorite dining spots, and a breakdown of whether the Insta-famous and possibly overrated spots in town are even worth checking out.

Today I’ll be speaking with Michelle Stelly about how to make the most of two days in Mount Rainier National Park.

Michelle runs The Wandering Queen, a travel blog to help fellow women adventurers travel the globe. She’s a Texan Panamanian who is passionate about adventure travel, as well as an expert on all things hiking, backpacking, and camping. Michelle has been to 23 US National Parks and has a goal in life that is very similar to my own, to inspire and help get people outdoors.

If you want to follow along with links to all the places we’re talking about in a map of the area, this episode’s show notes can be found at localsknowbestspodcast.com/31. As always, thanks so much for listening. Let’s get into the episode.

Hi Michelle. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Michelle: Thanks so much for inviting me.

Cindy: Yeah, I am really pumped to talk about Mount Rainier, one of my favorite national parks. So beautiful.

Michelle: It’s one of my favorites too. I love it. I love that I live so close to it.

Cindy: I know you are super outdoorsy. We’re gonna dive into a bunch of hikes, right?

Michelle: Yep. We’re gonna talk about all my favorite ones.

Cindy: Are we gonna do kind of a a one epic day in Rainier? A weekend? What were you thinking?

Michelle: I’m thinking a weekend.

Cindy: Okay, great. Well give us a quick introduction of yourself.

Michelle: Okay, so my name is Michelle Stelly, and I am a blogger and I blog about hiking, backpacking, and camping, mainly for women. I pretty much grew up in Texas and I was born in Panama. I am Hispanic as well, and I’ve been to many national parks. I talk about what are the best hikes at these national parks.

I also live in Washington state, so I talk a lot about Washington State. Especially cuz there’s so many epic hikes and backpacking trips here. And I also talk about Oregon, Idaho, and Canada.

I even have this free hiking course and it really helps women get into hiking and the outdoors just in case, you know, they, they grew up like me and weren’t hiking or backpacking and stuff like that, so I kind of wanted to show other Hispanic women and other women in general that it is possible to start this outdoor life, even if you started after college or you know, whenever you’re a grownup.

Cindy: Fantastic. So you backpack a lot, right? You camp a lot?

Michelle: Yes. I go backpacking pretty much every summer. I’ve gone backpacking in the winter, but backpacking in the summer here in Washington is pretty epic.

Cindy: What got you so into backpacking and hiking?

Michelle: So whenever I was young, I was always outside. I was one of those kids that was always playing hide and go seek outside with other kids. I was just always outdoors no matter what. I had dreamed of camping, like doing the s’mores and all that stuff. And you know, my mom could never afford to or do any of that stuff, you know?

So once I graduated college and I was actually making my own money, I was like, I need to do this. I just felt like I was missing something in my life. And I also saw people on Facebook that were kind of like me, like other engineers, and they were going and hiking and, and they were posting their pictures.

So I was like, you know, I’m an engineer too. I can do that. So then I just slowly got into it. I went to Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Austin on the weekends just trying to, you know, dip my toes into it, and eventually it just became like a part of me. And I just love it so much that I had to just pretty much go all in.

So that’s why I started hiking.

Cindy: I think the outdoors will do that to people.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Especially certain people. Once you’re, once you’re in, you’re in.

Michelle: Yes. For sure.

Cindy: Let me ask you a question about hiking and backpacking. If we want to get started with backpacking, give us one great thing we can do to get started.

Michelle: Okay. So if you wanna start backpacking, I highly recommend you look into your backpack first. Really research it, get a good high-quality backpack. I would rather you save money for a good quality backpack than to just buy a cheap one, because my first backpack that I bought was very cheap, and I ended up donating it and having to buy another one because it really hurt my back.

So make sure you get a good quality backpack. Try it out. Osprey sells really good ones. Deuter as well. You can also go into REI and get fitted for it. That’s what I really, really recommend doing. Especially because at REI you can usually return it within a year as well. So if you go backpacking once and then it just doesn’t fit for your body, you can go back and return it within a year, even if you used it, so that’s why I love REI.

Cindy: Yeah, REI is great for that. I agree.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: That’s a good pro tip.

PS: Cindy has completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail since this interview was recorded. Read her advice on picking out the best backpack here.

Michelle: And then also weigh your backpack beforehand. It should be less than 20% of your body weight. So if you do that, then you won’t get too tired if your backpack is too heavy, and you’ll be able to actually enjoy the backpacking trail because that’s what happened to me before. I bought the wrong backpack, and I had too much gear in my backpack, and then I was too tired to actually enjoy the trail.

I went to sleep right away. So that’s my top two tips when it comes to starting to get into backpacking, is just making sure that those two things are in line.

