National Park Road Trip 2011: Finding Paradise At Mount Rainier National Park
Editor's note: One truly can find Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park, as lodging experts David and Kay Scott, authors of The Complete Guide To the National Park Lodges, discovered when they reached the park on their national park odyssey.
Greetings from Mount Rainier National Park, where we just completed a stay at each of the park’s two lodges. Our road trip is in its seventh week and we have driven about 5,800 miles. Mount Rainier was designated in 1899 as our nation’s fifth national park (after Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon). The park receives nearly 2 million visitors annually, about half the count at Yellowstone and Yosemite.
The scenery here is magnificent, if it isn’t raining. Several days ago we considered the snow in Crater Lake National Park something to behold, but we hadn’t seen anything. While Crater Lake received above-average snowfall of 55 feet during the past winter, the Paradise area of Mount Rainier received from 70 to 75 feet. Wow! We have visited Mount Rainier on numerous occasions but have never seen snow like this.
Since our last report from Crater Lake Lodge, we camped one night in a Washington state park on the Columbia River and a second night in a U.S. Forest Service campground west of Yakima. The Columbia River Gorge always seems to be windy and this stay was no exception. The fellow in the neighboring campsite commented on the difficulty he had putting up his tent. The wind makes lighting our Coleman stove a real challenge.
The U.S. Forest Service campground near Yakima was so nice that we would have liked to have stayed longer. There were only four other campers even though it was a Friday night. Our campsite was on the bank of a roaring river and the weather was nearly perfect.
Mount Rainier has two very different lodges. Our first night was at Paradise Inn, a classic national park lodge that first received visitors in 1917. A larger annex added several years later houses the majority of the guest rooms. Paradise is at an elevation of 5,400 feet and the buildings are typically buried under snow for much of the winter.
This winter was particularly brutal, although the inn opened on schedule. The main building has a huge lobby flanked on each end by a mammoth stone fireplace. The lobby is filled with sofas, chairs, and tables, and serves as a focal point where guests congregate during the day and evening.
Several hours of piano music are offered during the later afternoon and early evening. Evening ranger programs are presented in the lobby.
Paradise is a large facility with 117 guest rooms. All but a few rooms in the main lodge are without a private bathroom, while all guest rooms in the slightly newer annex each have a private bath. In general, guest rooms in the inn are relatively small and few have good views of Mount Rainier.
However, walk out the inn’s front entrance and on a clear day the view of Mount Rainier is absolutely stunning. Fortunately, we enjoyed good weather and excellent mountain views for much of our stay at Paradise.
The park’s other lodging facility, National Park Inn, is much smaller, with 25 rooms, and quieter than Paradise Inn. Both facilities have been operated by Guest Services for nearly 40 years. Being 2,500 feet lower in elevation results in a much different climate than at Paradise.
It still tends to be wet, but temperatures are warmer, often considerably warmer. The Longmire area where National Park Inn is located is currently free of snow while Paradise remains covered in the white stuff. Like Paradise Inn, National Park Inn has rooms with and without a private bathroom. Choosing the latter saves about $45 per night.
We find that many guests at Paradise Inn don’t consider staying at National Park Inn. Many don’t even take time to visit the smaller facility. We typically spend one night at each inn and enjoy them both. In fact, it is nice to follow a night at busy Paradise with a restful night at National Park Inn. The rooms at National Park Inn are generally larger and in better condition than rooms at Paradise Inn. The small lounge with a large stone fireplaces serves as a meeting place for guests.
National Park Inn is part of the Longmire Historic District that includes park headquarters, a 1927 gasoline station (now serving as a small transportation museum), a museum, and a building constructed in 1911 as a hotel clubhouse, but that now serves as a market. A ¾-mile self-guiding trail through old-growth forest is across the road from National Park Inn.
Today we leave Mount Rainier for Olympic National Park and a stay at three of the park’s four lodging facilities. Our first stop will be at Lake Quinault Lodge, in Olympic National Forest, just outside the park boundary. Olympic will be the topic of our next report.