Alta Vista Trail at Paradise,
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You would think a trail that's only about 6/10 of a mile long (one way) would be an easy one. This is how the Alta Vista Trail surprises you. That "Alta" in its name means "High", and you don't get to a high viewpoint without gaining some altitude. And by "some", I mean more than 500 feet -- a climb that wouldn't be bad if it was stretched out over a mile or two. The view at the top is worth it, of course.
From the visitor center at Paradise, head up the grand staircase, then go straight. You'll spend a few minutes on the Skyline Trail (which loops around Paradise), before the trail splits. As an alternative, you can hop over to the Alta Vista Trail from the Myrtle Falls Trail, using a shortcut that runs between the two routes.
Either way you get there, this is what you'll face. It's hard to tell by the photo above, but this trail is a lot like climbing a staircase. Keep chugging along, with extensive breaks to "look around at the scenery" -- i.e., catch your breath.
There's a pretty good chance that you'll find an unmelted snowfield around the spot where the Alta Vista Trail splits. I'd recommend trudging over the snow and following the trail on the right. It does not lead immediately to Alta Vista -- you'll have to go up a bit further, then loop around, counterclockwise.
There's a benefit to taking this smaller, snowier, and less-maintained trail. As you cross over unmelted snow, you'll be staring directly at Mount Rainier, which is partially hidden by the hill you're walking around.
At one point, the serpentine trail looks as if it's curving around the hill, directly into Mount Rainier.
At the next junction, where the two branches of the Alta Vista Trail converge, you'll find much more snow, as well as a fantastic view of Mount Rainier, looking towards Nisqually Glacier.
As I lingered here, clouds began to overtake the top of the mountain.
Instead of taking a left and continuing on the Alta Vista loop, you could go straight ahead on the Skyline Trail, and continue to Glacier Vista (about 6/10 of a mile further) or go all the way to Panorama Point (about 1.3 miles from the end of Alta Vista Trail). Pick up a trail map at the visitor center so that you can know all your options.
Rainier continues to be the star of the show, as you head towards the actual high point of the Alta Vista Trail. Climbing a bit more...
... the Tatoosh Range to the south is revealed.
I'm assuming this spot is the actual Alta Vista, since after this point, the trail started going downhill at a rapid pace. Up ahead, the jagged Tatoosh Mountains are home to the Pinnacle Saddle Trail (from which, you have a great view looking back at Paradise).
As the trail drops, the Paradise visitor center and parking area come into view. You can see them in the middle of the picture, to the left. On the way down, try to figure out if the descent was easier or harder on your legs than the climb.
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