Cindy: Yeah. Okay, great. I think that’s really common to buy the wrong pack, or…

Michelle: Yeah

Cindy: …pack it too full is what I hear a lot. My husband and I are starting to plan for a possible A.T. hike, and so…

Michelle: Oh wow.

Cindy: I’m like trying to learn about a lot of this, but I am convinced, I know I will bring too much in the beginning and then have to start dropping things.

Michelle: Yes, yes.

Cindy: It’s just my nature.

Michelle: Yeah, I could see that. Oh, wow.

Cindy: Well, I’m gonna have to come to you when we start getting more into it, asking you all my questions cuz I know I’m gonna have a ton.

Michelle: Yeah, definitely.

Cindy: Okay, well, back to you. Where in Texas did you grow up?

Michelle: So I grew up in Houston. I was there until high school, and then I moved to Dallas.

Cindy: So, the Texas to Washington transition, how has that been? Because that’s kind of dramatic, right?

Michelle: Yes, so, so dramatic. Washington has just been pretty different.

I mean, I just go outside and I’m in the mountains and I can hike and camp and backpack all I want. So it’s been amazing and I absolutely love living here and I’m glad that I finally did it. You know, it took me a while to move up here and I’m glad that I finally was able to do it.

Cindy: Well, let’s talk about that. What brought you up there, from Texas?

Michelle: When I was in Texas, after I graduated college, I was starting to get kind of tired of driving really far just to go and see new outdoor locations. I love the mountains, and in Texas, there just wasn’t that outdoorsy feel and as many mountains over there. I also wanted even more epic, more difficult, hikes. Like I wanted to take it to another level.

And so that’s why I moved to Washington because you know, this is pretty much another level. Like the hikes here are a lot more difficult and strenuous, but you know, the views are absolutely amazing. But you can also find some really good, easy hikes, that doesn’t have to be crazy hard and still get like beautiful views here.

So that’s why I love it. There’s just so much here and I just applied to a job and I got it within a month, so.

Cindy: Nice.

Michelle: Yes, so I decided to move here and I’ve been hiking pretty much every weekend since then.

Cindy: Oh, that’s great. So I lived in Austin for about four years and it’s beautiful in Texas. Right? There’s lots of options to see beauty there. However, you are so right. It takes a long time to get out of Texas. It takes a long time to get to something different. Like you are in Texas

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: for hours. Before you can get to anything else.

Michelle: Yes. One of my favorite national parks is Big Bend and I lived in Dallas and that’s like a nine-hour drive.

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: Just to get to that national park. So it took me until I was 30 just to get to Big Bend, which is pretty crazy

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: because I lived there my my, my whole life. But it’s just so far away from like Houston, from um, Dallas. So yeah, it took me a while to get to that national park.

Cindy: Yeah, it is far. We’ve been to over 30 and it’s still on our list. Even when we lived there, we didn’t go to it cause it was far.

Michelle: Yeah.

Cindy: So you went up to Washington, you have tons of national parks around you.

Michelle: Oh yes. Three of ’em and I love it.

Cindy: Can you give us a quick rundown of how each one differs and maybe what you like the most at each one, compared to the others?

Michelle: Okay, so Olympic National Park, I like it because you can go there all year long. You can go and explore the beaches, especially when there’s a lot of snow and they’re not like the beaches in California and stuff like that. They’re so different with all those sea stacks. And then you can also go backpacking to these beaches.

I also like the Hoh Rainforest. The trees are just bright green with moss. There’s also Hurricane Ridge. That area is so pretty. I really recommend Hurricane Hill. That’s a very easy trail for the whole family and you get views of Canada and, of course, all of the Olympic National Park mountains. So that’s why I like Olympic National Park.

Rainier. I like it because it’s just, it has that epic view. It’s also very family-friendly. I feel like the hikes there, there’s a lot of easy, moderate hikes and most of the hikes, you get a view of Mount Rainier, and… You’ve seen Mount Rainier. It’s just huge.

Cindy: Huge and beautiful. And yeah, the park is perfectly kind of set up in a big circle around it.

So a bunch of the different hikes and view areas, you just keep seeing it, which is

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: beautiful.

Michelle: Exactly. And there’s waterfalls too. There’s lakes. There’s fire lookouts. So there’s a lot to do there. And, and you can go there all year, year round, but the only bad part about it is in the winter only the Paradise area is kind of open.

And then North Cascades is actually my favorite one, but I don’t recommend it for everyone because the hikes there are very difficult.

There’s only like maybe one or two that are kind of easy, kind of.

Cindy: Okay.

