The wildflower season on Mount Rainier is at its peak but the beauty is fleeting.
In coming weeks, the weather is expected to be drier and hotter and the wildflowers will fade and die, says Darby Robinson, a Mount Rainier National Park Ranger who works at Paradise.
So now is the time to take in one of the Northwest’s most scenic sights.
Paradise, which has Mount Rainier’s highest concentration of wildflowers, is often filled with groups seeking a glimpse of the mountain’s range of blooms.
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For some, like Olympia resident Chris Chapman, the trip is an annual priority.
She and her husband visit every August to see the wildflowers as part of their wedding anniversary celebration. They’ve been doing it for 35 years now.
“The wildflowers are, of course, always spectacular up here and it’s always enjoyable,” Chapman said.
Here’s how to make the most out of a trip to the highest peak in the Cascades for wildflower season.
Yes, it is summer. But you’re hiking up a mountain. With the elevation over 5,000 feet, the air is thinner and temperatures drop as you ascend. Wear either leggings or outdoor pants coupled with breathable attire because you’ll be getting a steady workout.
Don’t wear sandals. Instead, bring running shoes or hiking boots. Also, a hat is highly recommended to guard against sunburn.
How tough is this hike?
You don’t need to be in elite-athlete shape to make the trip — the hike along the Skyline Trail is a trek people of all ages can do.
You do need to be mentally ready for a substantial hike. Right away, at the mouth of the Paradise Trails, is a steep incline, and the elevation gain doesn’t stop there.
Those with a walking disability will have a difficult time, because only the first portion of the trail is paved. The remainder is rocky dirt path with stairs in some places and few railings.
According to the Washington Trails Association, you’ll gain 1,450 feet of elevation on the Skyline Trail, a loop that is 5.5 miles long. The association rates the trail 4.5 out of 5 stars for its popularity
Tips and tricks
- Get there early. If you arrive at Paradise after 9 a.m., finding parking is tough. Even on a weekday the trails are busy.
- Don’t walk off the trail. (There are clear boundaries, so it’s easy to distinguish.) The meadow is quite delicate, and one step off the trail can kill up to 20 flowers at once, Robinson said. You won’t see the flowers though — they’re in the seedling stage.
- Bring a camera. You’re going to want to capture the beauty once up there. You might even catch a glimpse of two marmots wrestling or a deer eating shrubs.
- Pack water. It’s not a long trip up, but having refreshments on hand is important.
- Paradise trails are a hotbed for wildflowers and one of the more popular destinations on Mount Rainier, but there are other options as well: Sunrise, Carbon River and Mowich Lake also have wildflower trails.
You’ve made it. Now what?
What awaits is a sight to remember. Once you reach the point on the trail where the meadow opens up, about 30 minutes into the hike, you really get the full image.
The sun is likely to be beaming down on grass scattered with wildflowers, which vary from purple to red to blue. A glacier serves as the backdrop, and the running water from a mountain stream is the soundtrack. The clouds seem close enough to grab.
This is the zone that’s perfect for wildflowers, ranging from 4,500 to 6,500 feet in elevation.
Indian paintbrush — with its tropical-like magenta and bright red colors — can be found here. So can Cascade Aster, which is a purple-blue with a hint of white. The one flower you’ll see a lot of is Bear Grass, a plant with a fuzzy, light yellowish bulb at the top.
Other abundant wildflowers include: lupine (whose color resembles a blue jay), Pearly Everlasting (a simple bright white flower with a golden center) and phlox (white with streaks of purple mixed in).
This, combined with the fresh alpine air and a possible dose of wildlife, can make a summer hike at Paradise an iconic trip to remember.