Seattle Summer Adventures: Mount Rainier

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Taking a breather after climbing Crystal Mountain. The kind folks at the resort lined up these lounge chairs right outside Summit House restaurant, next to the gondola. The Summit House is the highest elevation restaurant in Washington. We didn’t eat there, but we enjoyed their view.

“The mountain is out.”

That’s what we say in Seattle on beautiful days when the skies are so clear we can see all the way to Mount Rainier, our volcanic neighbor 50 miles to the southeast. At 14,411 feet, it’s an awesome sight that still wows me as much today as it did when I moved here 20 years ago.

With more sunny days than usual this summer, “the mountain” has been a bigger part of our daily backdrop than we’re used to, and a reminder that it’s been too many years since we’ve taken a close-up look at this natural wonder in our neighborhood. When a friend told me two weeks ago that the wildflowers were blooming early because of the hot weather, I knew it was time to go for a hike.

20150705_200828011_iOSBut where? Along with seeing wildflowers, a dog-friendly trail  was at the top of my criteria and dogs are not allowed on trails* inside the national park.

The only thing on my daughter’s wish list was some serious height. “Something dangerous,” were her specific words.

This kid is going to kill me.

My husband did some research and we settled on Crystal Mountain Resort, just north of Mount Rainier. They delivered everything we were looking for. Not only do they allow dogs on their trails, but they’re allowed on the gondola as well. And, they had some narrow paths along hillsides steep enough to satisfy my daughter’s craving for danger.

20150705_175601250_iOSWe arrived around 10a.m., grabbed a trail map and headed out, taking Silver Creek Trail from the base, then switching over to Crystal Mountain Trail. Along the way we walked through forests, over creeks, peeked into an abandoned mine shaft, walked under a ski lift, traversed ski bowls that are now meadows filled with wildflowers,  and admired a couple of serene mountain lakes (through a layer of mosquitoes and biting flies — bring bug spray).

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These alpine lakes were picture perfect, but full of mosquitoes and biting flies. We weren’t prepared for it. We rarely use bug spray, but this was one time we would have — if we’d brought it along.

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This creek wasn’t too far past the abandoned mine shaft and the Pacific Crest Trail. Lots of mosquitoes and biting flies here, too.

See these rocks? They're a lot hotter than we thought. Use caution with your dog's feet. Don't let her stop too long on them.

See these rocks? They’re a lot hotter than we thought. Use caution with your dog’s feet. Don’t let her stop too long on them.

The trail was so beautiful and the flowers so plentiful that when we crested the mountain, the eye-to-eye view of Mount Rainier along the ridge of Crystal Mountain was just icing on the cake.

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“This is a fun hike,” our daughter said several times as she bounded up the trail ahead of us. More than five miles uphill later, she felt the same way. We did, too. But that didn’t stop us from saying “enough” when we reached the top. After a short rest, we chose to ride the gondola down and call it a day — a nearly perfect family day.

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IF YOU GO:
Crystal Mountain opened for summer activities the last week of June and will remain open daily through September 20. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Gondola costs, hiking info and maps can be found on the Crystal Mountain website.

*The Pacific Crest Trail is the one exception.

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