A Week at Mt. Rainier National Park

We planned for months to do a week-long camping trip at Glacier National Park but two days before we left we still were not able to get a Going to the Sun Road ticket (the website always crashed when everyone tried to buy tickets at the same time every morning and were instantly sold out) AND the weather was forecasted to be 100 degrees and smoky. 24 hours before we left, we decided to spend the week at Mt. Rainier instead! The weather was forecasted to be perfect and we called the park to make sure we thought we could get a first-come-first-serve camping spot. We are so glad we changed it up last minute!

Cougar Rock Campground fills up fast in the morning, especially on weekends! It has flush toilets, soap, paper towels, and drinking water but no hot water or showers.

Day 1: We had everything packed Thursday evening and left Friday morning for a family birthday party a couple hours from our house. We stayed in a hotel Friday night and left at 4:30am to arrive at Cougar Rock Campground by 7am. Seth waited in line at the ranger station until the ranger arrived at 7:30. There were 14 camping spots available for the day and we got the 6th one! Our camp spot was still occupied so we drove to Grove of the Patriarchs for a morning hike. Grove of the Patriarchs has enormous old-growth trees and a suspension bridge. Round-trip it is 1.5 miles and totally doable with little kids. In the afternoon we got to our campsite and set up our camp!

Grove of the Patriarchs Suspension Bridge
Old Growth Trees

Day 2: Sunday we drove up to the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier. Looking back we probably should have gone on a weekday since we had to wait over an hour in line to enter the Sunrise area – they were letting cars in as cars drove out to make sure the parking lots were not overwhelmed. We were easily able to find a parking spot once we were in though! We did a hot and dusty 2-mile hike called the Silver Forest Trail. The views of Rainier were nice but were pretty much the same the entire way.

Silver Forest Trail at Sunrise

Day 3: We spent the day in the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier. The Paradise area is pretty much the only area in the park with full cell phone service. We took the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Fall and then continued on for about another 3/4 of a mile. There were gorgeous views of Rainier, wildflowers, streams and the trail had a good mix of shade and sun! The kids also completed their Junior Ranger booklets and got their Junior Ranger badges at the Paradise ranger station.

Hiking in the Paradise area

Day 4: This was our biggest day, and probably deserves its own blog post! We drove 3 hours south to Mt. St. Helens to hike the Ape Caves, a lava tube tunnel that is open to the public. Ape Caves does require a reservation and a $2 reservation fee, but it covers your whole car of people. There were plenty of spots available for a reservation when we booked a couple days in advance! There is an upper cave more difficult section and a lower, easier .75 mile section. We did the lower cave and it was perfect for the kids! It is definitely not wheelchair/stroller accessible but our kids were able to walk the entire way themselves.

Ape Caves!

Day 5: We woke up to cloudy skies and a colder campground on Wednesday. When it is cloudy at Mt. Rainier you aren’t able to see the mountain at all. We drove back up to Paradise and explored the Paradise Historic Inn. The kids enjoyed splitting a cinnamon roll from the cafe and Seth and I got some coffee. It felt warm and cozy and was a great morning of relaxing after our 6 hours of driving the day before. In the afternoon, we drove down to Longmire and walked around the 1/2 mile Trail of the Shadows nature trail. The clouds cleared by the afternoon and it ended up being the only cloudy day!

There are a lot of different areas to pull over and see waterfalls on the side of the road!
Crystal Mountain Gondola View

Day 6: Another out of park adventure day, we drove to Crystal Mountain Resort and took the gondola up the ski area. The views were incredible – you can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams from the top. We enjoyed our packed lunch at the top and did a little bit of hiking. There is a restaurant at the top for anyone wanting to pay $25 for lunch. You are able to hike down the 5 miles if you want, but the kids really wanted to ride the gondola back down!

Day 7: Our final day! We packed up our camp in the morning and explored part of the Carter Falls trail which starts right across the road from Cougar Rock Campground. This trail was really beautiful and we could have probably done more of the hike if we were ready with water and hiking shoes on the kids! We met some people on the trail from the Glacier area this day and they told us it was very busy, smoky, and hot in Montana – we were so thankful we chose Rainier!