Michelle: So, but it does have Diablo Lake, this bright, bright green, blue turquoise lake, and you don’t need to hike to see it. It’s beautiful and there’s mountains surrounding it. And they have so many campgrounds near it. You can also get a permit to backpack to one of the little islands on the lake, and then you can kayak there.

So that’s a lot. That’s a lot of fun. That’s actually on my bucket list. I haven’t done it yet, but I have camped right next to Diablo Lake and it’s just stunning there.

Cindy: That sounds great.

Michelle: Yes. North Cascades National Park. One of the most underrated national parks in the US.

Cindy: Yeah, that reminds me a lot of, another really underrated national park, Voyagers is like that too. There’s little islands in Minnesota that you can kayak out to and camp on the islands and

Michelle: Oh, that’s so fun. Wow. Yeah.

Cindy: Yeah. Really similar.

Michelle: It’s still a really good national park to visit because it’s just so gorgeous, but there’s just a lot less things to do.

I highly recommend Hidden Lake Lookout. You can backpack to that one. And I, I did that for a hike as like sunset. So it was colorful and beautiful and there was layers of mountains. And you can see Mount Baker from the distance.

A really good one to do in the fall, and that’s where you can see the larches is the Maple Pass Loop. So a lot of the trees in the North Cascades area, they turn like a bright yellow and it’s just so beautiful to take a picture of, especially with all the mountains and lakes.

It’s called Larch Madness here. Like everybody in Washington just goes chasing for those larches. Just so pretty, but it is a lot more difficult, so…

Cindy: Okay.

Michelle: If you love doing like difficult hikes, then that’s a really a good national park to visit. And, of course, the very underrated Mount Baker area, even if you’re not even going to any of the national parks where I live, the North Bend area is filled with so many beautiful hikes. Waterfalls as well.

Cindy: Great. Okay. Let’s go back to Rainier, then.

Michelle: Okay.

Cindy: We’re gonna go through Rainier. We’re gonna go through your perfect weekend. Let’s start it off with talking about the best and worst times to visit, or maybe just kind of what you get out of each season visiting Rainier.

Michelle: Oh man, you can go every season. The summer, of course, is the best. You’ll get the wildflowers everywhere. It’s just so beautiful. Not much snow and epic views of Mount Rainier. And then of course waterfalls, lakes and the, the days are long too, so it’s daylight hours for a really long time. The sunsets here are just so pretty.

So, I really love the summertime and then the weather too. Like, you know, people freak out when it’s like 80 degrees. So, which is crazy to me cuz I come from Texas and you know, it’s usually over a hundred degrees.

Cindy: And it’s a little bit of a late summer there, right?

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: Because I’ve been in June before and,

Michelle: Yeah.

Cindy: and I think we were kind of thinking it was gonna be summerish.

Michelle: No.

Cindy: But it wasn’t yet.

Michelle: Yeah, yeah, that’s kind of considered spring. There’s still a lot of snow. So I think July, August, September kind of, is more like summer for there and like, it’s kind of strange to see all the wildflowers there in the middle of the summer. You would think it’d be spring, but yeah. No, it’s, it’s the summer.

That’s when all the wildflowers are out.

Cindy: I’m glad we did that distinction because I know some people in the group when we went, wanted to see all those flowers in June and they were like, oh, they’re under all that snow.

Michelle: Yes. And then my second favorite time to go is, of course, the fall. Honestly, I really love fall here.

It’s very underrated time to come. The crowds are pretty much gone. I was just there. I actually went to Paradise and we kind of did a little bit of Skyline, the most popular trail in Washington, and it was bright red,

Cindy: Ohh

Michelle: bright yellow. It was…

Cindy: Oh man.

Michelle: …stunning. I think a few years ago I went kind of in the fall, but I think I was a bit early, but I, I just went the beginning of October and it was the perfect time and everything was just, bright, bright colors and I absolutely loved it.

Cindy: Oh, that’s great. We went at the end of September, gosh, it was like a year or two ago. I do remember it being really beautiful too, and we loved that time. Nobody was there.

Michelle: Mm-hmm. Yes.

Cindy: End of September was starting to be quote unquote dead zone.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: But oh my gosh, it’s still beautiful. You can still hike everything. There’s no snow yet.

Michelle: Yes, exactly. And then the least visited time is winter. There’s only one area that’s open and that’s the Paradise area. And I have gone in the wintertime and I actually did do a hike called the Mazama Ridge Snowshoe.

I do wanna caution by saying this. Because winter slash spring is very dangerous for people hiking because of avalanche danger.

That’s why I always say look at avalanche zones online, but what I did whenever I went to Mount Rainier in the Paradise area, you can talk to a Ranger and ask, Hey, What hike can I do without getting into Avalanche Zone? And, and what they did is they gave me a map to make sure I didn’t

Cindy: Oh, nice.

