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Trip Report: Mt. Rainier National Park

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Cougar Rock (Site #C38) and Ohanapecosh (Site #A22)

July 12 – 19, 2017

The natural beauty of Mt. Rainier National Park rivals Yosemite. There are vast expanses of heavily-forested valleys, glacial rivers seem to pop up everywhere, and snow-capped mountains—including Mt. Rainier itself—are visible from most destinations. We could even see it from the parking lot of the grocery store we shopped at this morning in nearby Packwood.

Site C38 at Cougar Rock Campground in Mt. Rainier National Park
Our site and Cougar Rock Campground

We stayed at two different campgrounds: Cougar Rock in the southwest corner of the park and Ohanapecosh in the southeast corner.

Our Cougar Rock site was laid out really nicely, with a rock-lined gravel pad (living room), a picnic table (dining room), and fire pit (family room) situated in a line, several feet apart from one another. We were also poised directly above the amphitheater, which meant we had an opportunity to listen to some sort of 45-minute lecture every night that started at 8:30pm. We didn’t, but we could have. It’s a beautiful amphitheater, with the standard crescent shape sloping to a stage, but it has non-standard seating comprising large logs cut in half lengthwise to form a series of rustic benches. One day we came home from exploring to find a wedding wrapping up below.

Our site here at Ohanapecosh is even nicer: large, backed up to the woods, and overlooking a glacial river. There’s also sufficient sun to power the solar panels and Wendy was able to fashion a laundry line today by attaching one side to a tree and the other to our roof rack. The only negatives I can think of are the neighboring site’s visibility into our trailer, and the fact that mosquitoes here have a palate that appreciates blood laced with spicy pork rinds and Tapatio sauce. Little bastards. That’s why I’m writing this from inside the trailer instead of lounging near the river in the comfy chair our friend Deanne brought a few weeks ago.

View from our campsite at Ohanapecosh campground in Mt. Rainier National Park
View from our campsite at Ohanapecosh

Never imagined I’d be camping next to a glacial river, listening to it as I fell asleep. Turns out it sounds a lot like radio static, so I don’t mind that this is our last night here. Wendy and I walked down to the river when we first arrived. I sat for a while, awed by the fact that the water rushing by is from a glacier, and weighing the wisdom of drinking some.

I drank some. Can’t say I noticed anything particularly different about it, but it was good, and cold.

Our first outing at Mt. Rainier was to the Paradise area. We visited the historic Paradise Inn, which happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It was constructed with logs salvaged from the park and is still open to guests. We didn’t stay long though—just walked through the lobby, checking out the architecture. Then we headed to Myrtle Falls, a pretty easy one-mile out-and-back trip among evergreen trees, blooming flowers, and lingering patches of snow. Even though we brought the stroller, Darwin ended up walking the whole time, with a surprising focus on forward movement (except for a few stops to retrieve a stick or handful of snow). Emerson was… let’s call it less focused… and had to ride in the stroller. We considered giving him another try halfway to the Falls, but that opportunity was stifled when he removed his shoe and promptly threw it two feet in front of him, smack into a puddle of snowmelt.

Both kids had another chance later in the day when we hiked the Nisqually Vista Trail. We had expected to merely walk the mile-long trail with them, but it was actually pretty hilly and unmelted snowfall blocked the trail in a lot of places. Park rangers had stuck flags in the snow to help ensure tourists could follow the obscured path. Walking over snow is easy for Wendy and me, and this trail would’ve been a breeze if we’d carried the kids in our backpacks. But by the time we realized the difficulty, we were already too far in—no stroller—just two moms and two toddlers rapidly losing focus as nap time came and went, and snack time drew nearer.

Viewpoint along the Nisqually Vista Trail at Mt. Rainier National Park
Viewpoint along the Nisqually Vista Trail

We all made it though—to each stunning viewpoint and to the top of the trail, where the children were greeted by a group of four women from Virginia with bottomless bags of trail mix. “I’m 90 and legally blind,” the matriarch of the group told us. “I don’t have any business being up here on this trail.”

Wendy and I had seen her, and who turned out to be her daughters, attempt to traverse a snowy patch at the beginning of the trail then decide better of it. She was still in great spirits despite the change in plans. “I love children,” she explained as our kids picked bits of trail mix from her hand and shoved it into their little mouths as fast as they could. Emerson loves nuts and is friendly with strangers, so it wasn’t surprising that he’d eat the food. But Darwin’s engagement surprised me since she’s usually more cautious. Yet there she stood, alternating hands for maximum efficiency as she pincered trail mix from the outstretched palm of a stranger.

