If you’re entering Mount Rainier National Park from its southwest side (the Nisqually Entrance, via Route 706), you’ll probably have just one destination in mind — Paradise. That’s okay, but there are a few worthwhile stops to make along the way. The first…
… is the National Park Inn at Longmire. This area is more than just a hotel, it’s also a historic district, comprised of dozens of old buildings, that used to make up the park’s administrative headquarters. The area is named for James Longmire, who blazed a trail from Ashford to this area in 1883, in order to gain access to the area’s hot springs. His son built a cabin here, which is the oldest surviving structure in the park.
The Longmire area was important for early park visitors, because of its gas station. The old pumps are still on display here, along with a small exhibit inside the old building.
After Longmire, the park road continues to run alongside the Nisqually River, though it’s not always close enough to see. You’ll pass Cougar Rock (a large picnic area, with a campground across the street), the trailhead for Comet Falls and Van Trump Park, then Christine Falls. Around this point, the road gets serious about gaining elevation, and before long, you’re high above, and crossing over, the Nisqually River.
Nisqually River Bridge
I drove over the Nisqually River Bridge many times, but I only stopped here once, in the middle of a very rainy day. You can park at either end of the bridge and walk across it, using the pedestrian sidewalk.
The views downstream…
… and upstream are impressive, even on days when clouds obscure most of the surrounding peaks. It’s hard to imagine a flood that could fill up this riverbed, but obviously it has happened in the past.
I was so tired of the rain, I decided to seek out shelter underneath the bridge. It’s easy to walk here from the parking area, but a steep drop-off makes it unsafe to climb down to the river’s edge.
I was happy to be in a dry place, for just a few minutes. Even though there’s no good place to sit here, you can still admire the structure of the bridge…
… and watch water drain out of the downspouts. I set up my camera and tried to take a waterfall-style photo here. Despite the cascade of water flowing out of that drain, it didn’t show up very well in the photo.
One-Way Scenic Loop Road – Ricksecker Point
After you’ve crossed the bridge and continue on to Paradise, the road climbs quickly, and within moments, you’ll come upon a one-way scenic detour, that takes you around Ricksecker Point.
On a clear day, you’ll have great views in several directions, at several pull-outs along the one-way road.
You can also look down at the Nisqually River, and that tiny bridge that you crossed, just a minute or two earlier.
A clear day will reveal views like this one…
… but a cloudy day can be just as interesting, as huge banks of fog drift past the surrounding peaks…
… occasionally hiding, then revealing the nearby mountains.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive along Paradise Road, beginning at the Nisqually entrance, and including the one-way scenic detour, on the way to Paradise: