Whether you can come for a week, a weekend, or only a day, there are fun things for your family to do at Mount Rainier.
If you'd like to spend just one day...though you'll likely change your mind once you get here... here are some suggestions for how to spend your day in the most memorable way.
Bringing your family to Mount Rainier is like no other outing you'll ever take, so take advantage of all the mountain has to offer. The drive to the mountain isn't harrowing, but it can be long for young kids. When you get to Elbe, start your day with a special ride on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. Check the schedule on the MRSR website the day before you arrive, just to be sure.
10:30 a.m. - All Aboard!
Climb on board a magic carpet from the past. The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad runs Friday through Sunday and comes complete with billowing plumes of steam and a whistle that can be heard for miles. Kids love trains and these open-air steam-driven locomotives are something right out of a history book, or in some cases, a cartoon. Kids enjoy the feel of the wind in their faces and the ability to move around more freely than in the family's minivan. There is a snack car on each train, as well as restrooms for everyone's convenience.
The trip on the train is relaxing. You travel through forests and fields, and over the Nisqually River to behold the mighty mountain you've come to visit. The train even stops on the bridge so parents can take photographs. Although your route takes you in a circle back to the depot in Elbe, there is one stop along the way where kids and family members can disembark the train for a walk-about or a quick picnic lunch. The entire trip takes about two hours and is enjoyable for all.
2 p.m. - Naturalist Hike
After your excursion on the steam train, if you haven't had lunch while on board, sample a local favorite in Elbe... a Scale Burger! While it's nothing fancy, this little restaurant has been around for years and has fueled many a hiker, biker, climber, and yes hungry kiddo. There are several other nice restaurants on the road up to Paradise, too, as well as several picnic stops once you enter the park.
Wander up the winding road for a few miles, stopping along the way to take in a few sites so by early afternoon you arrive at Paradise, in plenty of time to take a guided tour or short hike.
Again, be sure to check the website before you leave home for the most accurate schedule, or visit the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise when you arrive to participate in a park ranger-led tour. There are several that occur over the course of the day each summer. Some hikes are longer than others. The Nisqually Vista Trail is an especially nice hike for children and older folks because it is the shortest hike in this area of the park at only one and a half miles, and it's also the easiest hike, with equal amounts of rolling trail, not just straight up the mountainside.
The rangers present interesting facts about Mt. Rainier and draw pictures to illustrate their points. Some rangers come with rock samples for kids to touch and hold in their hands. Later in the afternoon you might be able to catch a Junior Ranger Program, which will have more kid-specific activities. But if you only have a day, catching the earlier program is your better bet. The pace is leisurely but still gives you time to get back to the Jackson Visitor Center for your children to check out the kid-friendly exhibits there before heading back down the mountain.
4:00 p.m. - Ex-Nihilo Metal Sculpture Park
On your way back to Elbe, whether you're heading home or to your campsite, be sure to stop at Dan Klennert's Recycled Spirits of Iron outdoor gallery. Quite the site to behold, Klennert is a sculptor who has devoted his talent to making art out of scrap metal. Your children will delight in the over-sized and life-sized models of modern-day horses and motorcycles as well as historical creatures like old fashioned trains and the ever popular dinosaurs.
Klennert's display is unique and serves as a good lesson for kids in that nothing is ever really just thrown away. While decades ago, some folks tossed out their old metal scrap and broken down cars in a ravine, today, Klennert reclaims these items and brings them new life.
Well-worth a stop-over before you hit the ice cream shop or your dinner destination, look for the sculpture park as you leave Mt. Rainier National Park. It'll be on your left-hand side and not as easy to spot when you leave the park as when you enter the park.
We hope your day at Mount Rainier was fun and memorable. Next time, plan to stay for the weekend, as there is a lot more to explore.
- Amy Poffenbarger