Michelle: go to the avalanche area cuz that is a big problem in Washington.

I’m always aware of where I’m hiking in the winter and spring cuz, you know, I don’t wanna cross avalanche chute. So I highly recommend talking to a Ranger before you start hiking in the winter there. And whenever I went to the Paradise area and did the Mazama Ridge Snowshoe, it was just, beautiful.

Highly recommend going on a sunny day. There are some in in Washington every once in a while in the winter, but that’s a really good snowshoe. And you can also do parts of Skyline and whenever I was there, there were so many families there and some people weren’t even hiking there were just playing in the snow, you know, just having a picnic in the winter.

So you don’t ha even have to go snowshoeing. You can just sit there and just have a fun time with your family.

Cindy: Nice. I really appreciate the ranger tips, especially too, one of our best ranger experiences in a national park was at Rainier as well. We went into that same area you’re talking about, Paradise, the…

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: The visitor center there.

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: And we kind of asked her, you know, we’re just here for one more night. What, what’s the best hike we should do today? Because everybody’s doing this one over here, Skyline. And she was like, okay, well that one’s beautiful. But she said, if you wanna do my favorite hike in the park, it’s Pinnacle Peak.

Michelle: Oh yes.

Cindy: And she said, you’re not far from it. Go do it. And holy cow, I just have to give a shout-out to that trail real quick because we have like the most epic photos we’ve ever gotten in all of RV life on that trail. I mean, you can see like five mountaintops up there. It’s just crazy beautiful up there if you’re there on the right day.

Have you ever done that one?

Michelle: I have not, that’s actually still on my list. I’m probably gonna wait until next summer, of course, to do it. But I’ve heard that one is absolutely epic.

Cindy: Yeah, and it’s not, it’s not like a super popular one. We didn’t see a lot of people on it, but if you do do it, there’s a sign at the end.

You probably already know this, but there’s a sign at the end. It says like you can continue on but at your own risk kind of thing. And it gets kind of sketchy, but like go all the way up to the top if no one’s told you that, cuz…

Michelle: Oh, okay.

Cindy: It’s crazy.

Michelle: I didn’t know that but yes.

Cindy: You can see all the mountains like for forever it, it’s so incredible.

Anyways, I digress.

Michelle: Okay, I’ll do it next summer.

Cindy: And so lastly, tell us about spring.

Michelle: So spring is probably my least favorite time to go because usually it’s still filled with snow.

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: So it’s technically kind of like winter, I guess. But if you wanna avoid the crowds and if you’re itching to still see Mount Rainier, it is possible.

Just know that you might have to bring snowshoes if you wanna go hiking, and there’s still not gonna be a lot of trails open.

Cindy: Yeah, it’s true. Even when me and my girlfriend went for the first time in the June, that one year, a bunch of trails were closed, we went in and talked to the rangers about what ones were open and they gave us a map, but a lot of stuff ended with hitting snow.

Michelle: It’s pretty much winter.

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: Well, what time of year are we gonna be doing our weekend trip with you?

Michelle: Oh, summer of course. Like mid, late August. That’s when for sure there’s no more snow and you can go hiking safely and comfortably.

Cindy: Perfect.

Michelle: And then maybe fall, I guess, you know, it could be either or, cuz the, the fall time, a lot of it’s still open, at least at beginning of October.

Cindy: All right, so we’re starting this trip in a car from home or somewhere else in Washington.

Michelle: Mm-hmm. Exactly. Yes. Probably from Seattle, most, most people come in from Seattle.

Cindy: Okay, great. Let’s start off the day! Now, as far as dining options go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

There aren’t as many available right now. Correct?

Michelle: It’s really difficult to find food around there. Because you know the pandemic, they’ve been super strict here, so it’s not like,

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: the rest of the country. But I usually have just taken my own food.

Cindy: Let’s just talk a little bit about that then. What does breakfast look like for us?

Michelle: So I usually like to make dry foods. So I buy a lot of the dry foods from REI. I like to eat granola or oatmeal. I use my Jetboil to heat up some water and then just put it in there and just eat it right after. And then for lunch, I pretty much either bring a bunch of snacks, like crackers, jerky, nuts, and all of that kind of stuff.

And then for dinner, usually when I’m backpacking I like to eat dry food as well. Like I like the lasagna whenever I go backpacking, especially cuz you’re burning a lot of calories. So that’s what I usually do whenever I’m backpacking.

Cindy: Is it like one of the Mountain House kind of things?

Michelle: Yes. That, yes. That one’s my favorite.

Cindy: Okay. Oh, okay.

Michelle: Yeah.

Cindy: Okay, great. So, okay, let’s say we just had breakfast. What are we gonna go do? What’s our first trail or activity for the day?

Michelle: I highly recommend this trail called Comet Falls. This is actually one of my favorite waterfalls in Washington in general because it’s just so epic and big, and it’s beautiful.

The hike is a little bit difficult, but if you get to it, the waterfall is just so huge and you can’t even get close to it. I really love that waterfall. And it’s on the way to the Paradise Visitor Center.

And then after that hike, I really recommend the Narada Falls Viewpoint. It’s super easy. It’s only like a few feet just to go and to see the viewpoint and the waterfall is just gorgeous.

It’s, it’s one of the prettiest waterfalls in the park and it’s easy to get to, and it’s on the way to Paradise as well. So I really recommend just stopping at that viewpoint.

Once you’re there, make sure you go on to Paradise and actually see a view of Mount Rainier. Oh my God, the visitor center at at Paradise has like a lot of parking.

And if you still have energy to hike, make sure you hike the Skyline Trail, which is what I’ve been talking a lot about. It’s 5.3 miles round trip. Elevation gain’s around 1,758 feet. It is a loop trail. Skyline is, uh, moderate. I usually see a lot of families still doing it, but sometimes at the top, not as many people.

I think some people just do parts of it. I’m not gonna lie, it is crowded. There is a lot of people on it, but whenever I went and did it, even with the crowds, it was just glorious. I, I honestly didn’t mind it. I was like, this is just so beautiful. It’s 360-degree views of Mount Rainier and other mountains as well. It’s so open.

Because in Washington, a lot of the trails, usually, you’re in trees, you know. Sometimes you can’t see the, the views,

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: throughout the whole trail. But this trail you can see everything throughout the whole trail, so that’s what makes it so epic.

Then there also is the Myrtle Falls that’s on the trail as well. I don’t know if you saw it whenever, uh, you were in Paradise, Myrtle Falls.

Cindy: I don’t think so.

Michelle: Yeah. It, and Myrtle Falls since Skyline is a loop, so Myrtle Falls is actually at the beginning of the loop, so you don’t even have to do the whole trail to see this waterfall. What’s so epic about it is you get the waterfall and the Mount Rainier on the back of it so you can get a picture where you’ll have both Mount Rainier and the waterfall.

Usually if, if people can’t do the whole trail of Skyline, they just go and walk on over to Myrtle Falls. Uh, you usually see like a lot of families go there just cuz it’s so easy and short.

Cindy: Oh man, I, I am proud to say we, we did see the other two waterfalls you mentioned, but yeah, I think that area near Myrtle Falls was actually under snow when we went in June.

Michelle: Oh wow. Okay. Yeah.

Cindy: Pretty much everything from Paradise was under snow, and then when we went back we did the Pinnacles. So…

Michelle: Uhhuh.

Cindy: I need to do that next time I’m there!

Michelle: Yeah! Next time. At least do the Myrtle Falls because it’s just so beautiful with Mount Rainier in the background.

Cindy: Yeah. And I know there’s tons of offshoots off Skyline kind of…

Michelle: Um-hmm, yes.

Cindy: …to hike too, in that area. Is there anything else you recommend to kind of do if we have a little bit more interest or energy?

Michelle: There is a place called Reflection Lake that is really close to the Paradise area and a lot of people, especially photographers, like to take pictures of the reflection of Mount Rainier. Some people like to hike around the lake and just walk around it.

It’s really good for a sunset. I actually try to do sunset there like a couple of times, and every time Mount Rainier was hidden.

Cindy: Oh no.

Michelle: So, I wasn’t able to take that epic sun because if you see like a reflection picture of Mount Rainier during sunset, that’s, that’s pretty much where they probably took the picture at, is that Reflection Lake.

But every time I’ve gone, it’s just been covered, so I haven’t been that lucky.

Cindy: A side note about that, that is where the Pinnacle Peak Trail kind of goes off that parking lot and back. And so you see that area down toward it. We got Sunset photos of the mountain doing that hike, but it was like all photographers hiking with us on that trail.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: And in that area.

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: You’re totally right. That was, uh, photographer-land for sure.

Michelle: Yes, it is for sure.

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: Alright, well then, so if that’s the end of the day, are we camping in the park?

Michelle: So, I have this amazing option for y’all. So if you go to Little Owl Cabin, a lot of people love staying at some of those cabins and they’re located in Packwood, Washington around like an hour, hour and a half away from the park.

It’s so cute. A lot of the little cabins have hot tubs and stuff, so, I recently stayed in one and I really enjoyed it. Like everybody was asking me, where is this place? So,

Cindy: Oh, nice.

Michelle: Packwood’s a really good place to stay at, especially if you’re gonna be there for the weekend. So if you can’t find availability at those little cabins, then you should definitely look into the Packwood area for Airbnbs.

