Once the kids all hit college age and beyond, the opportunities for family travel get fragmented and you savor whatever you can get. So, this past July we took our youngest with us (just before he was to go to college) as we ventured to the Seattle area in search of wine, food and nature. We spent a good deal of May and June negotiating the itinerary with our 18 year old, who is a pretty persistent negotiator. His vocation is photography and he’s particularly fond of old camera techniques using black and white media and he makes some pretty stiff demands, such as “I want to be in the middle of a river near a waterfall where no one else has ever been and where the lighting is strongest behind me and the fog is just starting to roll into the valley as the sun is dropping lower against the horizon.” He then points to a place on the map on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier (the highest peak in the Cascade Mountain Range) where there is no road access for about 15 miles in any direction. Of course, we haven’t gone mountain climbing for—well, ever. So, we finally settled on a mix of places and activities to generally satisfy each of we three—some wine bars for us, some extended nature trips for him, and some restaurants and tourist attractions for us all.
We took the relatively brief flight from LA to Seattle on a Saturday. The Seattle area (and most of the Pacific Northwest) had been suffering from an unusual heat wave, but the weather there turned near perfect the day we departed. Rain was forecast for the first couple of days of our trip, but that hardly materialized (just some clouds and a few light showers). Most of the time, the weather was similar to a warm but comfortable day in LA. We checked into our first rental on Mercer Island, an island suburb of Seattle (just a brief car trip to downtown) and promptly headed to Pike Place Market. From there, we took a very long walk around the harbor area and downtown and headed back for the night.
The next day, we got an early start to drive the loop around Mt. Rainier and through its national park. Without making any stops, you could easily drive the loop in about five hours, taking the 405 south to the 167 to the 161 to the 7 to the 706 to Ashford and then proceeding further along the 706 to the 123 (going by the Grove of the Patriarchs) to the 410 to Enumclaw and then along the 410 to the 164 and back to Seattle. Of course, you will stop many times along the way to enjoy the sights, so the trip will take one long day, especially if you bring along a photographer. Our son exhibits his own work, so we’ll show you some of our own photos here.
Before we arrived at the national park, we stopped at Rocky Point. Even though the drought of recent years has even taken a toll in the Pacific Northwest, the area is still very picturesque.
A nice place to stop for lunch is the National Park Inn Dining Room (located in the Longmire Historic District of the park). The park only operates two restaurants, two snack bars, a cafe, and a small general store, so the choices are limited, but this restaurant was very nice and the service was friendly. From there, we made several stops along the route through the park.
Be sure to stop and see the Nisqually River, cutting its ever–changing path through the park, starting at the Nisqually Glacier. This river eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which we visited on another day during our trip (a story for another post to come). The river was running relatively low due to the time of year we visited, but that exposed even more of the interesting glacial rocks that form the river bed.
Another must–see vista is Narada Falls, formed by ancient lava flows that provide the structure for one of the prettier waterfalls along the Paradise River.
A great place to stop and walk around is Reflection Lake, where you can see the mirror–perfect reflection of the mountain vistas in the placid water.
The one stop you can’t miss is the Grove of the Patriarchs. These are very old and very massive, tall trees that create a dazzling visual environment.
There is a path that you can follow for a mile or two through the grove and you’ll find something interesting and amazing at every turn.
The centerpiece of the hike is a rest stop where you’ll find twin Douglas fir trees that are 1,000 years old. They have massive trunks and extend upwards seemingly forever. Like me, they’ve lost most of their foliage, but they remain as the sentries, guarding the grove.
So, back to the beginning of this post, is our son a good negotiator? I think the picture below pretty much answers that question.
One of the great things about Seattle is that you can easily get to some of the great nature this country has to offer. Mt. Rainier National Park is one you shouldn’t miss.