I have to be honest, I had picked out a day tour to Olympic National Park when I was planning the trip – it sounded amazing with waterfalls and mountains and so much more. However, by the time I could book our tours in May, that particular excursion was sold out. So, a Mount Rainier Day Trip was booked instead. I have very few regrets about this tour – it was breathtakingly beautiful to be in Mount Rainier National Park, and it was really nice to have someone that knew all the history and the best vistas to show us around.
The tour started bright and early when Customized Tours picked us up at our hotel – they also dropped us off at the end of the day which was perfect since we decided not to rent a car. About 45 minutes into the trip, we stopped at a grocery store to get lunch and drinks for the day – it was nice to be able to save a little money on lunch, and it was also the ONLY time we had Starbucks the whole time we were in Washington. (Not for lack of trying, but they were either closed or prohibitively busy the whole time in Seattle.) The bus driver even provided a cooler with ice and some waters for us to grab throughout the day, and he allowed us to keep some of our lunch and drink items in it as well.
Shortly after we stopped for food, we stopped for our first views of Mount Rainier at a very small community park. It was a quick on and off stop, but got us pretty excited to get closer looks.
As you can see, we dressed in layers in anticipation of some cooler temperatures up on the mountain. We were to be sorely mistaken, though, as it was 85 degrees at the highest elevations we reached. Even with the snow still on the ground. Alas, our trip did not end up being the cooler temps we had heard about and longed for…
We kept traveling through a few more small towns and finally made it into the National Park. Our first stop in the park was in Longmire to hike a short trail, see our first in park views of the mountain, and shop at the gift shop. Oh, and use the restrooms, a necessity if you are busy hydrating all day. The short trail was through some forest – the trees were tall and beautiful. It was a lovely walk, although we felt rushed when we realized we were only halfway through the hike and had 5 minutes before our bus was supposed to leave…
Our next stop was at a scenic overlook. We had to practically drag Charlotte back to the bus at this stop – she kept wandering further down the road to take photos.
A little further up the road we made the next stop – Narada Falls. It is a 188 foot drop, so it actually towers over Niagara Falls, and it has a beautiful rainbow from most angles. It also gave us a lovely misting when we went to the view area – very welcome in the unexpected heat.
How gorgeous is that?!? We were also supposed to see Christine Falls, but that parking lot was under construction, so we were unable to stop. No worries, our next stop was Paradise (no really, that is what it is called) and we got to hike up to another waterfall called Myrtle Falls. The views were gorgeous, we were able to make snowballs, and there was once again a gift shop and bathrooms. Practically perfect in every way.
After leaving Paradise, a sharp-eyed passenger on our bus spotted a momma bear and 2 cubs in the distance. If you look closely at this photo, they are the black spot that looks like a dog and the slightly smaller black spots in the distance. It was really cool to watch them from afar.
Our last stop in the park was at the reflection lakes area. It is a series of 4-5 different lakes that could be really reflective on a calm day. Our day the water was a bit rough, so this is what we saw – still gorgeous!
After the reflection lakes, we made 2 quick stops at a suspension bridge over the Nisqually River and then a stop at a Ukranian bakery on the way home for some amazing pastries. It was so good that I didn’t even pause to take a photo.
I mentioned above that I have very few regrets, but I did have 3. The first regret is that we did not wear shorts – it was so hot, but the forecast had not really predicted that when we left. The second is that I wish we had a little more time at a few of the stops – nothing that could be helped, it was a group tour that had promised some set things and needed to deliver. Those regrets I can 100% live with and take responsibility for. The third regret is that I did not have noise canceling headphones like the rest of my family for the trip home. On the way home, a German grad student (studying history with a focus on war) asked our tour guide for war stories because he had served in the special forces in the Middle East. The guide used the bus’s PA system to start with a story that then quickly went off the rails into conspiracy theories. I have no problem with people believing differently than I do, but I do not think that this was the proper use of the PA system on a bus with a wide variety of people on it. So, in summary, dress for the actual weather, be ready to cut things a little short sometimes, and take noise canceling headphones and you will have a marvelous time on this tour.
Have you ever been to Mount Rainier? Did you go with a tour or on your own? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments.