Have you ever been up to “The Mountain”, as South Puget Sounders call Mt. Rainier? Well, if you are living in the vicinity and up to taking the drive and the fee at the park entrance, you shouldn’t miss out on this. And if you are compelled to stay home, let me at least virtually take you on a short mile’s walk close to Paradise. And for all who are not in the know: Paradise is the highest destination anybody can reach by car on Mt. Rainier. There is a beautiful lodge, a Ranger Station, there are restaurants, and a souvenir shop. Above all, there are plenty of trail heads.
Funny enough, my husband and I have never walked the Nisqually Vista Trail in summer. But we have done it in the snow a few times. You get the best parking right below the main parking lot in Paradise, where the trailhead starts. I have no clue how well it is marked in summer, but in winter it’s the most trampled patch in the snow next to an orange pole, with a steep trail leading up right behind. I suppose in summer it’s all stairs. That is the steepest part of the mile-long path, and you are well advised to come prepared with either snowshoes or some devices clamped to your shoes. We use Yaktrax, and they have proven really useful in last year’s Snowmageddon in Lakewood as well.
Anyhow, once you are up the hill, you encounter the sign for the Nisqually Loop Trail. So, it doesn’t matter which direction you choose, as your little tour will end you up in this place again. We usually choose the right side as, if the weather is clear, you have a stunning view of the summit of Mt. Rainier on this trail.
We also ran into a newly created snow woman whose face was so cheerful it actually still makes me smile whenever I come across the photo. So, I simply have to share this beautiful creation with you.
The trail gently leads uphill and downhill, across what in summer must be colorful mountain meadows, what in winter is mysteriously white. You cross brooks that are murmuring deep below in icy crevasses. The trees are burrowed in the snow, and what are giants in summer, are now just medium height pines, cedars, and spruces. (Alas, I’ve never been useful in telling apart needle trees, I’m afraid.)
After about half-way, the trail slopes into a wide bend with viewing points. The last time we were there all by ourselves, as it had just started to snow, and hardly anybody was out there anyhow. The view wasn’t too good either. We could barely see the Nisqually Glacier from which the Nisqually River springs, making its long way down to its reach in Tacoma eventually. Over the past years, we have observed that the glacier has shrunk a good deal, and there is a lot of rocky surface come to the light. What was quite a stunning site a few years ago, is now a little less stunning, but still beautiful. We had a snow picnic on site before we leisurely went uphill again, passing further tree giants.
It always comes almost as a surprise when we reach the end of the loop again, for the walk is simply refreshing for your body and soul. And the views of the surrounding mountains on the way back are pretty mind-blowing, too. To be out there all by yourself on a winter day when Paradise is overcrowded with sleighing families and people walking up to Alta Vista, the Nisqually Vista Trail has a special place in my heart for its gentle solitude, its quiet, and an almost intimate closeness to Nature. It’s meditation combined with the grandeur of the mountain world. Add some snowflakes, and you get a somewhat magical quality. Even without a view. Even when the clouds are moving in and the Mountain’s summit is hidden somewhere way behind.