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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Why Mt. Rainier remains one of our favorite national parks

It was 95 degrees at noon when we pulled into the White River Campground at Mount Rainier National Park. Not exactly the break from the heat we were craving, but guess what? We still had a blast.

Here’s why we loved our recent visit to one of the best national parks in the country.

The Mountain is out(standing): We’ve visited the massive volcano many times and have never grown tired of it. That’s probably because Mount Rainier has so much to explore. We’ve been to Paradise while camping at a cloudy Cougar Rock last summer and just missed out on the last open site while cruising through Ohanapecosh on the southeast side of the park a few years ago. (Lesson learned: Make a reservation, whenever possible.)

White River Campground is a bit under-the-radar, as most day-trippers head past the turnoff to go to Sunrise and experience the stunning views from the highest paved road in Washington state. It’s first-come, first-served at the rustic campground, so it’s not high on the list for those who don’t want to gamble that there will be availability during the busy summer months.

Because we really wanted to stay there, we took a shot, betting that if we arrived well ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, there was a decent chance we’d secure a spot.

Scoring the sweetest spot: When we pulled in, we headed past the jam-packed day use parking straight to the D-loop. There are 112 sites on four loops, with most spots deep in the woods. Many are too snug to accommodate an RV, but we lucked out. The pull-through with a million dollar mountain view -- D-19 -- was wide open.

Well, it wasn’t exactly wide, as some careful maneuvering was required to get our 23-foot motorhome situated just right. Settled in, we hung out in the shade until the late afternoon when we hit the Emmons Moraine Trail. That forested path provided a perfect canopy from the relentless sun. The occasional waterfall running through it was like a blast of nature’s AC. Ahhh.

When we reached a tricky creek crossing, Leslie balked while John calmly walked her over the narrow stone path. Whew. Nothing like a blast of adrenalin to propel those boots up the sandy switchback. The well-earned payoff was a magical view of spiky Little Tahoma and the Emmons Glacier.

Back at the campground, we sat in our chairs and marveled at the raging White River, churning like a pot of boiling gumbo. Though we couldn’t see them under the surface, rocks and uprooted trees crashed together creating a percussive stone symphony. The soothing sound doubled as a lullaby because we both slept like… wait for it… logs.

The next day, we got an earlier start on the trail up to Glacier Basin. That six-mile roundtrip was a mostly gradual ascent until the last bit when the grade got steeper. We crossed paths with plenty of serious climbers toting ice axes and fat skis. Many of those folks would attempt to summit the mountain from that trail.

There’s something extra special about being in such a wild, beautiful place. It’s why we do what we do.

When we returned to camp later that afternoon, the vibe had changed. It was the Wednesday before a long weekend and competition had become fierce for the best spots. A couple in a Winnebago parked across the road came over and asked when we’d be leaving the next day because they wanted to grab our site. Yeah, no problem.

Even before we left the park boundaries the following day, we were already talking about the next time we’d return. We’re excited to check out the park-adjacent RV accommodations at Crystal Mountain, where there are hookups and the state’s only gondola to the summit. That ought to make the hiking a little less sweaty.

Leslie Kelly
Leslie Kelly is a freelance writer.