Meghan M. Hicks November 18, 2011 TWEET COMMENTS 1

Purple Mountains and Fruited Plains - Page 2

Mount Rainier National Park

Get Up Close and Personal with the Northwest's Glaciated Giant

Smack dab in the center of Mount Rainier National Park, its 14,410-foot namesake mountain rises 10,000 vertical feet from the surrounding topography. Draped with a cloak of glaciers, its upper reaches form a whitewashed silhouette against the green rainforests that fill the Pacific Northwest landscape. Over a million-and-a-half people visit the park each year to get up close and personal with the mountain.

Mount Rainier's trail system connects runners with the mountain in two ways, by traversing its flanks and by ascending separate highpoints that yield views of the glaciated giant. A shining example of this is the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which encircles Mount Rainier.

Jason Henrie, a 37-year old Flagstaff, Arizona-based ultrarunner, has run the Wonderland Trail in two days. "To run it in a single push or a couple of days embodies all the elements of a top-tier trail run," he says. "You will experience a sense of fear and excitement, serious commitment and isolation, world-class trails and terrain-based sensory overload." While on the trail, Henrie noted a peculiar commonality, a "oneness" between the mountain's topographic highs and lows and his physical and emotional ups and downs. He says, "Run it and you will understand."

Top Trails

  • Glacier Basin Trail, seven miles out-and-back. Park at White River Campground's trailhead parking area and run 1200 vertical feet up into Mount Rainier's subalpine world. You may spy flashy wildflowers, agile mountain goats and ant-size alpinists further up the mountain. Add on a mile roundtrip on the Emmons Moraine Trail spur to see Emmons Glacier, the largest in the continental United States.
  • Shriner Peak Trail, eight miles out-and-back. The trail ascends more than 3400 feet to the peak and its fire tower. Begin in a Douglas-fir forest, then break out to big views with 2.5 miles to go. From the top, enjoy Mount Rainier in its whole-mountain glory and the rest of the Cascade Range before dive-bombing downhill. Consider planning this run to see sunrise light turn Mount Rainier the color of cotton candy.
  • Wonderland Trail, variety of possible distances and route layouts of up to 93 miles. Tackle all 93 miles at once or enjoy shorter chunks of the trail. For example, running to Panhandle Gap and back from the trailhead on the road to White River Campground offers 14 roundtrip miles of views toward Mount Rainier's northeast side in exchange for an uphill effort. Grind out the 1.5-mile ascent out of Longmire onto Rampart Ridge for more mountain vistas, then return the way you came.


Getting There. The park is a two-hour drive southeast of Seattle and a three-hour drive northeast of Portland. Use the Nisqually Entrance on the park's southwest side for fastest access from all points west.

Seasons. June through October offer the best trail-running conditions. Most park trails are buried under feet of snow from sometime in November through mid- to late May. Snow persists into July on highest-elevation trails. While rainfall is possible throughout the trail-running season, the driest months are July and August.

Camping and Lodging. The park has four campgrounds, each with its own opening and closing dates (360-569-2211, www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/camping.htm). For lodging, the National Park Inn is open year-round and the Paradise Inn is open from mid-May through early October (360-569-2275, www.mtrainierguestservices.com).

Other Activities. Thousands of climbers and mountaineers are drawn to the higher half of Mount Rainier every year. The park's paved roads are the prized pedaling grounds for cyclists. Worth a look-see are the wildflower displays of summer. Kindly refrain from picking flowers, as it is illegal.

By The Numbers

35 square miles of snow, ice and glaciers surround the summit of Mount Rainier.

22,000 feet is the elevation gain on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail.

260 miles of trails are maintained by the National Park Service in Mount Rainier National Park.


Grand Teton National Park

Ride High on the Cowboy State's Alpine Singletrack

The Grand, Middle and South Tetons in northwest Wyoming rise to three shark-tooth summits. Two hundred years ago, French-speaking fur trappers saw something more in the peaks when they named them the "Trois Tetons." Whether or not you see three breasts or just a whole lot of rocky mountains, a visit to Grand Teton National Park will make your jaw drop. From the east, the Teton Range claws itself more than 6000 vertical feet out of the pancake-flat Snake River Valley in a few horizontal miles.

Sean Meissner, 37, an ultrarunner and one of the sport's ambassadors who resides in Sisters, Oregon, spent a few post-college years living and running in Grand Teton. "Be cautious of bears and moose, and give them and other wildlife space when you encounter them. And you will encounter wildlife while running trails there," says Meissner. "Start and finish your runs early, as afternoon thunderstorms are powerful and can be dangerous." Grand Teton National Park has enough wildlife, wild places and wild environmental conditions to drop your jaw for many reasons.


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