Thursday, July 9, 2009

Paradise River Trail, Mount Rainier, July 8, 2009

Paradise River Trail – July 8, 2009 (Mount Rainier National Park)

This is a 6.4-mile trail that makes an interesting one-way hike between Longmire and Paradise. You’ll need two cars to do this as a one-way hike – you can also make use of the shuttle operated by the park. The shuttle stops at Longmire/Paradise several times a day. Visit the park website for more details on the shuttle. Right now parking is limited at the upper Paradise parking lot; weekends are the worst, of course. There is a 2-hour parking limit in the upper lot but overflow parking is allowed along the Valley Road; on a weekday there was plenty of space to park.

If you’ve got bad knees – you might want to start from the bottom and work your way to Paradise. Conversely, if you are out of shape, you might want to trickle down from top to bottom; your choice. But wait – you don’t even have to do the whole hike. There are other access points to the trail including Cougar Rock and Narada Falls. Hike as little – or as much as you like.

It felt like winter when we arrived at Paradise. Brrrr! There was still snow at Paradise and low-cloud cover. But – avalanche lilies, glacier lilies and pink heather are blooming where snow has melted; lupine, penstemon and beargrass is popping out all along the Nisqually Paradise Road.

We stopped at the Visitor Information Center at the new Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center to get “directions” to the trailhead as the road where the trail starts was bordered with melting snowdrifts. The markers have been taken down over the winter (so snow plows don’t break them) but with guidance from an employee at the Visitor Center we were able to find the trailhead. You can pick up the trail on the Valley Road – it starts where the trees end on the downhill side of the road. There is a small stone stairway; as of yesterday the upper stretch was mostly snow-covered but there were tracks in the snow and it was easy to follow the trail down to where it first crosses the road.

Even along the upper stretch meadows and babbling streams are replacing the snow; this was a lovely stretch with scads of glacier lilies and avalanche lilies. We almost felt the meadows were holding their breath; waiting for summer to melt the rest of the snow.

We were the only hikers on the trail until we dropped down to Narada Falls; there we met a few hikers/tourists who had parked at the roadside trailhead and walked in for the tumultuous view. As always, Narada Falls is a wonder to behold and as always, a challenge to photograph with digital cameras – we try anyway.

Between Narada Falls and Cougar Rock we saw only a few other hikers; most of them closer to Cougar Rock than Narada Falls. Avalanche and glacier lilies followed us all the way down from Paradise – it was only past Narada Falls that we lost them. There was a mix of summer/spring flowers in this middle section; even a trillium or two and a few marsh marigolds near boggy areas. There are also several crossings of the river on jerrybuilt bridges; none of them are difficult to cross. It is obvious that some of these temporary bridges will soon be replaced; new bridges are going in, at various stages of completion.

We stopped at Madcap Falls (the waterfall is not signed, it is just above Carter Falls) where there is a view from a sturdy handrail. It pales in significance to Narada Falls but is still worth a stop. Carter Falls is a little mightier but it’s hard to get a look as the waterfall is partially hidden by evergreens. Do stay behind the guardrails; venturing off trail for a better look at both of these falls could be dangerous.

From Carter Falls the trail descends to Cougar Rock and a crossing of the Nisqually River on a footbridge with a handrail.

The last stretch of the trail is quiet – from Cougar Rock to Longmire the trail is in old-growth forest with stately trees, ferns, moss, salal, Oregon grape and few flowers. It is a cool, shady place and an easy walk for visitors from Longmire. We did find several clumps of pinesap emerging from the thick, forest duff near Longmire. No Indian pipe was seen – apparently Indian pipe has become rare.

At Longmire we took the second car back to Paradise for the shuttle. Before we left we visited the new Paradise Visitor Center (the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center) and were impressed. It certainly is a beautiful structure compared to the old Visitor Center; unlike the old visitor center this one seems to blend in with the landscape. The interior is a showpiece with wood paneling, a gift shop and elaborate interpretive displays. We’d intended to stop for 5-10 minutes; we spent an hour.

Starting from Paradise there is an elevation loss of 2,700 feet. Conversely, a climb of 2,700 feet or so if you go from bottom to top.

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