Because that area is really nice. I, I like the restaurants and they had a brewery, so, um,

Cindy: Oh

Michelle: and it wasn’t that far from the park. So even me, I, I live here locally and I was so excited to stay there.

Yeah. Okay. So tell us more about the brewery and restaurant scene there.

Michelle: So Packwood Brewing Company, after we went hiking, we went and had some drinks there.

They also have a bit of food, and they had outdoor seating. It’s perfect for a beautiful day. It was so sunny when we were there. So we just enjoyed the, the day after our hike there. And then there’s also Cliff Droppers. They have burgers there.

Cindy: All right. Yeah. Very cool to learn about a few great places outside of the park since things are still pretty closed up inside the park.

And so, what is the camping, backpacking scene like in the park?

Michelle: So you usually have to get a permit just to go backpacking in the park. If I do go backpacking, I backpack outside of the park in the national forest because it’s just a lot easier to grab a permit.

Places to backpack that’s outside of the park is Summit Lake.

You don’t need a permit for it. You just get there and backpack and it has a beautiful view of Mount Rainier. That’s just an option in case you couldn’t get a permit for the actual inside of the park. It is a little bit more difficult, especially, a lot of people are trying to do the Wonderland Trail.

Cindy: Yeah, it’s on my list to ask you about the Wonderland Trail.

Michelle: Yes. Yes, you do need a permit to do all of that. You also need to plan a lot in way in advance to do it. So the Wonderland Trail is a trail that goes around the whole Mount Rainier mountain. It takes a while to complete, of course. It’s really long, from what I’ve heard, it’s really worth it.

I mean, you get to pretty much see Mount Rainier from all points of view.

Cindy: Yeah, I’ve heard it’s fantastic as well. I honestly think I camped the first time I was there, but I hate it. I can’t remember where we camped.

I do wanna throw in one more thing for places to stay, just from our experience as well. My husband and I, when we went the end of September, a year or two ago with the RV, we parked at Crystal Mountain Resort.

It’s pretty close to the park, and even when the resort is shut down, RVs can park there. We were the only RV up there. It’s like hundreds of empty poles and fog and just you, so it’s very creepy in the evenings. But we had the place to ourselves and this amazing like secret entrance into Rainier, we felt like, that nobody was using so, I do wanna recommend that for RVers.

It was very convenient, and we loved being there, and you just pay, put the money in a little box, super easy. We enjoyed that.

Michelle: That’s awesome. That’s around or close to the sunrise area of the

Cindy: Yep.

Michelle: National Park, which is actually like my second favorite area to explore.

Cindy: Okay, great. Is that where we’re gonna go on day two?

Michelle: Yeah. That’s…

Cindy: Okay.

Michelle: I love that area. And if you look through my blog, my most favorite hike is probably Mount Mount Fremont Lookout Trail. I love that hike. Okay.

Cindy: Yes.

Michelle: So Mount Fremont Lookout is a distance of 5.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of over a thousand feet. That is a perfect one for sunset, and the hike isn’t really hard, it’s like moderate, so you can easily hike back in the dark with your flashlight, and if you’re lucky enough, you might get a cloud inversion.

So what happens is you have a view of Mount Rainier and there’s a Fire Lookout, and then you know the clouds might be below you, and I have experienced that before. We were above the clouds, the clouds were bright pink. It was just the most insane view.

Cindy: Ooh.

Michelle: Yeah, so you can take pictures with the Fire Lookout and everything.

It’s just like one of the most epic hikes in the park. I feel like, very underrated, but I love it. It’s, it’s my favorite hike in the park.

Cindy: That’s awesome. What a fantastic hike.

I’ve been to this area twice. One time I did go to the right a little bit on the Fremont Trail, but I didn’t go, I didn’t see a fire tower, so I didn’t go that far.

And then the other time, maybe you can help me figure this out. We’ve done the Sourdough Ridge to the first and second borough, to Sunrise Camp, to Shadow Lake, and then back to the parking lot.

Michelle: So you passed the fire lookout, you probably took a left instead of taking a right to go to the fire lookout. I think there’s like three burroughs and you get

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: really, really close to Mount Rainier.

Cindy: It’s freezing. You’re so close. You’re right there. And it’s crazy windy and cold, but so worth it.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: Yeah. All these trails, though, Fremont, what you’re talking about, really close on that one too. You can get epic photos from there.

Michelle: For sure. Yeah, I, I really love that one.

There’s also Naches Peak Loop Trail. That one’s a really easy one. I went there with my mother-in-law and we did it on a weekend, and it was after wildflower season. It it’s known for wildflowers, like if you wanna see the beautiful purple, blue wildflowers with Mount Rainier, this is a trail to do it. We went right after it, but, even without the wildflowers, it was epic.

