Trail of Trails
Lots of destinations offer coffee trails, ale trails, chocolate trails, and pretty much every kind of “trail” that can be packaged together. A “trail” trail is both the opposite of that, and the best of it.
As you might expect from a destination with a national-park mountain, a metropolitan city full of sprawling parks, and a beautiful saltwater shoreline, our best assets are right under your feet. So allow us to roll out the red carpet for you, only instead of red, it’s brown and gray, and instead of carpet, it’s mostly dirt and gravel. It’s an itinerary for outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s a different experience in every season.
Day 0: Arrive Early at Mount Rainier
Arrive the evening before your full day of driving and hiking is set to begin, so you can get an early start at Mount Rainier.
Stay overnight at one of the many cabins, lodges, or motels around the mountain-gateway community of Ashford. Click here to find your Mount Rainier lodging.
Day 1: The Trails of Mount Rainier
Today is a drive almost entirely around Mount Rainier, seeing the mountain from where it’s best seen: From trails. Some are simple trails, and some a little more technical. Some are little more than a roadside stop where you can admire the view, the others will take you on multi-mile loops.
Coffee and Breakfast at…
35707 WA-706, Ashford, WA 98304
Copper Creek Restaurant is the kind of mountain-exploring fuel your body needs to make it through the day. When you stop for breakfast, they have old favorites, but Frenchie’s French Toast, topped with blackberry jam – blackberries are a specialty here, and if you leave without a piece of fresh-made blackberry pie, you’ll regret it – is particularly excellent.
While you’re here, strongly consider getting a picnic lunch to go. We recommend a simple deli sandwich, or the Tucscan Chicken Sandwich with marinaded chicken on focaccia bread, chased with a piece of their famous blackberry pie. Not getting it is a recipe for regrets.
Just a couple minutes’ drive from most of the lodging in Ashford is the Nisqually Entrance.
Of all of the entrances to Mount Rainier National Park, this is the only one that’s open year round, and is the most popular by visitor volume. If you’re arriving during the summer and especially on a summer weekend, plan ahead and be thankful you stayed close to the entrance to allow you to get there early.
Take a hike at…
The Trail of the Shadows at Longmire (0.75 miles)
In terms of history, viewpoints, and access to facilities and food, the Trail of the Shadows punches far above its weight. Weighting in a 0.75 miles, it packs in meadows, manicured trails, historic and natural markers, an abandoned hotspring, and wildlife viewing. Plus, there’s parking, restrooms, a restaurant, and a general store to stock up on provisions (and rent snowshoes if necessary).
Take a peek at…
One of the most picturesque waterfalls in the park, Christine Falls is just off Paradise Valley Road – the main road through the park – and features a stone bridge that frames the falls perfectly for the drive-by photographer.
Narada Falls (0.2 miles)
Sometimes pouring, sometimes trickling, always beautiful, Narada Falls is just a few minutes’ walk from the parking area, and features one of the top photo points in the park.
Hike a portion of…
Skyline Trail at Paradise (1.5 miles)
Paradise wears a different dress every season, and Skyline Trail is her red carpet. The trail itself is a 5.5-mile loop that shows off wildflowers in the summer and early fall, and snowfields in the winter and early spring. However, if you’re on a time budget, the section of the trail just around the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise is a stunning introduction to the terrain.
Once you’re done with the hike, enjoy the picnic lunch you brought along, with the Steller’s Jays (and occasionally camp robbers) serenading you.
First, enjoy the scenery of the Ohop Valley, and the forested roads between Mount Rainier National Park and the tiny town of Wilkeson (population ~500).
Wilkeson is a historic mining town near the Carbon River entrance to the national park that delivers an outsized experience, with approximately one place on the National Historic Register per 100 residents. Not to mention a top-notch coffee shop with its own emissions-free roastery; a farm-to-flask infusion soda shop with ice cream, cocktails, and fresh paninis, in addition to their sodas; and a pizza restaurant with the best pizza in the state.
531 Church St, Wilkeson, WA 98396
The Seattle Times called it the best pizza in Washington state, and it is. Neapolitan style, wood-fire, mozzarella-drizzled perfection would be another way to put it. People from all over the state (and beyond) are making the drive out to the Mount Rainier area for a taste of what the Carlson Block is serving up, and lucky you, you’ll already be in the area.
Travel Tacoma Tip: Get there early, because they often fill up and sell out.
Hit the road to…
The town of Sumner is full of classic America, with a vibrant downtown of cafes, bakeries, gift shops, antique stores, and bookshops. The local high school is on Main Street, and the street closes sometimes so the marching band can practice. Think white picket fences. Music plays through speakers as you window shop, buy souvenirs, or just walk down Main Street between the shops. No matter what your hiking pace has been on the trail of trails, the pace in Sumner slows to a saunter.
Sumner’s economical, convenient hotels offer plenty of space, and a place to put your boots up after a long day on the trails. Choose from the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Sumner - Puyallup or Candlewood Suites Sumner - Puyallup.
The view from the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Sumner.
Day 2: Small Towns and Hidden Suburban Trails and Beaches
Today is about checking out the hidden suburban trails, and some of the more charming little towns, and then heading into the big city (Tacoma) for the afternoon and evening.
