Mt. Rainier National Park's visitor centers offer families fun interactive exhibits and ranger-led junior ranger programs for kids of all ages to explore the mountain's history, wildlife, and geology. The visitor centers also welcome all ages on their ranger-guided summer hikes, while guided winter snowshoeing hikes are only recommended for kids eight years and up. Visitor center hours, ranger-guided hikes, and junior ranger programs vary by season. Go here for each visitor center's current hours and contact information.
Every September, the Rainier Mountain Festival features a variety of kids games, from an inflatable bounce house to ice and rock climbing walls. Combine that with food and music and you've got a great family outing.
Crystal Mountain's seasonal 18 hole course is a great way for families to enjoy their day on the mountain while getting some exercise. Experienced disc golfers will, of course, want to bring their own "bag" of discs -- otherwise, discs are available for sale and rent at the Snorting Elk Cellar and Village Inn Hotel Registration office. In 2010, the Disc Golf Course has been expanded and now features the full vertical of Crystal Mountain. Great fun and unbeatable views!
Adventure Portraits are for lovers of the outdoors. The most beautiful backgrounds are NOT found inside a studio with a fake background, they are waiting to be discovered in the great outdoors. "The WORLD is your studio!" Become part of the art as you travel with Chris Watkins to your favorite Mt. Rainier destination to have him create your own unique and inspiring portrait. More information at AdventurePortraits.com.
One of the greatest things about traveling with children is their ability to jump into imaginary worlds. Visiting places like Mt. Rainier help to feed their repertoire for ideas, whether it be a stroll through the gigantic ancient Grove of the Patriarchs or the manufactured recycled wonders at the Ex-Nihilo Metal Sculpture Park.
Ex-Nihilo is Latin for "something created out of nothing." But his nothings aren't nothing at all. They're pieces of historical trash - junk tossed into a ravine not far from his "gallery" that have become the media for his artistic expression. Old tie-rod ends, rusted-out drums, and lengths of sheet metal welded together with old tools, metal bumpers, and whatever else Klennert can pull together, find new life as majestic works of art.
What stories will your children tell from seeing gigantic dinosaurs, seahorses, and eagles, a band of metal musicians gathered and ready to play? Young ones may decide to ride off with the motorcycle-riding skeleton under the watchful eye of a rooster that stands one hundred times taller than the live models he represents. See the horses with their elegant bodies grazing in everlasting grace.
Stop by, enjoy Klennert's creations, and wonder, what creations could you make with your junk at home?
Visiting Mt. Rainier is a huge attraction for people new to the Pacific Northwest. Seen from miles around, few sights are as majestic as this great volcano. But getting there takes a little time. When you arrive in the town of Elbe as you head up to the Nisqually Entrance on the west side of Mt. Rainier National Park, your kids will probably have asked at least a dozen times, "Are we there yet?" Give your kids a treat and take them on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad.
There isn't a child on the planet who doesn't like trains. They're loud, strong, and kids aren't tied down to a seatbelt when they ride one. There are two types of trains to choose from in Elbe, and if you're lucky, you'll get the old fashioned, open air steam train. Its whistle is the loudest of any around and the plumes of smoke and steam bring you back to days long past.
"We told our kids that traveling by train was once thought to be a luxury," says Lisa Morgan of Pittsburgh who was visiting Mt. Rainier with her husband and three children.
Not that this train could be confused with a luxurious rail line, it's certainly fun and has lots of room for children to walk around and see the sights, complete with snack bar and several bathrooms. Kind conductors give a brief history lesson of the area-that is if you can hear them over the whistles at road crossings. And the view of the great mountain as the train crosses the Nisqually River is breathtaking. All aboard! Enjoy the ride.
Board the steam train at the Train Depot in downtown Elbe. Physical address, 54124 Mountain Hwy E, Elbe, WA 98330. For rates and train schedule, visit the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad website.
Special programs for Junior Rangers age 6-11 are offered throughout the park in summer. Ask for a Junior Ranger Activity Book. It's free and available at visitor centers from July 1-Sept 1. Complete it and you'll earn a badge and certificate. Daily ranger presentations of songs, stories, games, and walks add meaning to the surroundings for parents and children alike. Look for them at Longmire, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise/White River and Paradise. Find the details on the programs in each area here. (link to park programs page) Learn more at the NPS Kidzone website. And sit down with your kids and check out Web Rangers to learn about National Parks and take a peek into a day in the life of a park ranger.
