Total Budget: $20 USD (Hess Bakery lunch) + $25 USD (Mount Rainier Park admission fee) + $60 USD (fuel) + $40 USD (Dinner) = $145 USD (for a family of 3)
STOP #1: HESS BAKERY
I don't have any professionally taken photographs of the food here, but I can definitely attest to its authentic variety of German pretzels and baked goods, prepared fresh daily by their German baker. Their deli also offers a wide range of sandwiches and desserts, including a particularly delicious cream puff and almond German dessert.
STOP #2: SKYLINE LOOP TRAIL (MUST VISIT!)
Distance: 5.5 miles round trip
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Elevation: 1700 feet
Tip: Hiking counterclockwise offers a more tranquil beginning and a lower initial elevation grade, while hiking clockwise offers breathtaking views and various additional trails to explore.
The Skyline Trail is the main route for hiking out of Paradise, Mount Rainier's south side hub and its most popular destination. This hike completely blew our minds and provides visitors a unique opportunity to revel in the breathtaking natural beauty of Washington's grandest mountain. In peak season, your trip along the Skyline Trail will be filled with amazing views of cascading waterfalls, glaciers and subalpine meadows brimming with wildflower varieties.
From the Paradise parking lot, proceed north. The initial ascent from the parking lot is steep, but eases into a less harsh climb after around 0.4 miles.
You will eventually pass Glacier Vista on your left, where hikers often congregate for amazing photo opportunities which the trail offers.
Over the next half mile, hike along the Nisqually Glacier as the trail loops around in a hairpin turn and moves towards Panorama Point. After that half mile, you will reach a junction for Pebble Creek and Camp Muir. You will continue straight to the Southeast and arrive at the beautiful Panorama Point after a short quarter mile of travel.
Panorama Point provides stunning views of the Paradise Valley, Mount St Helens (recommended if you have time for an additional 3-4 hours drive), Mount Adams and even Mount Hood on a clear day.
From Panorama Point, you will be directed along a path carved into a steep snowfield to the east. This was a seriously amazing photo opp! Although the signage labels this as part of the Skyline Trail, some consider this to be a shortcut and favor the more stable footing of the high skyline trail to the north.
For more visuals and videos of this amazing hike, please visit my Instagram.
STOP #3: REFLECTIONS LAKE (MUST VISIT!)
There is little wonder that this lake is called Reflections Lake, as the perfect reflection of Mount Rainier is visible in the lake. Very serene and tranquil spot to just relax and enjoy the view.
STOP #4: NARADA FALLS
This is definitely recommended as one of the best falls in Mount Rainier Park. Just half a mile of a hike later, you glimpse a majestic view of the unique cascading falls.
STOP #5: CANDLEWOOD SUITES LAKEWOOD ($0 as we redeemed it through Expedia)
Pros: Less expensive than other hotels in the area ($185 incl tax), good choice if you're headed to Seattle, clean and comfortable rooms
Cons: Located 1.5 hour away from Mount Rainier National Park
Note: If you are looking to shop, Seattle Premium Outlets, Walmart and Trader Joe's are convenient places you can stop by to pick up necessities and groceries.
STOP #6: IN THE BOWL BISTRO, SEATTLE (MUST VISIT!)
I cannot rave enough about this wonderful Thai vegan place. The waitress was very friendly and attentive, and the interior is small and inviting. Most importantly, the food was wholesome and nutritious. Vegan of course ;) Price range is from $10-$20/dish.
Other dishes that are recommended are the Melting Culture and fried rice dishes. They have a huge assortment of noodle dishes that you can select from.
STOP #7: DOUBLE DOUBLE CHINESE RESTAURANT
I didn't take any photos here, but I highly recommend Double Double as an affordable Chinese staple. Their porridge, youtiao, carrot cake and egg tofu with enoki mushrooms are fantastic!
Feel free to leave any comments or questions about the area. Definitely amazing locations for a 2-day road trip!