Mount Rainier's Skyline Trail has breathtaking views

September 15, 2010 

Time to add another hike to your "must do" list.

Much as the Mist Trail is the signature tourist hike at Yosemite, no summertime visit to Washington's Mount Rainier is complete without a stroll on the Skyline Trail.

The 51/2-mile loop is short but steep (1,700 feet of elevation gain), beginning and ending at the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park. Don't expect much solitude -- Paradise is the most visited part of the park -- but crowds don't detract from the mind-blowing panoramic views and wildflower displays.

Mount Rainier is known for its glaciers. The peak's flanks, however, are covered with meadows and snow-fed streams. John Muir, who visited in 1888, called it, "the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."

(Not a bad recommendation, if I do say so.)

The Skyline Trail starts just in front of the brand-new visitors center and climbs steeply. The first half-mile is paved so that hikers don't trample fragile meadows exploding with pink lupine, blue gentians, magenta and orange paintbrush and the steady buzzing of bees.

Looming above this colorful scene is Mount Rainier itself, covered with dirty glaciers and rocky cliffs. The closer you get to the hulking peak, the more imposing it becomes.

Face away from Mount Rainier and the view is just as breathtaking. The serrated peaks of the Tatoosh Range sit in the foreground, backed by snow-capped Cascade giants Mount Adams, Mount St. Helen's and (on a clear day) Mount Hood.

The trail is well-signed, and there are plenty of benches to sit and gaze at the mountain. But no matter how many angles you view it from, the scenery never gets old. Just soak it in. You'll be in no hurry whatsoever to make your way back.

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