Get your fill of Mount Rainier’s world-class fall scenery and local bounty to match
written by John Lane
Mount Rainier rises 14,010 feet in the Cascade Range of southwestern Washington. For some it is a symbol of a spiritual home and beneficence, for others it’s a challenge whose volcanic peak is taunting. For many others, she is a provider of a lifetime’s pursuit of beauty through her trails. Fall is perhaps the most striking of her seasons for those in search of recreation and beauty.
In this visit, we engage in an active schedule of day-hiking some of the best trails for witnessing fall colors while stopping only to snack and feast upon Washington bounty—a locavore experience in the wilderness. Keep in mind that you have to obtain park permits for your hikes in advance, too.
REFLECTION • CHOCOLATE
This trip will take a moderate amount of food planning to achieve the best results. Backpacks are required to transport your bounty to farther and higher places along the trails. Today’s outing is a warm-up for tomorrow’s longer effort and includes a moderate, two-hour hike to Reflection Lakes accompanied by local beer, nuts, chocolate and stone fruit.
Half of the fun of the first day is sourcing the food for the hike. Fill a Hydro Flask with your favorite Washington craft beer. (Take water, too.) If you’re in a beer rut as we sometimes are, try Elysian’s Avatar IPA with a 6.3 percent alcohol by volume or ABV, or, if hiking on a clear night to see the cosmos mirrored in Reflection Lake, try Elysian’s boozier 8.2 percent Space Dust IPA and let the creativity flow. The Local Logger Lager from Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon makes for an easy-sipper with a smooth 4.2 percent ABV craft beer.
Also in your pack, you should have locally grown macadamia nuts with rosemary from OriginNuts from Vancouver. You can order them ahead of time from its website at www.originnuts.com. Grab some of the bounty cliches of Washington produce, such as cherries, which will be on the far end of the season, or apples, which are now in season. Finally, your pack should include some of the finest Washington chocolates for a sweet finish. Smoked salted caramels from Fran’s Chocolates in Seattle or combine Washington cherries and chocolate with Chukar Cherries, from Prosser. Now you’re in a good place with your nutrition.
Now for the hike: begin from the lot along Stevens Canyon Road in the morning with a plan to arrive two hours later for an early lunch/snack or at dusk, and with headlamps, to arrive for the stellar light show overhead and stretching across the aqueous canvas before you. Depending on the season, expect to find lupine, yellow arnica, Western Pasqueflower and paintbrush still in bloom.
The nearly 3-mile loop features fall colors, views of Mount Rainier and can take up three hours to complete. Add your picnic lunch and you have a gorgeous four-hour first day of your Mount Rainier visit.
BURROUGHS MOUNTAIN • PICNIC
The Stormking Cabins & Spa near Ashford is a great place to book for your rustic, yet comfortable, retreat. Likewise the Wellspring Spa & Woodland Retreat, also near Ashford, offers a bucolic retreat in a natural setting. Today’s outing will be a hearty one which is best followed by a hot tub soak and a massage. Book these in advance at your venue but keep in mind that spa services may be restricted due to Covid- related issues.
Today’s menu will be as crucial and as local as the prior day’s. Your backpack should carry smoked salmon from City Fish Seafood in Pike Place Market, Washington hard or soft cheeses such as Beecher’s Flagship or Ferndale Farmstead’s caciotta; good crackers and Washington wine, either in cans such as Cascadian Outfitters or in bottles from surrounding wineries such as Leony’s Cellars in Enumclaw or Rainier View Winery in Graham. Bring plenty of water as this will be a full day on the trails.
Today’s hike is longer, gains 2,500 feet in elevation and stands as another fall favorite for color. Burroughs Mountain Trail begins at Sunrise Lodge in Ashford. Hike this 9-mile loop trail counterclockwise and you’ll soon encounter Sourdough Ridge Trail and then up to the top of First Burroughs Mountain, where you’ll have spectacular views of the Rainier tundra, goats, pika, marmots and Mount Fremont. Find a good spot in the austere beauty to drop your pack, kick up your feet and enjoy regional wines and cheese.
After an epic day, head back to your cabin for a soak or a massage, or both. If you want to complete the trifecta of all things Washington, settle in for the night with a book from a local author: Boys in the Boat, Where’d You Go, Bernadette or Barkskins.
ROAD TO PARADISE
Grab a coffee and hit the two-and-a-half hour Road to Paradise scenic byway that begins and ends in Ashford. Hop out of the vehicle along the route as you encounter Christine or Narada waterfalls, and old-growth forests to walk among. This time of year is spectacular in the Mount Rainier area, and you have just immersed yourself in it with fantastic hikes and this scenic drive.
MOUNT RAINIER, WASHINGTON
Caciotta from Ferndale Farmstead
Cascadian Outfitters Wine
Elysian Brewing Company
Smoked Flagship Beecher’s Cheese
National Park Inn
Storm King Cabins & Spa
Wellspring Spa and Woodland Retreat
First Burroughs Mountain, Second Burroughs Mountain
Reflection Lakes Trail
Road to Paradise Scenic Drive