1012 Main St, Sumner, WA 98390
Standard breakfast fare, but better. If you’ve lived this long and still aren’t sure what you like for breakfast, you won’t be sorry you ordered the B.A.C. (Bacon, Avocado, Swiss Cheese) Omelette.
Sumner Link Trail (5.1 miles total)
13114 63rd St E, Sumner WA 98390
The Sumner Link Trail blushes with fall colors along the White River, in parts tree-lined, and in other parts with unimpeded views to the areas agricultural center. You can walk the entire trail, or just find a section and explore!
Further exploration of …
While you were checking out the town last evening, maybe some of the businesses were closed. Maybe you wanted more time to check out the ones you liked. But regardless, you won’t want to leave before you see A Good Book, Junker’s Nest, A Picket Fence, and The Old Cannery.
Bradley Lake Park Loop Trail (1.0 miles)
531 31st Ave SE, Puyallup, WA 98374
Just off the road and still near the heart of Puyallup is a gorgeous little lake that feels like a wilderness oasis.
Main Street Dairy Freeze
1402 Main St, Sumner, WA 98390
Because really…What’s the point of being elevated to Americana heaven, if you don’t get a grilled burger and frosty shake while you’re there?
Time for a “drive” to…
Chambers Bay Loop Trail (2.0 miles)
6320 Grandview Dr W, University Place, WA 98467
If Chambers Creek Regional Park looks familiar, it could be because it’s co-located with the home of the 2015 U.S. Open Golf Championship, Chambers Bay Golf Course. The trail meanders among the tee boxes, sprawling fairways, and greens of the golf course, and the Chambers Creek Bridge conveys you from the trail down to the beach for another walk. The remains of the former stone quarry on which the course was built provide a stark, photogenic, and fun backdrop for the twists and turns of the trail.
Travel Tacoma Tip: There’s actually a network of trails in this area that you can wander amongst. They include the Soundview Trail, Grandview Trail, and Central Meadow Loop Trails, and they’re all paved (except the beach, thankfully).
Head south on I-5 to the city of DuPont to explore the…
Sequalitchew Creek Trail (3.0 miles)
1700 Civic Dr, DuPont, WA 98327
You hear about places that tout “something for everyone,” but the Sequalitchew Creek Trail really delivers on it. It starts as an easy trail along the creek, full of signposts about the history of the area (DuPont is the first incorporated city in Washington state), from a Native American village to an explosives manufacturing hub.
The trail itself follows a route along the creek that used to carry finished high explosives by train from the munitions factories to the wharf where ships were waiting in the Salish Sea. At the end of the trail, an eerie tunnel from the boom-train days crosses under a functioning rail line, and opens up onto a pristine beach with views of Anderson and McNeil Islands.
5400 N Pearl St, Tacoma, WA 98407
A two-mile waterfront walk to the soundtrack of waves and sea birds is what you’re in for when you set out from any of the parks along the Ruston Way Waterfront Trail.
5061 Main St, Tacoma, WA 98407
Conveniently located at the end of your waterfront walk, Point Ruston is a retail, entertainment, and (for this purpose, most importantly) dining complex, with fare ranging from wood-fire pizza (Farrelli’s) to burgers and beers (Stack 571) to upscale American (WildFin), and more.
There are hotel options along the waterfront (Silver Cloud Hotel Tacoma at Point Ruston Waterfront and Silver Cloud Inn Tacoma Waterfront), or in downtown Tacoma (Marriott Tacoma Downtown, Courtyard Tacoma Downtown, Hotel Murano, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Downtown Tacoma).
Day 3: One Final Trail
8237 S Park Ave, Tacoma, WA 98408
A nationally rated Yelp favorite, Tibbitts is a tiny (you could count the number of tables on two hands without using thumbs) neighborhood mainstay outside of the center of the city, but well worth the few minutes it takes to get there. Chef/owner Shawn Tibbitts uses ingredients he picks up at the local farms on his way into work, and cooks them up in the simplest of kitchens: Two butane gas burners. The menu: Seasonal. The prime choice right now: Champagne-soaked lobster called the Lobster Bomb. You’ll thank me later.
Travel Tacoma Tip: Call in to make a reservation on weekends.
Hit the final trail at…
5400 N Pearl St, Tacoma, WA 98407
The more than 10 miles of trails that zigzag through Point Defiance Park’s eight botanical gardens, old-growth forest, living history museums, and zoo and aquarium make for an incredible day of exploration, but Five-Mile Drive is its pièce de resistance. The trail runs along the outside of the park, featuring epic water/bridge/island viewpoints over the top of the bluffs and cliffs along the way, and is closed to vehicle traffic in the afternoons, giving bicyclists, walkers, and hikers the run of the place.
Travel Tacoma Tip: If you’re up for a change of pace, park at Point Ruston and rent bicycles at Wheel Fun Rentals, then ride them across the Wilson Way pedestrian bridge and into the park to complete the Five-Mile Drive loop. It takes about an hour, and it’s one of the best ways to experience the most scenic park in Washington state.