Don’t Miss This Epic Drive in Washington State!

hiking Mt Rainier National Parks & Monuments Road Tripping Travel Washington
White River

So…I’m in Washington State for a few weeks while Daniel stays home to hold down the fort. My mom had a hip replacement a week or so back, so I got to come up here and hang out for a few weeks to help out. Lucky me! I’ve planned all sorts of ‘field trips’ to keep us both amused, and I decided that a trip up to ‘The Mountain,’ as Washingtonians call her, would be a good one. So, off we went!

Log structure marking entry into Mt Rainier National Park

We set off towards the Park from Tacoma on this very last day of summer <sniff>. It’s pretty easy to find the way, my phone GPS did a great job leading us. (For those of you who read my Marvelous (Paper) Maps post, well….I didn’t use a paper map this time.) It was a cloudy day in the South Sound area, but the weather guessers assured us that it would be at least partially sunny on the mountain.

We started catching glimpses of Her Majesty just past Enumclaw.

We passed through the quaint town of Enumclaw and low clouds were still kissing the foothills. Hmmmm…..well, I suppose there is always the chance that the weather guessers could be wrong? As we drove farther and farther upward, the sun started breaking through the clouds until we had a clear blue sky! Unbelievable to think it was so dreary and gray where we started.

Fall colors are just starting to pop, this third week in September.

Fall colors are just starting to warm and our first stop is Chinook Pass. It’s an epic drive to the top, elevation 5430′. Kind of a puny pass for California standards, but for Washington, it’s completely legit. If you have any fear of heights or plummeting off a mountain highway into an abyss several hundred feet below, I suggest handing off the driving to someone else. Mom did great, although it did seem like she was ‘holding the door on’ very well. Good job, Mom!

Tipsoo Lake with the fall hues just starting to shine.

One reason I chose this drive is because there are a lot of scenic spots that we could enjoy without having to leave the car, which worked well for my newly-hip-replaced Mom. Tipsoo Lake is a lovely little gem just below Chinook Pass with a parking lot for hikers just below the lake. Continue on up the road just a few tenths of a mile more and you will find parallel parking that offers fantastic views. These photos were taken from a vantage point on the side of the road!

Tipsoo Lake with Mt Rainier in the background
Sunrise entry station at Mt Rainier

After absorbing all the phenomenal views and ooohing and ahhing appropriately, we headed back down the mountain and took the turnoff to Sunrise. At an elevation of 6400′, Sunrise is the highest elevation that can be reached by car in Mt. Rainier National Park. The area has a very short season, usually opening late June or early July and closing late September or early October.

The drive up to Sunrise is a pleasantly windy road lined with lush green forest.

At the Sunrise entry station we were all ready to pay our park fee when the ranger handed us a map and newsletter and let us know that people with handicapped placards get free entry into national parks! Woop! Woop! Perk number 2 for hip replacements! It is about a ten mile drive from the entry station to Sunrise along a pleasantly winding road lined with lush, green forest. There were a few white knuckle spots along the road, just enough to keep us on our toes. The views did not disappoint as we approached the visitors’ center.

Mt Rainier as seen from the Sunrise Visitors’ Center

Sunrise has a lovely visitors’ center, an old log structure that fits in perfectly in this alpine woodland setting. Inside are several interesting and interactive displays, a small gift shop, and a ranger’s desk with folks to answer questions and hand out maps and other information.

Sunrise Visitors’ Center

The Visitors’ Center was busy, even at noon on a Saturday in September. Words from the wise: definitely go early if you want a parking spot in the main parking lot! Cars were parked along the road for quite a ways down when we were there. Fortunately, we had a handicapped pass – hey, hip replacements come with perks! We had brought along a picnic lunch, which turned out to be a good idea because there really isn’t much in the way of food available. Be forewarned.

Sisu and my mom (she’s in the car) posing for a picture with beautiful Mt Rainier. Don’t they all look pretty?

Heading back down the road was just as fun as heading up. Around every bend, the view is different. I don’t know how many times we both said…..’wow!’

Road heading down from Sunrise Visitors’ Center
Well, hello, Beautiful! How lovely you are!

Have you ever heard of Greenwater, Washington? No? Well, next time you’re passing through, definitely stop. One of my favorite places in this little wide spot is Wapiti Outdoors. They have a cute little gift shop with hats they make called ‘Wapiti Woolies,’ along with unique t-shirts, stickers, cabin knick knacks, and books about the area. Also attached is a coffee/ice cream stand where you can buy THE BEST huckleberry milkshakes around. If you know me, you know that huckleberry milkshakes are my favorite treat and I have found the best place to buy them in two national parks (so far!). Check out my blog about Yellowstone for the other place.

Lucy is so happy to be at Wapiti Outdoors!

Wapiti Outdoors has a peaceful outdoor area and a pet area for Lucy, a little something for everyone.

Front door of Wapiti Outdoors
Seating in the coffee stand of Wapiti Outdoors.

Wapiti Outdoors has a friendly eclectic feel. The cafe has local art and the tables have maps of the nearby Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. I especially loved all the Sasquatch art displayed throughout the building. Quaint, woodsy, homey, fun.

I got my huckleberry milkshake!

Planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest and looking for a sweet drive? This is a great one in the fall or summer. Have you been here? What are your favorite spots? Follow our blog and leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from you!


I'm an only child who grew up on a sailboat, a lover of adventure, a mom, wife, an RN, and a friend of all dogs.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Miss This Epic Drive in Washington State!

  1. I love that drive and the hike around Tipsoo Lake is one of my favorites – so beautiful! Glad you guys were able to enjoy it on a sunny day!

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