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5 invigorating springtime hikes

By: Matt Hickman on March 29, 2011, 10:14 a.m.
a bike with camping gear in front of green trees and snowy mount rainier

Photo: brewbooks/Flickr

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Mount Rainier

A day hiker's paradise — a paradise for any lover of outdoor recreation for that matter — Mount Rainier National Park encompasses 368 square miles of pristine wilderness surrounding mighty Mount Rainier, a dormant but still very much dangerous stratovolcano. And, yes, aside from the majestic forests, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls and wildflower meadows, Paradise does really exist at Mount Rainier National Park. At an elevation of 5,400 feet, Paradise is the park's most visited area and home to the park's main visitor center and a historic lodge.

Paradise is also a great place to say goodbye to any creature comforts before embarking on an adventure along the Wonderland Trail, considered to be Mount Rainier National Park's finest. Completely circling Mount Rainier while taking hikers through lowland forests, sub-alpine meadows and dizzying alpine areas, 93-mile long Wonderland falls under the "strenuous" category and takes 10 to 14 days to complete but can be hiked in short sections when accessed from various trailheads throughout the park. If Wonderland Trail seems too intense, there are numerous shorter trails within Mount Rainier National Park, some as short as 0.3 miles, geared towards more casual day-hikers. In total, the park offers more than 260 miles of maintained hiking trails. Other popular trails include the Nisqually Vista Trail, the Naches Peak Loop Trail and the Sourdough Ridge Trail.

Trail-mates: Elk, Douglas squirrels, mountain goats.

Welcome signs of civilization: Packwood, Wash.; Eatonville, Wash.

Requisite gear: The North Face Convert Daypack.

Historic hike-toid: Established in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park is the fifth oldest National Park. Wonderland Trail was built in 1915.

Optimum hike time: Late spring/early summer