Despite everything you’ve heard about global warming, there are still plenty of glaciers at Mount Rainier. 26 major glaciers cover a large portion of the mountain. One of the largest and most noticeable on the southern side of Rainier is Nisqually Glacier — a huge chunk of old ice that covers 1.8 square miles. If you’d like to get a good look at it, and the huge valley that it has sliced into the side of the mountain, set out on the Nisqually Glacier Vista Trail.
This 1.4 mile (round trip) trail leaves from Paradise, but it’s separate from the rest of the wildflower-meadow trails. Instead of starting up the steps outside the visitor center, walk over to the overflow parking lot (you passed it on your way in). The trail begins at the far end of the parking lot.
Along the way, you’ll see a nice creek and some more wildflowers. Notice all that snow at the edge of the stream? Much to my surprise, there was still plenty of snow along this trail in late August — including some chunks of snowy ice that covered the trail, making hiking difficult.
The trail makes a “lollipop” shape — in other words, you hike out, then take a loop, then hike back the way you came. The split in the trail (where the loop begins) is not clearly marked — you just see an unnamed trail heading off to the left. If you’re seeing a lot of snow on the trail, you should take the left, rather than going straight. That part of the trail has much less snow and ice to cross than the portion of the loop that’s straight ahead. It’s wise to avoid the ice, especially if you aren’t wearing good hiking boots, or you don’t have hiking poles to provide support.
Whichever way you go, there are a few good viewpoints waiting for you on the far side of the loop. These spots offer a nice view of the mountain (at least, when it’s not hidden behind clouds)…
… and a striking view up the valley, towards the end of Nisqually’s dirty, debris-covered tongue.