She loved the trail. It was easy enough for her to do. You don’t even have to do the whole loop. You can just, there’s a little lake that you can hang out at and still get good views of Mount Rainier.

So we really enjoyed that trail. So I really recommend Mount Fremont and then this one as well. And you don’t, for Mount Fremont, you don’t have to do the whole trail to still enjoy Mount Rainier. You can do, even do, part of it.

Cindy: Yeah, that’s exactly what we did. We did it til it was enough and then we turned around.

Michelle: Yeah.

Cindy: I remember. Which I now know was a mistake, but…

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: This was when I was not hiking as much yet. This was earlier on in my hiking life.

Michelle: Yeah, I mean, that’s what I love about Mount Rainier is that, a lot of these things, even like Skyline, you don’t even have to do the whole trail to enjoy it. I mean, I was there in the fall and I just went for the fall colors. I just did a little bit of it and I had fun. And you know, the same with Fremont Lookout. You don’t have to go all the way. And then the, um, Naches Peak Loop, you don’t have to do the whole loop to enjoy your time at Mount Rainier.

So that’s why I really enjoy this park and this is why I, I recommend this national park to everyone.

Cindy: And I do wanna say, cuz I know the restaurants and stuff have been shut down, but there is also a restaurant up in that area as well for people and another functioning nice visitor center in non-c*v*d times.

Michelle: Yes, there is a visitor center at Sunrise and it is pretty nice. The parking lot is pretty big because I know how parking can be a pain in some of these national parks. If you have even more energy or more time. There’s also the Emmons Moraine Trail. This one’s pretty cool cuz there’s a little lake there. If you go at a certain time of the year, maybe like in August, it’s bright blue.

It kind of looks like Diablo Lake from, uh, North Cascades. Not as big as that, but like the color’s just bright green, blue turquoise color. So that’s a good place to look at a, one of those epic alpine lakes, because at Mount Rainier you don’t see as many lakes as other parts in Washington, you know?

Cindy: Yeah. Well, anything else you wanna include about Rainier?

Michelle: The last thing I want to say is if you are there for an extra day as well. There’s also the Grove of the Patriarchs Loop and Silver Falls Loop Trail. Those don’t have views of Mount Rainier, but a lot of people like doing that one just because of the trees. The trees are huge.

It’s also a good one to do if Mount Rainier is hidden, which can happen because sometimes Mount Rainier is a little shy. Both of those are very good family hikes. I really like them, especially on those rainy, cloudy days.

Cindy: Yeah, so Grove of the Patriarchs, a super short, easy hike. You’re walking around all these big tall trees and there’s a lot of signage too, right?

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: Kind of explaining the area. Very family-friendly trail, but I think totally worth it.

Michelle: Yes. If you can’t see Mount Rainier, because that does tend to happen. Do that trail.

Cindy: Yeah. What was the other one you mentioned?

Michelle: Silver Falls. It’s actually right next to it and no crowds.

Cindy: Okay.

Michelle: I don’t know why nobody goes there. It, it’s not hard either. And it, it’s a waterfall, so it’s just so beautiful. Like it’s, it looks like a rainforest. It’s so green and lush and then nobody’s there. I don’t know why nobody ever goes to it.

It it’s in the same area though. Yeah, it’s like right across, you know, wherever you go to the trailhead to Grove of the Patriarchs, it’s right across from it. I don’t know why nobody goes to it. Whenever I was there, I was the only person, and then when I did Grove of the Patriarchs, it was just packed with a lot of people.

Cindy: Yeah, it’s really family-friendly, right?

Michelle: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Cindy: And I think it’s recommended to a lot of people who aren’t hikers.

Michelle: Yes. Exactly.

Cindy: To go do that one.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: All right. Best Instagram spots. So we, we kind of talked about what would be a great picture of Rainier a few times, but do you have any recommendations of your favorite spots to get photos?

Michelle: Okay. Of course, the Fremont Lookout, the little Fire Lookout is a good Instagram spot. There’s also Tolmie Peak.

That’s another hike, but that’s a really, really epic Instagram spot because it’s another fire lookout and there’s a lake at the bottom of it with Mount Rainier.

Cindy: Oh, wow.

Michelle: So, yes, so the framing is just amazing there. I did that one for sunrise, and that was just so pretty, but getting up super early, it was very difficult.

Cindy: Okay. Yeah, I’m more for the sunset photos than the sunrise.

Michelle: Yeah.

Cindy: It’s always more fun to walk back with a headlamp than it is to get up early.

Michelle: Oh yeah, it is.

