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Mount Rainier with a small dog: Fun despite stringent National Park Service limitations

The sad fact is that national parks are, typically, not dog-friendly (national forests and state parks are a much better bet). Mount Rainier, the biggest landmark of all in the Puget Sound area, is a good example: You can bring a dog to Mount Rainier, but she must be on a 6-ft. leash and she cannot go on any trails, into any “wilderness or off-trail areas,” into any buildings, or onto snow. Looking at it from the other direction, she is only “permitted in parking lots, campgrounds, and on paved roads.”

One example of a sign you'll see everywhere, alas. Please note that it's a variant of Tacoma's scoop law sign, with the right (in this case left) arm amputated at the shoulder. Eery, but practical. Why waste money on a new icon?!

One example of a sign you’ll see everywhere, alas. Please note that it’s a variant of Tacoma’s scoop law sign, with the right (in this case left) arm amputated at the shoulder. Eery, but practical. Why waste money on a new icon?!

That would be enough, normally, for me to give up. This time, though, I was reading the park’s page next to my friend Chandler, who’s spent an enormous amount of time looking at The Mountain from different angles while creating this astonishingly beautiful artist’s book (she’s the same lady who redesigned Dog Jaunt’s look, and she has a new travel blog you must see). She told me that there was fun to be had on Mt. Rainier for folks with limited mobility, and in all likelihood a small dog would like it too. She also pointed out that it was a crime we hadn’t been to Mt. Rainier in our fifteen (15) years of living in Seattle.

So Chandler organized a picnic (two picnics, in fact, which explains a lot about why she’s my friend), gathered up me and my husband and Chloe, and we drove from Tacoma to the Sunrise viewpoint (#1 on the map below — a hairpin turn embracing a parking lot, a short distance below #2, the Sunrise Visitor’s Center, which is the highest place you can drive to on the mountain). We continued to the Sunrise Visitor’s Center, retraced our path down the mountain to the (seasonally open) Stevens Canyon road and took that to Paradise (home of a larger visitor’s center and the magnificent, historic Paradise Inn, both at #3). We departed the park by way of Longmire and returned to Tacoma.

I love my Skitch app about as much as I love my panorama app. This is too small to be really useful, but at least you get an overview of where you can go. Visit the park's site to get the real, zoomable map.

I love my Skitch app about as much as I love my panorama app. This is too small to be really useful, but at least you get an overview of our day. Visit the park’s site to get the real, zoomable map.

The highlights of the trip were the Sunrise viewpoint (where we had our first picnic — I strongly recommend it over the suggested, and pretty dismal, picnic area next to the Sunrise Visitor’s Center) and the side porch of the Paradise Inn, a breezy and comfortable spot for Picnic #2. The view from Ricksecker Point (at arrow #4 on the map) of the Nisqually Glacier, source of the Nisqually River, was also a highlight, but we had run out of picnics by then.

Chloe on the ledge at the Sunset viewpoint where we had Picnic #1. Mt. Adams is the volcano in the far distance, over her left ear. The bulk (and I mean BULK) of Mt. Rainer is to her left.

Chloe on the ledge at the Sunset viewpoint where we had Picnic #1. Mt. Adams is the volcano in the far distance, over her left ear. The bulk (and I mean BULK) of Mt. Rainer is to her left, just out of the picture.

Behind me is this parking lot (this time, Mt. Rainier's peak is on the left side of the photo). It'd be a dull spot except for the spectacular views.

Across the road from her is this parking lot (that’s a piece of Mt. Rainier’s peak on the left side of the photo). It’d be a dull spot except for the spectacular views.

The view from the other side of the Sunrise viewpoint parking lot -- lovely in a completely different way. (Did I mention the day was sun-blasted? My phone camera is struggling.)

The view from the other side of the Sunrise viewpoint parking lot — lovely in a completely different way. (Did I mention the day was sun-blasted? My phone camera is struggling.)

A beauty shot of the mountain behind the visitor's center building at Sunrise itself, up the road from the viewpoint.

A beauty shot of the mountain behind the visitor’s center building at Sunrise itself, up the road from the viewpoint.

Just behind it is the official picnic area at Sunrise -- no indication that pets are unwelcome, but I was happy we had already eaten at the viewpoint.

Just behind it is the official picnic area at Sunrise — no indication that pets are unwelcome, but I was happy we had already eaten at the viewpoint.

Dramatic change of scene to Paradise -- this is the view from the Visitor's Center building. Paradise Inn is way out of picture, to the right (the building you can see is the guides' headquarters).

Dramatic change of scene to Paradise — this is the view from the Visitor’s Center building. Paradise Inn is way out of picture, to the right (the building you can see is the guides’ headquarters).

Paradise Inn, built in 1916. A path from the parking lot leads you all the way around the building -- through a service area or two, to be sure, but it's a good leg stretch for a small dog.

Paradise Inn, built in 1916. A path from the parking lot leads you all the way around the building — through a service area or two, to be sure, but it’s a good leg stretch for a small dog.

A small meadow with wildflowers just below the inn. A glimpse of the gaunt Tatoosh Range in the background.

