If alpine meadows blanketed with wildflowers sounds like something you’d enjoy, than look no further than Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. Every summer, the forested slopes of this massive volcano explode in life as flowers cover every square inch of this northwest national park. The season for flower viewing is short and can be extremely crowded with visitors flocking to the park to get a peek, but it is well worth the journey.
When is the Best Time to Go?
Mount Rainier is one of North America’s snowiest locations, receiving an average snowfall of above 600 inches every year. Between mid-October and late May, the higher slopes are snowed over; during the dry summer months, the snow melts revealing a stunning landscape. On your average year, the snow will completely melt across popular areas such as Paradise, around early-to-mid July, while it will disappear quicker in drier areas such as Sunrise. Both Sunrise and Paradise are located fairly high up, so flowers will be blooming in lower elevations (generally much more forested and not as scenic) around mid-June.
To get the most out of your wildflower trip, visiting Mount Rainier around late July through early August would ensure you get the best possible show. Some visitors come mid-July only to be disappointed that the snow had just melted and the flowers are a week or two away. If you visit too late in August, you run the risk of finding fields of dead and withered flowers. If you really want to be exact with your visit, pay attention to the snowfall during the early part of winter. If the snowfall is above average, the flowers will be slightly delayed due to the increased amounts of snow. If under average, go a little earlier to compensate for the lack of snow. The rangers at Paradise put constant updates of the snowpack online where it is easy to follow along with the years precipitation. However, do be careful because the spring and summer weather effects how fast the snow will melt. So even years with plenty of snow can have green meadows quicker if the weather is hot and dry. In the end, booking a trip around late July through early August would be a fairly safe bet.
What to do in Paradise
The best spot to see wildflowers is Paradise, the most popular destination in Mount Rainier National Park. Located in the southern part of the park at 5,400 feet, Paradise is the classic view of Mount Rainier that everyone looks for. The area is home to a brand new visitor center and the world famous Paradise Inn, which celebrated it’s 100th birthday back in 2016. From Paradise, there are miles of hiking trails sprawling across the hill with up close views of both Mount Rainier and the jagged Tatoosh Range to the south. Below is a list of places/hikes worth checking out while at Paradise:
-Golden Gate Trail: This easy trail takes you up a beautiful little valley filled with wildflowers. As you ascend, you do not get the best views of Rainier, but have great views of the Tatoosh Range. Make sure to check out Myrtle Falls down the stairs and then stop at Edith Creek for another photo-op.
-Mazama Ridge: This is a little harder to get to, but the rewards are well worth it. This flat ridge has the best views of Rainier with flowers spread across all the meadows. Since it is further away from the main visitor center, you won’t see a lot of people here. When you get to the top of the ridge from the switchback trail, hang a right to the south and walk down this trail towards Reflection Lake to find the best meadows and views of Rainier.
-Reflection Lake: While not technically at Paradise, it’s an easy 5-minute drive down Stevens Canyon Road to get here. This is the prettiest lake in the area with spectacular views of Rainier reflected in the water. Sunrise here is a must as the water is calmer in the morning and it is easy to get to early as there is no hiking involved. Place yourself on the far east side of the lake for the best flowers beyond the large boulders.
-Moraine Trail: This lesser known trail breaks off Deadhorse Creek Trail (a beautiful trail filled with flowers and marmots) and heads down the hill to get an amazing view of Nisqually Glacier and Mount Rainier. The flowers here are beautiful and it is a great spot for sunset as it is located on the western side of a steep slope.
What to do in Sunrise
If you have more time at Rainier, then make sure to check out Sunrise at the Northeast corner of the park. The view of the mountain is considerably different as the massive Emmons Glacier dominates the peak. There are fewer photo opportunities here, but it is worth a visit for a day or so. This area of the park is drier then the south and west, so the flowers typically peak here a week or two before Paradise. So if you plan on visiting both locations, start here. Below are a few locations to check out at Sunrise if you are looking for flowers and stunning photo-ops.
-Emmons Vista/Silver Forest Trail: One of the easier hikes in all of Rainier, this trail begins right outside the Sunrise parking lot and continues to the east with little to no elevation gain. You will have to look over your shoulder towards Rainier for the best views. As you hike, you will see the White River snaking its way from Rainier, 2,000 feet below. This is the most popular photo location at Sunrise.
-Sourdough Ridge: This hike is right above Sunrise with an elevation gain around 500 feet. You get beautiful views of Rainier and flowers dotted across the hill.
-Berkeley Park: This is considered by many to be the best spot for flowers in the park. The only downside is that the views of Rainier are very limited, so expect to only be looking at the ground for wildflowers. This is also a fairly long hike, so be prepared to make it a full-day outing.
More about Rainier
If you are still looking for more locations at Rainier, then be sure to check out areas such as Tipsoo Lake, Grove of the Patriarchs, Christine Falls, Narada Falls, Bench & Snow Lake, the Tatoosh Range, Carbon River, Mowich Lake, and more.
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Hey, I'm Chase Dekker, a wildlife and nature photographer looking to share my stories and expertise with as many people as possible. My blog gives you a glimpse into my life as a photographer - whether it be stories from my travels, or guides on how to make your own trips as successful and special as possible.
I hope to give you valuable insight on everything from travel, to animals, to photography tips and more!