Ride Around Mount Rainier in Two Days
Start with a good weather forecast, add a room reservation at Mt. Rainier National Park's Paradise Inn and some bicycles, and you've got a recipe for a most excellent sub-24-hour Bike Overnight.
Our intention was to follow the grueling RAMROD route, but in two days instead of one. We would ride in a counter-clockwise fashion, 150 miles or so around the park, pedaling over two major hills for a total elevation gain of more than 10,000 feet. Some people call this two-day ride “wimp-rod," but with loaded touring bikes, it’s anything but wimpy!
Day 1 dawned cloudy, which was just fine by me. Riding in the summer heat can be exhausting. We rolled out of the Safeway parking lot in Enumclaw and headed toward the sleepy town of Buckley. The roads were flat and the traffic relatively light. Before long, we were enjoying the solitude of country roads near Lake Kapowsin. We took our first break at a public boat launch on the lake where we met the local sheriff and a sheriff-in-training. Both were quite friendly and advised us to ride Camp 1 Road for beautiful views of the surrounding landscapes. We agreed to follow up on the suggestion on our next ride in the area.
From the lake it was a short ride into Eatonville and the start of hand-to-hand combat to get to Highway 7. The Alder Road Cutoff is not for the faint-of-heart; there is no shoulder, and cars move quickly without much regard for bikes. But we rode defensively and made it through this section of the ride without incident.
Alder Lake and the eight-foot-wide shoulders along Highway 7 were a welcome sight.
We stopped in Elbe for the obligatory French fries at Scale Burger and were treated to the sight of the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad's steam train heading out on its afternoon tour. If you’ve never seen a steam train take off, it’s a pretty awesome. Very loud, actually. But cool. I was surprised to discover that even after it got going, we could ride our bikes faster than the train. Maybe it wasn’t at full throttle with its cargo of tourists.
We continued to roll east toward the park, and were happy to see the big log arch entrance, welcoming us to the beginning of the final 17 miles of our first day’s ride. We rolled along the twisty forested road through dappled sunlight to Longmire, where we took a brief break before what would prove to be one of the most grueling climbs I’ve ever tackled.
Beauty is commensurate with how hard you must work to find it, though. And Mt. Rainier is one spectacular mountain (even if we only got peekaboo views of the mountain itself on Saturday), offering a mix of sights to see.
We arrived at Paradise in plenty of time to enjoy a beer on the patio and chat with fellow tourists. We were both tourist attraction ("Wait, you rode your bikes here? Up that hill?!") and tour guides ("I'm from New York -- what should I visit tomorrow in Seattle?"). A ranger talk capped the evening and we dropped off to sleep, dreaming of the next day’s ride.
We intended to sleep in, but bright sunshine drove us from our beds at 7 a.m. No matter, when the mountain is out, there’s hiking to be done! After a big buffet breakfast, we headed out for a short hike to Myrtle Falls and Alta Vista. The mountain didn’t disappoint! Wildflowers, mountain vistas; this is what it’s all about!
Remembering that we had a many-thousand-foot descent ahead of us, we didn’t linger. The ride into Stevens Canyon was cold but oh-so-amazing! Twisty, mostly sans cars, and with views galore.
We stopped briefly to look at Box Canyon -- a river-carved slot hundreds of feet below the road.
Then it was on to the hardest part of the day’s ride -- the ascent over Cayuse Pass. Nick thought it was the most beautiful part of the ride. Long, winding, not too steep, and very rewarding. We were somewhat surprised to find no happy resting spot at the top for lunch. But we had another fast descent ahead, and the miles rolled quickly by until a more suitable spot presented itself.
There’s not much to say about the final 30 miles or so of the ride. Once you’re out of the park, cruising along Highway 410 to Enumclaw, it's just another busy road. We put our heads down and pedaled hard. Fortunately, it's still a bit downhill and it wasn’t long before we were pulling back into the Safeway parking lot, dreaming of a big bag of cherries to refuel us on our way home.
Was this ride worth it? Absolutely. I’ve grown up with Mt. Rainier in my back pocket, and it was amazing to experience the mountain at a different pace, on two wheels instead of two feet.
Tip for this adventure: The best (and cheapest!) rooms at Paradise Inn are in the old part of the lodge. They were renovated a few years ago and have great views of the mountain (when it's not cloudy). Camping is also available at Cougar Rock Campground, on the way to Paradise.
Favorite local bike shop: Eatonville Outdoor in Eatonville, Wash.