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.”
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.
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.
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.