Ask a Washingtonian about how it is going, and you will quickly learn two things: what the weather is currently doing, which often lives up to its rainy reputation, and when it isn’t raining, the conversation will turn to a statement often unique to this area, that “the mountain is out” meaning that Mt. Rainier is visible in its 14,411 feet of glory. It is a common tourist site, often growing over-crowded during the busy summer months, but if you plan your trip, you can discover some of the lesser known areas on and around Mt. Rainier.
Start your journey in Enumclaw, a community that has transformed from an agricultural area to a suburban outpost with a quaint downtown, at the base of the Cascade Range. Make sure to fuel yourself at one of the downtown cafes for a full day of adventure, as well as making sure your gas tank is topped off as there are very few opportunities to refuel after you leave town!
Departing Enumclaw, don’t be afraid to take a quick and early stop to walk off breakfast at the Mud Mountain Dam. This is a secluded area often overlooked in the shadow of the larger mountains nearby, but it will give you a chance to start the adventure on the right foot. As you leave the Dam, you can return to the main highway (a two-lane road), State Highway 410 and continue East, up into the mountains.
The highway follows the White River, a milky and cold river that you will follow all the way to its headwaters, high on Mt. Rainier. In and out of the forest you will see hints of the mountain looming large on the horizon, or possibly hidden in the high clouds. Watch your speed as you enter the community of Greenwater, home to some die-hard locals that embrace the mountain lifestyle and have built small businesses to serve locals and tourists alike. A favorite stop is Wapiti Woolies, a sporting goods shop that started by knitting wool hats, but has developed into much more, including a stop for a coffee or espresso, or a mid-morning treat.
With caffeine for the road, enjoy the drive along the banks of the White River, stopping at any of the multiple turn offs along the way. You will see forest eco-systems change as they have been altered by humans throughout the years. If you don’t stop to take in the scenery it is a short 20 minutes to the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park (only open in summer). As you enter the park, you will be surrounded by beautiful old-growth forests and continuing along the White River. During a short summer season, the lesser visited Sunrise Visitor Center & Day Lodge allows you to access the highest point on Mt. Rainier by vehicle at a 6,400 feet above sea level, but still 8,000 feet below the summit. Explore the facilities, enjoy the wildflowers and the beautiful scenery available with far fewer crowds than the well visited Paradise Visitor Center and Lodge.
After you have had your fill of the high-alpine, return back to the entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park and head up to Crystal Mountain Ski Area. Even during the summer it is a wonderful place to visit, and after filling yourself with hiking in the park, you can take a scenic gondola ride to the top where you can look back at where you were, high on Mt. Rainier with breathtaking vistas. Enjoy select dinners and sunsets at the Summit House.
To make sure you are ready for the trip, drop into one of your local Nokian Tyres retailers and they can give you a tire inspection and make sure you are equipped for the journey. During the summer time, any one of the all-season products from Nokian Tyres will keep you safely and sustainably on the road!