I’d love to answer any questions about visiting or staying at Mt. Rainier National Park! It was a wonderful family camping trip! There are incredible longer hikes in the area too if you have older kids or no kids with you!

Salt Creek Camping!

We just finished unpacking from our 3rd camping trip to Salt Creek Recreation area (near Port Angeles, WA). I wanted to share about our trip in case anyone else is looking for a fun weekend camping trip in NW Washington! This is such a fun campground for kids since it has a playground, World War 2 bunkers, and endless tide pools to explore.

We left Bellingham early at 6:30am to catch the 8:45am ferry out of Coupeville. We arrived at Salt Creek around 10:30am and were able to snag a first-come, first-serve camp site (even though it was 4th of July weekend!). The campground has 92 sites and about half are reservable and half are first-come, first-served. (We’ve tried to get reservations before and have never had success, they are always really booked!)

We set up our tent and bug tent on Friday and took the kids down to the tide pools to explore. After a quick afternoon nap, the kids took their strider bikes to explore the World War 2 bunkers (previously Camp Hayden) and went to the playground. The campground also has sand volleyball courts, horse-shoe pits, a basketball court, and a baseball field! Camping at Salt Creek is $32/night and they only accept cash or check. There are both pit toilets and flush toilets depending on how far you want to walk from your camp site!

Saturday we spent the day in Olympic National Park. We did a 3.2 mile hike to the top of Hurricane Hill. The 360 views form the top are incredible! We picked up Junior Ranger booklets from the ranger station which the kids worked on while we were in the park and at the campsite the next morning. We have an annual National Park pass, otherwise the entry fee would be $30 for Olympic National Park. Hurricane Hill is paved the entire way so would be accessible for a stroller or technically a wheelchair – but you would want to make sure you had really good brakes on the wheelchair since it has 650 feet of elevation gain.

Sunday we packed up our campsite and spent the afternoon biking the Olympic Discovery Trail in Port Angeles. This trail is 135 miles long between Port Townsend and La Push. Around 90 miles of the trail has been developed into a paved path and I think they are working on completing more of it. We biked 10 beautiful miles along the water! We also stopped by the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to turn in the kids’ Junior Ranger packets to get their Junior Ranger badges!

I totally recommend Salt Creek for a weekend trip! None of us got a single mosquito bite which was a nice surprise! It was a lot foggier/cooler at our campsite and about 2 minutes after we drove out of the park it was totally blue skies and sunny!

This trip was kind of a trial run for a much longer camping trip we have planned later this summer. We were using our 6-person tent for the first time and hadn’t used any of our camping equipment since last fall. Happy Camping!

7 Days in Grand Teton National Park!

First of all, I would HIGHLY recommend Grand Teton National Park for a family camping trip! It was gorgeous, not crowded, had perfect weather, and very few bugs! This was our first real family vacation since two years ago when the kids were diagnosed and it was basically everything we dreamed of!

The kids earned their Junior Ranger badges!

Day 1: We left at 8am Friday morning and drove 15 hours straight to Jenny Lake. Seth REALLY wanted to camp at Jenny Lake after doing extensive research on the park and learning that it was the most popular spot. The whole campground is first-come first-serve so he wanted to be first in line to get a spot. We lost an hour driving (due to time zone change) and spent a total of about 60 minutes stopping for gas/food/bathroom. Our kids did awesome in the car playing with dollar store toys that I got the day before. They had a total of about 2 hours of iPad time during the 15 hour drive.

