I participated in the Mt. Rainier Day Trip on a Wednesday (Aug 17, 2022). There were neither many cars in line nor big crowds of people at the park. There seemed to be quite some amount of haze around the mountain while viewed from Seattle, but it was actually quite clear and beautiful up close.
Joe picked some of us up at the pick-up point and passed us to John, who took us on the official trip. Joe is energetic and talkative, while John is chill and soft.
We went to Paradise - Mount Rainier National Park, Reflection Lake, and Narada Falls. Today (8.17) we have high heat warning, so John has moved the Paradise hiking trip up earlier in the Itinerary before the temperature rose too much, which definitely helped. Besides, John always made sure there were restrooms available along the way (and they were all pretty clean), which is a very crucial detail for day trips!
Paradise was definitely the highlight of the trip. John told us the heat this year has been stressing the meadows. Nevertheless, we could see many wildflowers blooming, with so many little dots of colors decorating the meadows everywhere. It was the perfect time to take the iconic photos of Mount. Rainier with a foreground of blooming meadows (see photo).
There were two main hiking options at Paradise, one going down to Christine Falls Viewpoint (easier hiking) while the other going up to Skyline trails (harder hiking). I wanted to see the meadows and the glaciers so I chose the way going up. We only had about 1 hour and 45 minutes of free time at Paradise, and I spent some time taking photos along the way, so I only hiked up to Glacier Vista and back. Nevertheless, I got so many spectacular views of Mount Rainier and the meadows along the hike. You will not regret it. I would highly recommend the route to anyone who is physically fit and wants to try some hiking.
Please be aware that the hikes at Mount Rainier are not guided, and you can of course choose to stay around the visitor center, where you will have a good view of the mountain as well. If you want to hike up a bit along the Skyline trails and get closer to Mount Rainier for some gorgeous views, please note that:
1. There will be no service on many parts of the mountain, so get a map ready (provided by John to us) or some hiking app with a digital map downloaded so that you do not accidentally go off the trails.
2. The Skyline trails are often ranked as "difficult" by hikers (but the views are worth it). There are parts with considerably steep ways up and parts with pretty rocky paths, so it will be very helpful if you have proper mountain hiking shoes. Trekking poles may be useful too.
3. Most of the trails up along the Skyline are exposed, so sun protection (hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.) is very critical.
4. Glacier Vista is definitely worth checking out and taking great pictures there (see photo). If you have enough time, you can continue hiking up to Panorama Point as well - another popular spot for photos, especially with the background cascades.
B. Reflection Lake
John dropped us right at the roadside along Reflection Lake for photos. No hiking was needed at all. Reflection Lake did not have optimal conditions now. Some microalgae were turning the lake water brownish-red, and there was some grass growing on the lake, partially blocking the reflection. Anyway, we still managed to take some "reflection" photos of Mount Rainier (see photo). It might look better if taken on a day without any trace of wind.
C. Narada Falls
We parked right beside the top of the waterfall. It is not a very big one, but nevertheless, a beautiful one. You can rest around the parking lot and enjoy the top-down view of the waterfall. However, if you are physically fit, I highly recommend hiking down to the lower platform for a lovely view of the full waterfall. The hike is pretty short and only took me 5 min to walk down/up each way. There you can see the full height of the waterfall and we even saw a small rainbow at the bottom.
We had a flat tire situation on the way back, so we got stuck in Elbe (a small town along the way) for an hour. They have stores for necessities and souvenirs, a cafeteria with ice cream, and several diners built inside old train cars. The temperature had reached 31 °C (88 °F) by then. Glad there were quite a lot of tables under shades to sit around. I took the time to explore the local stores and even received delicious rainier cherries for free from some very kind fruit retailer!
To sum up, it is a very packed day trip. Most participants in our group appeared quite exhausted by the end of the day (maybe partially because of the heat). You will get the most out of the trip if you are physically fit equipped to try out some hiking!
And Mount Rainier is so gorgeous!