A small meadow with wildflowers just below the inn, with a glimpse of the gaunt Tatoosh Range in the background.

What you'll see as you circumnavigate the inn: The dining hall is on the left (those buttresses are to help the inn survive the winter). The front entrance is just past the gigantic woodpile.

What you’ll see as you circumnavigate the inn: The dining hall is on the left (those buttresses are to help the inn survive the winter). The front entrance is just past the gigantic woodpile.

The inn's lobby. How I wish it were dog-friendly!

The inn’s lobby. How I wish it were dog-friendly!

The mountain's peak from the front door of the inn.

The mountain’s peak from the front door of the inn.

That side porch you see at the far right was the location of Picnic #2. Wangle your way under the bit of roof, and you'll have shade, too, while you admire the view.

This side porch was the location of Picnic #2. Wangle your way under the bit of roof, and you’ll have shade, too, while you admire the view.

On the side porch, with shade, but not yet in those seats you can see behind Chloe.

On the side porch, with shade, but not yet in those seats you can see behind Chloe.

A beauty shot of the view of the Tatooshes from the inn's side porch.

A beauty shot of the view of the Tatooshes from the inn’s side porch.

Picnic #2, now in the chairs in the shade. When we could tear our attention away from the food, we admired the view.

Picnic #2, now in the chairs in the shade. Sometimes the only view you want is of a piece of pie.

A view of the mountain from Ricksecker Point loop drive -- do not miss the turn onto that little one-way road on your way to Longmire.

A view of the mountain from Ricksecker Point loop drive — do not miss the turn onto that little one-way road on your way to Longmire.

The view (also from Ricksecker Point loop drive) away from the mountain, and along the course of the Nisqually River.

The view (also from Ricksecker Point loop drive) away from the mountain, and along the course of the Nisqually River.

We saw one large dog while we were visiting, and I suspect the day was a little frustrating for him, but for Chloe there was plenty to do and sniff — and it was hot enough that she was grateful for the paws-up time she got. Here’s a short list of things I learned over the course of the day:

  • Visit mid-week. We found a parking place at Paradise only because — true story — someone with a Cavalier of her own noticed Chloe, by then sitting on Chandler’s lap, and told us to wait while she and her companion pulled out. Otherwise, we would still be circling, and that was on a Wednesday. Some miles before we reached Paradise, Chandler gloomily noted that if it were the weekend, we’d be bumper-to-bumper, creeping uphill.
  • Bring sunblock. Sunscreen just won’t cut it — even with sunblock on, my husband and I still got grill marks.
  • Also, bring sunglasses and a hat. Make it a large and floppy one.
  • Bring insect repellant. I cannot tell you how important this is. We didn’t, because there pretty much aren’t any mosquitoes in Seattle, and we’d forgotten they existed. We regretted it bitterly. The only good thing that happened, bug-wise, is that Chloe wasn’t bitten.
  • Also, bring hydrocortisone cream, because my hiking-crazed friends tell me the bug repellant won’t work perfectly (or, possibly, at all).
  • Bring water bottles for you and your pup, and drink constantly. Between the altitude and the heat and the sun, you’ll dry out rapidly. The Visitor’s Center at Paradise has a super-cool water bottle filling station you won’t want to miss.
  • No need for serious hiking shoes, since you won’t be leaving the parking lot area. My usual summertime Keen sandals were fine, as were my husband’s Tevas.
  • Bring a camera and binoculars — the views are astounding, and binoculars will bring the mountainside (still distant even at Sunrise) closer to you. There are public binoculars in the Paradise visitor’s center, but I couldn’t make them work for me.
  • Bring a picnic — even better, bring two picnics.

A note about logistics: Even moving fairly briskly, our itinerary took all day (we left Tacoma at about 9 am, and returned at about 7 pm). If it would fit your schedule better to spend a night near the mountain, be advised that neither the Paradise Inn nor the equally historic inn in Longmire welcomes pets. Ashford is the closest little community to the park; if we were planning an overnight stay, I’d try the Nisqually Lodge, which has generally enthusiastic reviews.

19 comments

  • Priscilla Davis

    Yosemite is the same way–dogs only on paved areas–but then several years ago they paved the trail to Lower Yosemite Fall and didn’t change the rules. Plus they closed the paved road to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia to cars, which means you can walk down the road with dogs; but you can’t leave the road and walk through the grove, which isn’t paved. Also, you can walk all over the Valley on paved trails. The dogs have a ball because they get so much attention. Japanese tourists regularly ask to take their picture and then ask me to step aside. I love the idea of all of those people going home and showing pictures of my dogs in front of the Lower Fall to all of their friends in another country.

  • Thank you so much, Priscilla!! SO USEFUL to hear from someone who’s been there (repeatedly, it sounds like!) with a dog, so with that POV. I’ll put Yosemite back on the list of possibles.

  • Carlos Rodriguez

    We just got back from visiting Seattle and Oregon with our 6 lb pomeranian, we went to Crater Lake similar rules but was able to get around most points. We have a backpack from outback hound and were able to go inside lodge and trails with him inside of it.