We arrived at Jenny Lake at 2am Mountain Time and we were SECOND in line for a campsite which just completely blew my mind. Who are these people?? The next people pulled behind us in line at 2:45am! We slept in the car for about 5 hours and then at 8am got what I would argue to be the very best spot in the whole campground! (Spot #7)

This was the view from our campsite

Day 2: We were obviously pretty tired from our drive and short night. The people in spot 7 didn’t leave until their checkout time of 11am so we drove around getting a $12 permit for our inflatable raft and boat inspection and buying our National Park Pass since the booth was closed when we arrived at 2am. At 11am we set up camp and Oliver and I took an amazing 2 hours nap! Seth took Eliza swimming in Jenny lake which was about a 2 minute walk away from our campground.

Our wonderful campsite! Our tent is peeking through the trees and our eating area is to the right.

Day 3: We got up in the morning totally refreshed and went on a 16 mile bike ride. Grand Teton National Park has an amazing bike trail separate from the road that has incredible views. We got ice cream and headed back to the campsite. In the afternoon we took our inflatable raft across Jenny Lake and Eliza got to swim some more! A bear walked right through our campground!

The bike path was so pretty!

Day 4: We headed out in the morning for a hike around Moose Pond. This hike was 4.5 miles total which was a little more than our kids could handle in 85 degree weather and we were running out of water so when we got to a parking lot area around mile 3.5, Seth ran back to the campsite and got the car to bail us out for the last mile. They hiked almost all of the first 3.5 miles though! In the afternoon we relaxed at the campsite.

Moose Pond Trail

Day 5: We took our boat down the Snake river! There are multiple sections of varying difficulty and we did the “beginner” which moved at about the pace of a lazy river. Seth locked his bike at the exit area so when we were done rafting he biked back to get the car from the start to pick us up. Both kids fell asleep in the raft and we were able to see lots of fish and birds from our boat! It took about 3.5 hours to go 5 miles down the river. After the river we stopped at Mormon Row which is a collection of historic houses and barns. We saw prairie dogs and even bison off in the distance.

View from Snake River
Mormon Row

Day 6: This was probably my favorite day! We took the boat out to String and Leigh Lake. String Lake is only about 4 feet deep all the way across so the water is really warm and totally clear! The water is fed through a stream and drains to another lake so it wasn’t murky and gross or anything. Eliza swam and swam in String Lake and jumped off boulders. Seth paddled a total of about 9 miles. We portaged our raft about 100 yards between String and Leigh Lake. There was almost no one out on Leigh Lake, it was so peaceful!

The water in String Lake is really warm because it is only about 4ft deep the whole way across and the water is really clear!

Day 7: Our last full day we headed to Jackson Hole, WY which has similar vibes to Whistler, BC. We went up the gondola and did a 1.5 mile loop hike at the top of the ridge. The wildflowers were unbelievable. Eliza “ran out of energy” on her way up the 650 feet of elevation gain so Seth carried her a bit on the way up. Oliver was getting really close to nap time by the time we headed down so I carried him for the descent. Other than that the kids hiked on their own the whole way!

We gained 650 feet of elevation on this trail. We were so proud of the kids!

Day 8: We packed up camp and headed out by 9am. We drove through Yellowstone on our way out and we were SO glad we decided not to stay in Yellowstone. It was PACKED like Disneyland packed with people. The parking lot of Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs were both insane. We stopped briefly at Old Faithful to use the bathroom, but left once we saw how crazy it was. We did stop at Biscuit Basin, which was similar to Grand Prismatic Spring, but had way fewer people. Eliza was thrilled that she thought she got to see a “real volcano” when a geyser erupted. We drove about 11 hours today and stayed in a hotel in Missoula, MT.

Quick stop in Yellowstone!

Day 9: We would have just driven all the way home in one day, but Eliza had to have a COVID swab done in Seattle on Saturday afternoon so we drove from Missoula to Seattle for the swab and then back home to Bellingham! We were home by 4pm and almost all the way unpacked by 10pm!

The kids were FILTHY after not bathing for a week. This was only day 4 haha!

I’m going to write later about our meal plan for the trip, more tips for camping/hiking with kids, etc. but I think this is enough for now! I feel like the Grand Tetons get overshadowed a bit from being so close to Yellowstone but if you are headed that direction, definitely don’t skip over it! I just can’t recommend this national park enough!