If you only have enough time to do one hike at Mount Rainier National Park, the Skyline Trail should
definitely be it. This moderate, diverse loop will take you through all kinds of terrain up to Panorama Point, where you’ll be able to admire up-close views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier.
Hiking the Skyline Trail is, quite literally, a walk through Paradise. It starts out in the Paradise area, just below the southern slopes of Mount Rainier. The scenic loop goes for about five and a half miles round-trip, and takes an average of about 3-4 hours to complete. Because of the length and steep elevation, it's more of a moderate hike, but your little ones can still tag along if they'd like.
It kicks off right behind the Henry Jackson Visitor Center, after heading up these beautiful granite steps. There are a few different trails you can actually take from here, but if you pick up a map from the visitor's center or follow along the well-marked signs, it's easy to be pointed in the right direction.
Etched into the stairway is a heartwarming quote from John Muir, that describes his reaction after he first saw Paradise Valley back in 1889: "...the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."
The trail is paved for the first half-mile, but it climbs steeply fast - with almost 1,700 feet of elevation gain in only a few miles. Luckily, after working up a sweat, the hike levels out a little bit later on.
On the way up, you'll pass by several streams, waterfalls, snowfields, and alpine meadows filled with vibrant, scented wildflowers. In the summer, look out for all of the colorful blooms - including purple lupine, paintbrush, and pink heather (to name a few).
On a clear day, the views of the surrounding peaks are mind-blowing. You'll be able to see the rugged Tatoosh Peaks, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and even Mount Hood down in Oregon. And of course, an outstanding vista of our grandest peak Mount Rainier, and the Nisqually Glacier.
As you approach Panorama Point, you may experience walking through a little bit of fog. Depending on when you visit - especially before July - you may also find there's still plenty of remaining snow. There's also a small, yet clean pit toilet built into a cliff up at the top, in case nature calls.
Near the end of the trail, you'll pass by the lovely Myrtle Falls. This iconic 60-foot waterfall is one of the most picture perfect ones in the area, especially with the Mount Rainier backdrop right behind it. If you cross the footbridge over Edith Creek, you can turn just off the trail down to one of the best viewpoints for taking photos.
After getting back on the trail, it continues for a little over a mile before finally concluding at the Paradise parking lot. Sturdy boots are definitely recommended for this hike, as well as a good camera to capture all of the incredible Northwest beauty.
Have you hiked this scenic trail in Mount Rainier National Park before? Or would you like to add it to your list this summer?