Introduce your children to the great outdoors with a short walk at the park. With no elevation gain, Trail of the Shadows at Longmire offers a wooded walk through the forest and interpretive signs outlining this area's historical significance. Or for those spectacular panoramic mountain views with some fun information thrown in, tour the Nisqually Vista Trail at Paradise with a ranger.
Trail of the Shadows
Begin this family friendly walk at Longmire, across the road from the National Park Inn. Less than a mile long and taking about 30 minutes to complete, the trail explores a mineral hot springs that was discovered by James Longmire, an early settler in the region. Longmire was drawn by these soda springs and filed a mineral claim. This trail also displays an early homestead cabin and a variety of plants and animals. It is a fascinating blend of human and natural history.
Nisqually Vista Trail
Mount Rainier National Park offers a Junior Ranger Program, with guided kid-friendly tours of the mountain from Sunrise and Paradise. But if you happen to arrive at the park on a day or time when a Junior Ranger hike isn't being offered, fear not as options exist for you and your family.
Several times during the day, rangers from Mt. Rainier also offer guided tours not specifically designed for children, but children are most welcome and do get a lot out of these tours.
Take the Nisqually Glacier tour for example. Also called the Nisqually Vista Trail, it's only a mile and a half long, is paved, and is the easiest trail on the Paradise side of the mountain. You're welcome to hike it any time you want to of course, but by going with a ranger you'll come away with a new perspective about the mountain and some interesting and fun information as well.
If you're lucky, you might find yourself on a tour with Dana, a ranger who is a geologist by trade. She enamored the children on our hike with her lessons on volcanoes and the variety of rocks you can find on Mt. Rainier. She had rock samples the kids could hold in their hands and she drew pictures on a large white board she actually carried with her along the hike. She could rattle off the names of botanical mountain marvels (wildflowers) like nobody's business. And the best part was that she walked at a pace fit for the group she was hosting. Great fun for all.
Join a US Forest Ranger for a short, interpretive hike from the summit of Crystal Mountain. Learn about local flora and fauna, human history and the geologic processes which have shaped this unique alpine landscape. Tours are complimentary and open to everyone. Bring the whole family -- even leashed dogs are welcome! Tours gather outside the new Summit Shop under the gondola terminal Wednesday - Sunday at 11am and 1pm.
Completed in January 2011 and open year-round, the Mt. Rainier Gondola will whisk you and your family up 2,500 feet in a scenic ten minute ride to Crystal Mountain's 6,872 ft. summit. Enjoy the stark alpine landscape along with the wide-angle views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding Cascade Range's peaks and glaciers. Explore the trails, join a ranger-led interpretive hike, picnic with family and friends, or dine at the Summit House, the highest elevation restaurant in Washington.
This 8.6 mile out and back ride on the pipeline trail (no. 74) is mostly flat and follows a dirt road and wide singletrack that is open to hikers, horses, mountain bikes, ATVs and motorcycles. Soak up the views of Rainier and the Goat Rocks Wilderness as you picnic at the lake (4.3 miles in).
The month of September is the best month to find huckleberries. Two quarts per person per day of huckleberries may be gathered within the National Park, and just outside the park's southern boundaries, East Lewis County near Packwood and Randle is well known for these delightful and tasty fruits. Huckleberries grow in open areas at elevations over 4000 feet. Three gallons per person are allowed (non-commercial) without a permit.
Near Eatonville, the Wildlife Park is a treasure for families and wildlife enthusiasts. The signature tram tour through the 435-acre free roaming area offers the opportunity to spot animals as they wander through forests, wetlands and meadows. Including the core area -- with cats, bears, wolves, owls and more -- the park is home to 200 animals representing 30 species.
Pioneer Farm Museum is a "hands on" homestead built in 1887 with a multiple of activities for adults and children, including overnight programs. It is open on weekends from mid-March through mid-June, and after Labor Day to the day before Thanksgiving. During summer it is open all week. The Museum and Ohop Indian Village are located just north of Eatonville.