Both kids fell asleep shortly after getting back in the car, so Wendy and I decided to do a little driving to ensure they got a good nap. We went to Reflection Lakes, which must have been named on a day very unlike the day we visited. There was a strong current and while they were pretty, I wouldn’t describe them as reflective. Then we continued to the Box Canyon Overlook Bridge, a quick half-mile loop across a bridge showcasing a narrow 115-ft canyon with rushing water at its base. Wendy and I took it in turns while the children slept, and both commented on the douche-baggery of the family tossing driftwood off the bridge into the canyon.

View from the Box Canyon Overlook Bridge, Mt. Rainier National Park
View from the Box Canyon Overlook Bridge

We’d been out for about six hours and were beat. Clark alerted everyone in the campground to our return, as usual. When Wendy opened the door, she knew it hadn’t gone well. CeCe has developed separation anxiety and over the past month, we’ve been trying different tactics to help keep her calm and avoid damage to the trailer. There’d been a few minor casualties—primarily involving the windows; Wendy and I have both become pretty good at replacing the screens.

So the evening we returned from Box Canyon began in a familiar fashion: Wendy walked in and saw that the screen would need to be replaced. But while we were gone, CeCe had also lifted the emergency exit lever halfway, chewed the corner of the table, and bitten through the power cord to the TV. We don’t like having our stuff damaged. We don’t like seeing our investment in this trailer depreciate so quickly. We don’t like spending time fixing things. But we also don’t like the fact that our new lifestyle is causing CeCe so much stress. That’s on us, and it’s our responsibility to remedy it. The question is, how?

One obvious solution is to never leave her alone, but I consider that a last resort. I want to live this whole adventure with Wendy, not parse it into individual experiences. So we’re taking a multi-pronged approach that we hope will help.

Previously we tried blocking access to the windows. She always got through (or under, or over) our feeble attempts at a barricade, regardless of its configuration. We tried creating a comfortable space for her so she could easily get to both windows and potentially relax—maybe she just needed to be able to see outside. Negative. So now we’re barricading the emergency exit window and leaving the other window accessible. Wendy’s also taking her on a long walk before we leave and we’re giving her a couple of Benadryl. I’m hoping this will result in a series of calm departures and help CeCe understand nothing bad happens when we’re gone.

Then maybe it’ll be true. There’s so much to see and do in these parks.

We took the kids to the Longmire area, where they both walked the half-mile Trail of the Shadows and delighted in the deer who crossed our path with her two fawns. We drove 90 minutes to Sunrise Point and walked half a mile to see Emmons Glacier. We put the kids in the backpacks and explored the heavily-forested Grove of the Patriarchs, which has a long, bouncy suspension bridge. We let the kids walk along the Nisqually Riverbed Trail, which sits at the base of a glacier and is primarily rubble with some white cloudy water running through it (because of silt). The trail leads to a cool bridge: a large log stretched across the river with a single handrail; Wendy and I took turns crossing for the hell of it, but the kids weren’t allowed. They stayed behind to “gump” (i.e., jump) off nearby rocks.

Sunrise Point, Mt. Rainier National Park
Sunrise Point
Suspension bridge at Grove of the Patriarchs in Mt. Rainier National Park
Suspension bridge at Grove of the Patriarchs
Nisqually Riverbed Trail with Mt. Rainier in the background
Nisqually Riverbed Trail with Mt. Rainier in the background

I love how their vocabulary is developing. There’s been a huge change in just the 10 weeks or so we’ve been on the road. They can clearly communicate a lot of desires now: jump, sit, hold, hit (usually a tree with a stick), pet, kiss, hug, play, walk, pick (usually a flower), need, take off, put away, smell, climb. Darwin also has camping-related words, like “mosquito BITE” (always said with a dramatic pause between the two words), “water pump,” and “hot DOG!” The kids are also distinguishing between trailers and RVs, which makes me smile, and yelling “car!”, “truck!” “momo!” (motorcyle), “golf cart!”, and “tractor!”

I wonder what their development would be like if we were still in LA. Which verbs would they be using? Would they be as coordinated and focused walking around the neighborhood or playing at the park as they are hiking trails and playing in camp? Perhaps not, but I imagine there’d be other things they’d know, like how to collect a chicken egg or a pick a jalapeño. I can’t say the route we’ve chosen for them is without-a-doubt better than what we had, but it’s the best life I can imagine for them right now, and spending all day adventuring with my family is everything I’d hoped it would be.

Tomorrow we leave for Olympic National Park.

Read the next trip report: Olympic National Park


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