There is just something about the mountains; perhaps it's the cool, crisp mountain air or the majestic snowcapped peaks that draws me to them. Every summer we try to take the boys on a weeklong camping trip, this summer was no exception as we went camping at Mt. Rainier National Park. We have visited the park several times, but this was the first time we ever visited the east side of the mountain. Unlike the west side (Nisqually entrance) that is open year round, the east side is open only for a few short weeks in the summer based on weather and road conditions. Therefore, we make the trek in late August between the time both Michael and Steffen had finished working scout and YMCA camps for the summer and right before school was to begin for the new school year.
We borrowed a tent trailer from a friend, mostly because I did not want to crawl in and out of a tent (sucks getting older). We had a little excitement heading up to the mountain as the trailer's left tire blew. We found some humor in the situation as the exact same thing happened the last time we had borrowed this same trailer (except the other tire). This was beginning to turn into our own family tradition. Ed put on the spare and we were lucky enough to find a tire store just outside of Randall. A new tire on the trailer and we were on the road again.
We spent several nights camping in Ohanapecosh. This campground almost immediately became my favorite place to camp at in Mt. Rainier National Park. I enjoyed that several hiking trails started right from the parking lot and that the campground was convenient to both Paradise and Sunrise. During the day there were ranger-guided hikes (although my boys thought they were too old to participate) and in the evenings, ranger-led programs at the amphitheater. Ohanapecosh even has a visitor's center; however, it is open very limited hours. The biggest downside is there are no showers at any of the campgrounds in Mt. Rainier, so I wore a sloppy ponytail most of the week, and was so happy when I was finally able to wash my hair.
We camped along side the Ohanapecosh River and was surrounded by towering Douglas fir tress. I was surprised with a statewide burn ban park rangers were allowing campfires. However, it just does not feel like camping if we can't roast marshmallows. The days we were in the park we spent exploring and hiking. We hiked the trails to Silver Falls, Hot Springs Nature Trail, and the Grove of the Patriarchs. These hikes were fairly easy (however, the Silver Falls hike can be a bit strenuous as several steps are carved from tree roots), but I highly recommended these hikes. I especially liked walking over the suspension bridge over the Ohanapecosh River to an island of strands of old growth trees. We also drove to Box Canyon and Nickel Creek and took a short two-mile hike. This gentle trail offers amazing views of the gorge.
Another day at Mt. Rainier National Park, we drove up to Sunrise. Sunrise is the highest point that can be reached by vehicle. We explored the visitor's center and even went on a Ranger-lead hike to Emmons Vista Overlooks (overlooking the Emmons glacier). Again, this was the first time we had visited this side of the mountain and the mountain put on a show for us with beautiful subalpine wildflowers and lenticular clouds that appeared to hover just over the peak. Even the weather cooperated with us, as we were surrounded by wildfires throughout the state but the winds held the smoke from settling around the mountain, although a bit hazy at times. We waited until dusk to watch the sun set, and it was beautiful with brilliant reds and oranges, but I really want to come back someday and watch the sunrise.
The following day, we drove up to Crystal Mountain Resort. Again, the weather was picture perfect as we took a gondola ride to the top of the mountain and was awarded with breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade mountains, although Mt. Adams was covered in a thick haze of smoke. We explored and hiked some trails that in the winter are ski trails. Even though, I do not ski, I hope to visit Crystal Mountain Resort again sometime in the winter. I am sure I will be awe with this winter wonderland. I also hope to come back when we can afford some time to explore Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass and camp at the White River Campground.
The next day, we left Mt. Rainier National Park and headed south towards Mt. St. Helens. Again, we had visited Mt. St. Helens several times over the years, but this was the first time we had even seen the mountain from the east side (the side of the mountain that experienced the most catastrophic damage during the violent eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980). We explored several overlooks that lined the road leading up to Windy Ridge. The road is very windy (silly English language) but worth the views of the crater and dome of the mountain and the rebirth of Spirit Lake. Once we reached the end of the road at Windy Ridge, we took a hike to the observatory, which is a series of steps carved into the hillside that switch back and forth. Took me a while, but even I made it all the way to the top. Finishing our visit to Mt. St. Helens, we then took the boys to Ape Cave, which is a large lava tube located in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. There are two hikes available to explore the lava tube; however, because of the time of day we had arrived the boys had to settle for the shorter hike, although I know they were disappointed as they had hoped to take the longer one. Those who do visit Ape Cave need to make sure they have a coat and two light sources for each hiker as it is very, very dark and cool down there.
And this is why I continue to love living in Washington state, so much to do and see without having to take all day to get there.