Fall is here. I struggle letting go of summer—I loathe the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte simply for symbolic reasons. Autumn colors, while gorgeous, are a bittersweet reminder to me that summer is over. I know it’s silly—there’s plenty to do and see and enjoy throughout the fall and winter. And it’s a great time to avoid crowds and get some good deals.Last spring I visited Mount Rainier, lured by a great shoulder season two-nights-for-one offer. The National Park Inn, in the historic Longmire District at the southwest corner of the park, is open year-round. Completely renovated in recent decades, the lodge doesn’t have a rustic, rough-hewn log interior like the seasonal Paradise Inn higher up the mountain, but its long, inviting porch demands lingering as views of Rainier filter through the shifting clouds, and its massive stone fireplace makes the lounge a cozy spot to enjoy complimentary afternoon tea and scones.
Several hikes start right there. On the Trail of the Shadows, an easy 0.7 mile loop across from the Lodge, I admired the astonishing handiwork of the resident beavers—they do this with their TEETH??—along with a replica of an early homesteaders’ cabin and stately stands of tall, straight trees banked in ferns and shrouded with mist. The Rampart Ridge trail ascends through steep forest, switch-backing over glittering creeks which tumble over gleaming rocks and amber logs.
My lodging package included a free snowshoe rental, so I drove a scenic 11 miles up to the end of the road, where the Paradise Inn stands on the snowy slopes of Mount Rainier just shy of the tree line. After a vigorous trudge up beyond the evergreens, I turned to a vast and glorious view of the nearby Tatoosh Range, south of Rainier, beyond which peeked Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens on this extraordinarily clear day.
Back at the Lodge, where no cell service, Wi-Fi, or TV distracts (there is a payphone! It takes quarters, how retro!) I returned to the irresistible draw of the porch. With wine and cheese brought down from my room, I read, wrote and played with my camera in delectable solitude as the afternoon sun illuminated plumes of snow blowing off Rainier’s domed 14,000-foot peak.