Washington native visits Mount Rainier for first time

I have a confession to make. It's a bit embarrassing, considering I'm almost a lifelong Washingtonian.

Well, here it is: I've never been to Mount Rainier National Park. Despite living in Washington for almost 20 years. I somehow never found the time, energy or desire to go see "The Mountain" up close.

That all changed earlier this month. I received a rare Saturday off, so my wife and I decided to drive over and see what it was all about.

And it was well worth it. The views of Rainier from just west of White Pass are jaw-dropping. I've seen Rainier from many vantage points, mainly in the Seattle area where I grew up, but never with it looming so close.

You are tooling along on Highway 12, seeing not much more than trees and lakes, when you come around a corner and suddenly Mount Rainier is just there. Bam. It almost didn't look real.

After stopping for some photos at the viewpoint, we continued on to the park. We drove to the Stevens Canyon Entrance and purchased the Mount Rainier Annual Pass, which includes entry to the Whitman Mission National Historical Site in Walla Walla (which seems extremely random to me).

We didn't have much time, so we parked at the entrance and went on two short hikes -- the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail and Silver Falls.

The Grove of the Patriarchs is ideal for people of all ages. It is a maintained, almost flat trail which turns into a boardwalk through a grove of 1,000-year-old trees on an island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River.

This quick jaunt is a must-see if you are in the area, though try to avoid it on a crowded weekend. About halfway through the trail is a suspension bridge over the Ohanapecosh River. Signage near the bridge recommends only one person at a time -- the bridge bounces a lot -- and visitors this day excessively heeded that warning.

We were tied up for about 30 minutes at the bridge waiting to get across. As a side note, if you see a monster line at the bridge, please be courteous and don't have every member of your party stop in the middle and pose for photos.

Anyway, the bridge is pretty cool. It is akin to walking through a moving train car; you get jostled a lot, and it feels as if the bridge is sliding sideways.

After checking out the biggest trees I've seen this side of the redwoods, we returned to the parking lot and ventured down the Eastside Trail to Silver Falls.

This 1.9-mile hike is a bit more strenuous, but still a rather moderate hike. And the payoff is worth the effort.

After winding through the forest, you come upon the top of Silver Falls. This is a violent stretch of the Ohanapecosh River. It tosses, turns and gnashes its way through a series of rocks, pools and falls. There are trails down to the rocks overlooking all of this, but it is recommended that you stay on the main trail, as there have been fatalities in this area over the years.

As you continue another 0.2 mile on the trail, you come to a bridge above the river. Downstream is a slot canyon, while upstream is a stunning view of Silver Falls. It was at least 10 degrees cooler at this bridge than in the forest above. It is very refreshing after a hot, humid hike through the forest.

At this point, you have two choices -- head to the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center or turn around and head back up the hill toward the Stevens Canyon parking lot.

Though you can't get any views of Mount Rainier in this portion of the park, the hikes still are worth it not only for some good exercise, but also because Silver Falls is stunning.

And if you go -- and why wouldn't you -- you can also say you've been to Mount Rainier National Park. And as a fellow Washingtonian, it would be rather embarrassing if you have never been to our biggest and most beautiful treasure.

* Craig Craker: 509-582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com