Need to get out in nature? Hike without the crowds? Get up close to animals? Stay safe? And keep the cost down?
We have the answer: a Northwest Trek day trip. Combine a morning or afternoon visit to the wildlife park with a half-day hike, picnic and local dinner outside, and you’ve got the makings of an awesome family day or romantic date. Keep reading to build your perfect itinerary.
Step 1: Animals up close
For less than the price of a movie ticket ($12/$10), you can spend a morning or afternoon at Northwest Trek, getting up-close to grizzlies, bald eagles, cougar and more. There’s plenty of guaranteed parking, and with a timed online ticket you’ll walk right in. Wander the safe, one-way Wild Walk paths, with social distancing markers, face coverings and plenty of hand sanitizer to keep everyone healthy.
Breathe in that clean Northwest air beneath towering forests, listen for bald eagle calls or wolf howls, and feel that lockdown stress melt away.
Add on a Wild Drive tour before or after your Wild Walk for something you can only find at Northwest Trek – seeing rolling bison, fluffy mountain goats, caribou, moose and more from the comfort and safety of your own car. Right now is prime viewing time for both baby animals and bison “rut” or breeding season – plenty of grunts, rolls and sparring between the bulls.
Have kids? Maybe come in the morning, when they have lots of energy.
On a date? Come in the afternoon to find secluded spots.
Step 2: Plan a picnic
For lunch, Trek Treats is offering nachos, pretzels, cotton candy and ice cream at a walk-up outside both.
Saving your dollars? The area around Northwest Trek is brimming with perfect picnics spots. Pack a basket or cooler and head for one of these, either before or after your visit to Northwest Trek.
- Dogwood Park, for stunning views of Mt. Rainier. 41299 Clear Lake Hwy, Eatonville.
- Millpond Park, for a log cabin, pond and river access (see below for hiking). 101 Alder St. E, Eatonville
- Stringtown Cellars and Lavender Farm, for blooming fields of purple and a chance to pick your own too. 39610 Eatonville Cutoff Road, Eatonville
- Ashford County Park, with paths, restrooms and plenty of grass. 29801 SR 706, Ashford
- Need to buy lunch to go? Eatonville and Ashford have many delicious, affordable options. See Visit Rainier for the full list.
Step 3: Go for a Hike (without everyone else)
Sometimes these days it seems like everyone has the same idea: Head for the most popular trail around. But if you know where to go around the Rainier area, you can skip those long lines and crowded trails and stay safe and healthy.
Short & Easy
- Millpond and Smallwood Parks. A 1.5-mile roundtrip that’s dog- and kid-friendly alongside the pretty Mashel River
- Little Mashel Falls. A 5-mile flat roundtrip with three waterfalls and multiple trailhead choices. Best for older kids – and be sure to stay on the trail for safety
- Hugo Peak. A 4.5-mile roundtrip with 880ft of elevation gain, this is another Pack Forest hike that’s great for a half-day. There are many other trails in the forest, also. Be warned: Vehicles will be towed from the administration parking lot after hours
There are too many to list! For a complete list that’s sortable by length, elevation gain and other criteria, see Visit Rainier’s hiking page. Tips: Come early on a weekday to avoid crowds getting into Mt. Rainier National Park. And always bring the 10 essentials.
Step 4: Local Dining Outside
You’ve hiked, you’ve seen Northwest animals and now you’re ready for dinner. Check out these recommendations from Visit Rainier for local eateries with takeout or safe outside dining experiences.
- Scaleburger is an iconic roadside burger shack with outdoor seating
- The Pizza Express is another Elbe icon – a pizza restaurant in a former train carriage. Pizza by the pie or slice, outdoor seating only
- The Mt. Rainier Dining Co is a diner in a converted train car. Indoor and outdoor seating for 21+ makes for a unique date
- Copper Creek Inn has indoor and outdoor seating, with beer, wine and a lovely picnic table in the shade behind the restaurant by the creek
- Wildberry Restaurant, owned by climbing legend Llakpa Gelu Sherpa, has Nepalese/American foor with indoor and outdoor seating
- Rainier BaseCamp Bar and Grill has outdoor seating only in a park-like atmosphere
Where to Stay
Making a weekend of it? Visit Rainier has plenty of ideas for safe accommodation, from riverside cabins to inn rooms, plus direct availability searches and bookings.
Where to Explore
Looking for something a little different? Stay socially-distanced and explore at the same time.
- Ex Nihilo Sculpture Park on the Ashford-Elbe Road will have you gawking in awe at the giant dinosaurs, birds, spiders, cartwheels and more created by artist Dan Klennert out of scrap metal parts. It’s always evolving. 22410 SR 706, Ashford.
- Elbe church and trains. The Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad is currently closed, but you can still see historic trains on their tracks in this town at the corner of Highways 7 and 706. Don’t miss the tiny white Lutheran chapel, also.
- Mineral Lake. At this tiny, historic town the views of Mt. Rainier in the lake just have to be seen to be believed. Take a dip, do some fishing or try the Cora Lake hike for more swimming and peekaboo views.
- Stay socially-distanced on a horse. EZ Times Outfitters operate guided horse trail rides out of Elbe year-round, rain or shine.