Gone are the crowds, the clomp of climbing boots and drivers cruising jammed parking lots looking for an open parking spot.
They’re replaced by the fiery colors of vine maples, a sense of solitude and perhaps the first snowflakes.
Fall is when life at Mount Rainier National Park shifts gears, from hectic to leisurely. There’s still a chance to catch wildflower blooms or a glimpse of a hungry bear.
“It’s a little quieter, especially during the week,” said Lee Snook, the park’s west district interpreter. “There’s not as many large family groups. It’s got a little bit different feel to it rather than the hustle and bustle of summer.”
Snook admits she’s a fan of the seasonal changes.
“I do enjoy this season because of the fall colors,” she said. “It’s very comforting to me, it’s like eating a bowl of warm soup with the family. It’s enjoyable to go to Paradise Inn and read a book by the fire.”
But the joys of the park during the fall can quickly fall victim to the icy grasp of winter.
“You should get on the trails before the snow comes, because once it does, those trails will be covered until June,” Snook said.
“Last year I was up at the mountain when the first snowflakes fell on the red huckleberries and by afternoon it was gone,” said Mary Kay Nelson, executive director of Visit Rainier. “But it was so neat to see the struggle between fall and winter.”
Here are some other reasons to visit this season.
Watch for bears: Snook said visitors on the Myrtle Falls Trail at Paradise should keep their eyes open for black bears. She said two sows, each with a cub, have been seen regularly in the area. “Berries have been kind of slim up high this year, so they are coming down farther,” Snook said. “Those bears are trying to find anything they can.” She said as along as visitors mind their own business, the bears should not pose a problem. “Just don’t mess with the cubs,” she said.
Wet wonders: There are plenty of hikes in the southeast corner of the park that will lead you past waterfalls, said Tom Prang, lead ranger at Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. He recommends the Silver Falls Trail. “The Ohanapecosh River is actually quite clear because it comes mostly from snowmelt,” he said. “We have a series of cascades and rapids and one of the most popular waterfall trails.” The Eastside Trail, that parallels state Route 12, also takes you past a number of creeks and waterfalls, he said.
Berry picking: While this normally is something visitors can do throughout the fall, there aren’t a lot of berries such as huckleberries this year. “The issue is this year, we had such bad weather this spring, that a lot of things didn’t get pollinated,” Prang said. Park visitors are allowed to take home two quarts per person per day of huckleberries, blackberries, thimbleberries and salmonberries, all of which may be gathered by hand. Good places for huckleberries include Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground and along the Noble Knob Trail.
Mushroom hunting: “Because we have had a wet September, we have had some people out already,” Prang said. The limit is two quarts of edible mushrooms per person daily. Prang said he does get concerned that people can harvest out an area pretty quickly. “We ask people to be gentle with their impact on the area because we do get hundreds of people visiting the area each week,” he said. The hike between Narada Falls and Longmire is a good spot for locating edible mushrooms.
Jeffrey P. Mayor; 253-597-8640
5 FALL HIKES AT MOUNT RAINIER
Taking a hike at Mount Rainier National Park this time of year is a good way to immerse yourself in fall colors. There are numerous options, but we decided to narrow it down a bit. We asked longtime park ranger Kevin Bacher to recommend five hikes. For more information on these and other hikes visit wwwb.thenewstribune.com/hikes.
1. SPRAY PARK
Vertical: 1,600 feet
Map: Green Trails 269-Rainier West
Details: This relatively easy hike out of Mowich Lake takes you through the forest and into open meadows that offer some of the most breath-taking views of the mountain in the park.
2. SNOW LAKE
Map: Green Trails 270S-Paradise
Details: Before the roads start closing for winter try to sneak out on this short, easy walk. “Not only great colors, but lots of wildlife this time of year with a chance of seeing bears,” Bacher said. “Be bear aware.” The park offers information on handling bear encounters at each of its ranger stations and wilderness centers.
3. SUNRISE AREA
Map: Green River 270-Rainier East
Details: “It’s usually a lot quieter up there than earlier in the summer,” Bacher said. “Great colors and good chances to see mountain goats and, sometimes, even hear elk bugling.” The road to Sunrise is open until Oct. 11. While there are many hiking options, Bacher recommends Fremont Lookout (5.6 miles) and Burroughs Mountain (7.4).
4. PARADISE AREA
Miles: 1-7 miles
Vertical: 200-1,400 feet
Map: Green Trails 270S-Paradise
Details: The summer crowds are gone and the trails at Paradise are open for exploring. Bacher recommends the Skyline Loop (6 miles) and Mazama Ridge Trail (7). “The fall colors, especially on the east side of the (Skyline) trail, are always spectacular,” Bacher said.
5. SHRINER PEAK
Map: Green Trails 270-Rainier East
Details: This hike to an old lookout isn’t for everybody. “It’s one of the steepest trails in the park, but it climbs up through an old burn, where the late summer flowers and fall colors are beautiful,” Bacher said. “There are lots of chances to see wildlife. I’ve seen bear, fox, coyote, deer, elk, marmot and pika. And the view from the top is spectacular.”
Craig Hill, Staff writer
Operating hour changes
In the coming weeks, visitor centers will change to their winter schedules and campgrounds will shut down. Here is a look at some of the key changes:
Longmire Museum: Open year-round. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Oct. 11, the 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily through Dec. 31.
Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Oct. 11, then 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends and holidays only through Dec. 31.
Ohanapecosh Visitor Center: Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. before closing for the season Oct. 11.
Lodging and campgrounds
Paradise Inn: Tonight is the last night to stay at the inn for the season. It will shut down Monday.
National Park Inn: Open year-round.
Cougar Rock Campground: Open through Oct. 11.
Ohanapecosh Campground: Open through Oct. 11.
White River Campground: Closes today.
State Routes 410/123 (Cayuse Pass): Scheduled to close Nov. 19, depending on road and weather conditions.
State Route 410 (Chinook Pass): Scheduled to close Nov. 14, depending on conditions.
Mowich Lake Road: Scheduled to close Nov. 1, depending on conditions.
Sunrise Road: Scheduled to close for the season Oct. 12, depending on conditions.
Westside Road: Scheduled to close Nov. 14, depending on conditions.
White River Road to the campground: Scheduled to close Oct. 30, depending on conditions.