5. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Wildflowers, rainforests and mountain peaks for hikers of every skill level.
Mount Rainier is one of those parks that fits into the short season category, because the base of the mountain is the place with the most snow in the continental U.S. Because of that, the wildflowers bloom pretty late—July is normal. In 2011, at the beginning of August, it was still a solid snowfield.
The most well-known place for seeing the flowers is called Paradise. It’s popular because it has the best mountain wildflower carpets that I’ve seen in North America that are readily accessible. It’s so good because the place receives so much snow that the soil is very moist. At Paradise, there’s a network of trails, so you can go for a very long and strenuous day hike, or you can go for a short hike and come back. There’s something for every hiker. From there you can photograph those carpets of wildflowers with Mount Rainier in the background. It may be the most popular spot for visitors in the park because those carpets of wildflowers are renowned.
The most popular spot for photographers could be Reflection Lake. You just park right next to the lake, so there’s no hiking. And it does help because in the summer if you want to make this image, you have to come to the lake at 5 o’clock in the morning. In the entire park, if you want to have a combination of wildflowers and the mountain reflected in a lake, Reflection Lake is the best place. There are other lakes in the park, but I didn’t see as nice wildflowers on their shores.
At Paradise, you have the flowers but you’re fairly close to the mountain, so it’s a bit foreshortened. When you are on the other side of the valley, hiking in the Tatoosh range, you’re far enough from Mount Rainier that you see the whole mountain from the base to the summit. Paradise would be the popular spot, Reflection Lake would be the popular photo icon, and the Tatoosh Range is one of the places where you can find something different, with fewer people. Mount Rainier National Park has other mountains than Mount Rainier.
For an even more out-of-the-way experience with even less people, you can go to the northwest corner of the park. The Carbon River entrance gives you access to an inland rainforest, which is not something that people expect from Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a great area; there’s a lot of diversity, and it’s very quiet. To get there, you have to drive some unpaved road, so that keeps the crowds away. When I was there in the middle of summer, there were very few people. The roads are passable without 4WD. They aren’t difficult, just unpaved. And they are off of the main park road, so that’s why you don’t see a lot of people. In general, for most of the national parks, it’s like that. Especially in the larger parks where there are several entrances, the main entrances get crowded because that’s where everybody goes, but the secondary entrances are often uncrowded.
In Treasured Lands, I wanted to pay as much attention to the lesser-known gems as to the well-known national parks. I’ve also made the point for each national park to try to cover not only the main areas but also those out-of-the-way areas that give you a more complete sense of the geography of the park, and which helps you get away from the crowds.
How To Avoid Crowds In The Parks This Summer
Short of traveling in the offseason, here’s how QT Luong suggests avoiding crowds in the national parks this summer.
- Skip holidays and weekends
- Enjoy bad weather
- Arrive early in the day
- Stay late, and stay out at night
- Visit less-popular parks
- Visit less-well-known areas of the parks
- Hike a trail
See more of QT Luong’s work at terragalleria.com.