It is so difficult. Anywhere on Skyline is good. Honestly. There’s just so many viewpoints throughout the whole trail. Those are probably like my top three Instagram spots at Mount Rainier National Park.

Cindy: And are there any tips for, because you’ve mentioned this a few times, that sometimes the mountain likes to hide.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: Are there any tips for hoping to get there on a day when we see the mountain? I know that that’s a climate thing, but are there certain seasons that might be better or…

Michelle: So the summer is usually, I know everybody thinks Washington is, it’s raining constantly. It’s actually kind of a myth. It’s usually raining in the winter a lot. Maybe spring too, but the summers are pretty dry to the point that it’s kind of a problem because that’s when fire season is.

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: But. Summer’s usually, it’s pretty clear. Not all the time. If you can’t see Mount Rainier, then I really recommend having a backup hike or, or because that’s happened to me before my friend came to visit and we couldn’t see Mount Rainier, even though it was summer, we couldn’t see Mount Rainier. We’re like, what do we do?

So what we did was we did Comet’s Waterfall, the Patriarch Trails. There’s another trail called Bench and Snow Lake, the elevation isn’t as high. So we could still see the mountains in that area as well.

Cindy: Oh.

Michelle: So whenever you go to Mount Rainier, I really recommend you have second options because there is a chance of you not being able to see the mountain. Also, I do use this app called windy.com, or you can actually go to the website and then there are options to click on the clouds and you can kind of see where the clouds might go whenever you’re there.

Cindy: Wow, that’s a fantastic tip.

Michelle: Yes, yes. You can also see the rain as well. I’m mainly interested in the clouds whenever I go to Mount Rainier, because even if it’s not raining, if the cloud is there, you know, you can’t see Mount Rainier.

Cindy: Yeah.

Michelle: You know what I mean? So I use windy.com a lot whenever I go into the Mount Rainier area.

Cindy: Yeah, so smart. We’ve been very lucky and it’s been there when we’ve been there, but I’ve seen it on cloudy days too. So that website app, great tip.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: Okay, overrated. Is there anything in Rainier you consider… you think maybe has more hype than it deserves?

Michelle: Probably Grove of the Patriarchs Loop. The reason I say that is because Silver Falls is right next to it and there’s almost nobody there, and it’s not difficult whatsoever, it’s pretty easy and it’s a waterfall. So I feel like maybe more people should see Silver Falls instead of Grove of the Patriarchs, just because I like Silver Falls a lot better, but that’s just my opinion.

Cindy: Yeah, no, I can see that as a tip.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Cindy: Grove of the Patriarchs is crowded from my experience and is more what you see other places compared to pretty much everything else in Rainier. So if you’re there and it’s on your way and the mountain is covered, totally worth it.

Michelle: Yes.

Cindy: But otherwise, I totally get what you’re saying. There’s more to be seen perhaps.

Michelle: Yes. If the mountain isn’t covered, I would make my way to the other trails that I listed on this, on this podcast, so.

Cindy: Okay. Let’s do a wrap-up. What should bring us to Mount Rainier National Park? Why should we pick that one and come spend a weekend there or a couple of days there?

Michelle: Mount Rainier National Park should be on your list because there’s so many epic hikes there. Mount Rainier is just fantastic. It’s my favorite mountain in the world.

Even if you don’t go hiking, you can still just enjoy a day in Paradise, having a family picnic with these amazing views. The waterfalls there are some of my favorite in the whole state. I feel like this is the perfect outdoorsy getaway with just outstanding views. I’m honestly gonna keep on going to it for years upon years, so, I love it so much.

So you should definitely come and visit.

Cindy: I mean, there’s so many epic hikes you can go do, but as long as the mountain is showing itself, I feel like everyone who goes is going to have a somewhat similar experience. They’re gonna see this epically beautiful mountain. You don’t have to hike and hike and hike to see it.

Michelle: Yes, exactly. And you know, I live here and I’ve been going constantly, like every weekend I’ve been hiking here in Washington and I still have hikes that I wanna do there. You know what I mean? There’s just so many of them. You already listed some that you’ve done that I didn’t even do yet. So there’s just so much to do.

Cindy: Yeah. You’ve mentioned some that I really wanna do too. I mean, I don’t live there, but I wanna go back and do them.

Michelle: Definitely come back.

Cindy: How do we find out more about you and The Wandering Queen?

Michelle: So you can find me on my blog at www.thewanderingqueen.com or on Instagram at @thewanderingqueen.

Cindy: Okay. Yeah, and make sure you check out Michelle’s website. It’s beautiful and it’s chock full of great information.

Thank you so much for being here today with us, Michelle, and thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge on the area with us.

Thanks so much for tuning in. Once again, if you wanna grab the show notes for this episode, head on over to localsknowbestpodcast.com/31.

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