  • We were going to try a backpack for Chloe on a very short trail, Carlos, with the thought that if that turned out to be forbidden too, at least we wouldn’t have far to go to get back to lawful territory — but the bugs were so vicious we rethought (the hike was to a little lake, so we figured they’d be worse there). In all likelihood it IS forbidden, because how can they be sure that the next person after you and me won’t let the pup out of the backpack — but we had our fingers crossed.

  • Zinnia

    We are driving from Ontario Canada to New Jersey and were going to stop at Watkins Glenn State Park where we heard there are spectacular views. We were so surprised and disappointed to find out that dogs are not allowed on the scenic Gorge Trail. There is a trail above the gorge where dogs are allowed, but we are wondering if this trail is worth taking.

  • Gery O.

    I’m a city kid. My idea of wilderness is a trip to the botanical gardens, so I must ask… why are dogs not allowed on the trails, where humans clearly are? Is it to protect wild-life from dogs, or the other way around?

  • Hi, Gery — There’s probably some concern for the dogs (we saw a bear just below Paradise Inn), but I believe it’s largely a concern for the wildlife and the environment up there. You don’t want dogs chasing local critters, or contaminating their environment with the wretchedness that’s in dog poop, and you don’t want pups damaging trails and fragile meadows, etc. with their bounding about. Also, I’ll bet they factor in the potential annoyance to other hikers, with or without dogs of their own.

  • Priscilla Davis

    Hi Mary-Alice

    You are right in your response to Gery, at least that’s what the Park Service says. So how come they aren’t concerned about the wildlife in the National Forests? Dogs don’t even have to be on a leash there. Of course, they also allow hunting in National Forests, so maybe that answers the question.

  • [email protected]

    Surely one of these photos of Chloe would be appropriate for GoPetFriendly.com’s Friday Photo Challenge! ;-D

  • chris

    Bonjour,

    Comme promis, j’ ai mis un lien sur mon site en page d’ accueil et dans les liens. J’ espère que mes lecteurs iront te voir virtuellement. Demain, un article sera publié sur le blog. Je t’ invite à me donner tes impressions si quelque chose te dérange n’ hésite pas à me le dire afin que je rectifie le texte.
    J’ ai quelques lecteurs américains qui viennent lire mon blog.
    Les photos de ton articles sont superbes cela donne envie d’ y aller. L’ une d’ entre elles, m’ a fait pensé à la série ” la petite maison dans la prairie” de Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    Bonne journée et bonne promenade

  • I think you’re right about that, Priscilla — and it may be, too, that the national parks are the jewels in the crown (not to say that our national forests and state parks aren’t also stunning, but there’s only one Yosemite, etc.).

  • Priscilla Davis

    Well, they also have two different management bureaucracies–Dept of Interior for NPs and Dept of Agriculture for NFs–with different priorities–recreation for NPs and use (logging, cattle grazing, hunting, ORV purgatory, etc.) for NFs. I’m sure that makes a difference in how they view dogs in the picture, or not.

  • [email protected]

    I could swear that I already commented on this but…..maybe it was just in my head 🙂

    Thanks for this post! I have never been to Rainer either and I was born and raised here (and now 39). I always thought I would go but now that I have Chester and Gretel I thought I would never get around to it because they couldn’t be included. I have an old friend that is a ranger there that I want to visit though. Your wonderful post convinced me it would be worth a visit, even with the dogs.

  • I feel a LOT better about the 15 years, now, Jessica — but isn’t that always the way? You grow up next to a fabulous thing, and all your visitors go see it…. (You left a kind note about the post on Twitter, so I’m guessing that’s what you remember — thank you!). And I’m so glad you guys will head up there now. You may have to circle the areas at Sunrise and/or Paradise a few times to get a “walk” in — thank goodness dogs are willing to be interested in something even the third time around.

  • Chandler

    You are *way* too kind about my part of the day. I can take no credit for the picnics or driving, I completely failed to remember about the bugs, and all I can claim is providing a little Gandalf-esque nudge out the door. But I still think that even with severely limited opportunities for dogs (and for that matter, folks with mobility issues and anyone who can’t do the backcountry stuff), it’s still worth it to visit a national park whenever possible. I know that the NPS system is set up in an attempt to find that delicate balance between preserving natural areas (with as little human interference as possible) and creating an experience that everyone (and not just the Sir Edmund Hillaries of the world) can access and enjoy. I wish there were more opportunities for dogs, though— my hope is that if enough people express their interest and support, the dog-accessible parts of the parks will expand. So glad I got to tour my favorite mountain with you and Chloe!

  • Susan Young

    I’m planning on spending 3 nights with my 2 pups at Copper Creek Inn they have 1 (one!) pet friendly cabin and are in Ashford. The cabin is separate from the rest of the inn and has it’s own 8 acres. I don’t think we’ll try the park itself.

  • Susan Young

    PS If you want the greatest place on earth for dogs try Iron Hot Springs in Copalis beach. Soft sand great for doggy running off leash and NO cars on the beach.

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