In late July and early August, the south flank of Mount Rainier is bursting with wildflowers and the mountain rises stunningly from much closer than I'm used to seeing.
In the years my wife and have lived in Washington, neither of us had visited Mount Rainier. I even used to live relatively closer in Olympia yet never went to the state's highest peak, the snow-capped giant that lurks on the horizon for much of the state.
To rectify that glaring oversight, we took a brief stroll at Paradise, the park's main south flank hiking area on a recent road trip.
The downside to Paradise is the crowds. Even on a weekday, the place is like Hurricane Ridge on a weekend. There are a lot of people and parking can be a pain.
There are dozens of trails branching out from the visitor center and inn, including the route used by most climbers to ascend the mountain.
There are also loop trails with views of moraines, waterfalls, lily fields, glaciers, lakes and, of course, Mount Rainier.
The mountain's bulk looms. Its massive gray stone shoulders a patchwork cloak of white snow. The mountain is distant and majestic from a distance. It is overwhelming up close.
We picked the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls. The whole trail loops five miles through some of the area's best scenery but it is best left to experienced hikers as the terrain is reputed to hold snow well into late summer. Besides, we wanted a short stroll, not an all-day hike.
The walk to the falls is a little less than half a mile from the parking lot near the ranger station and inn. It is paved and well-traveled. Just follow the signs to Myrtle Falls.
Despite the omnipresent mass of Rainier, we made a point of taking in some of the subtle beauty along the trail. Paintbrushes blossomed in a deeper magenta hue than the orange-red tint I am used to in the Olympics. There also were a handful of delicate, white avalanche lilies, tiny pink phlox and other fragile blossoms I didn't recognize well enough to name.
The trail climbs at a comfortable slope from its start at 5,400 feet. Sooner than I expected, we were at Myrtle Falls.
A small bridge crosses the falls' stream pretty much in the middle. The water cascades prettily through a meadow above the bridge before plunging into a narrow, rocky gorge on the other side.
A short side trail leads to a better view of the entire falls, with Mount Rainier providing a majestic backdrop. With vistas like this, it's easy to see how Paradise earned its name.
We could have walked the trails for hours basking in the beauty but we had other paradises to visit. The winding road down the mountain's east side soon leads to Reflection Lakes, where iconic photos of Mount Rainier often are taken, with the peak reflected in the water.
Leif Nesheim is hiking columnist and a former reporter for the Sequim Gazette. He is a reporter at the Daily World in Aberdeen. He can be reached at lnesheim
Hiking Mount Rainier's Paradise
_ How long: Almost one mile, round-trip
_ How hard: Easy
_ How to get there: From Sequim: Take Highway 101 to Highway 104 east. Turn south on Highway 3, then take Highway 16 east to Interstate 5 South. Merge onto Highway 512 East via Exit 127 toward Puyallup. Take the Highway 7, Pacific Avenue exit toward Parkland/Spanaway and turn right on Highway 7, stay on 7 until Highway 706. Take this into the park and follow the signs to Paradise. A National Park pass is required. There is more parking at the Jackson Visitor Center, but if you're lucky (for this trail) you can park beyond it at the Paradise Inn.