Mt Rainier, the scale of the mountains and valleys can only be expressed by being experienced. I am familiar with Mount Hood which is a big mountain – 11,000ft, but the scale and the formation of rock and valleys of Mount Rainier – 14,000ft in comparison is simply breath taking and a must ride.
Mileage: 72 Miles
Terrain: Road 100%
Ride Route: route.
The standard tourist attraction is an area called Paradise, it puts you very very close to the Glacier on the east side of Rainier at about 8oooft. Although Stevens Canyon (the road that gets you there) is amazingly pretty and breath taking, during the summer, cycling on this road can be taxing due to high traffic (you can also get to Paradise from the East side via Paradise east!, this is also very highly trafficked in season) So we set off to try some roads less traveled.
There are many high points on Rainier all accessible by road, some are passes, some are dead ends or designated areas. The main ones are Paradise, Sunrise, Cayuse and Chinook.
Our route included going over Cayuse Pass as it gives you a couple of options – you can take Chinook which heads toward Yakima, goes up even more or you can descend towards Enumclaw WA, which is also the way for the turn off up to Sunrise (not a pass, an out an back to the Sunrise district). We did both.
Cayuse Pass (el. 4675 ft./1425 m.) carries State Route 410 and State Route 123 between Packwood and Enumclaw. Because of the high elevation, Cayuse Pass is usually closed in November due to very heavy snow and significant avalanche danger. It usually opens in mid May and is not uncommon to have a snow depth at the summit of up to 15 feet.
Riding up Cayuse, to our right were steep cliffs and rock. We were surrounded by waterfalls galore, small to large it seemed like very 200ft there was some kind of waterfall within feet of each other. This was in part because we were riding mid June, later in the season these would have dried out.
Chinook Pass – Headed toward Yakima WA (elevation 5430 ft./1656 m.) The pass provides the east entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, and follows state route 410 between the towns of Enumclaw and Naches. Because of the high elevation, Chinook Pass is usually closed in November due to very heavy snow and significant avalanche danger. It usually opens in mid May and is not uncommon to have a snow depth at the summit of up to 15 feet. When we rode this we had no problems with traffic and car frequency was low. Just before the summit, you encounter a couple of cool little things 1) a visitors area with bathrooms and water and 2) a small natural lake called Tipsoo. When at the top of Chinook, take in the views, the sweeping terrain, then turn around a descend towards Enumclaw to take in Sunrise.
Sunrise, Washington, is located on a ridge overlooking the northeast side of Mount Rainier in the Mount Rainier National Park (you will have to pay $10 to get in). The district comprises seven individual structures designed in accordance with the principals of the National Park Service Rustic style. This rustic style is well kept and joyful pieces of architecture, pretty great and captures the intent of the buildings but you can also imagine the dark erie vibes that could be had here over the winter dark days! The area is inhabited and open to the public only during a brief period in the summer season. The upper section of this road is closed to cars between November and June. We were lucky enough to witness a Sundog from the car park, hope you do too. (photo below).
A small cafe and water refils are available at sunrise in the open season. Everything was closed up on our ride mid june, we had to suffice with snow water!
Please note that Paradise Pass and Sunrise Area are in Mount Rainier National Park, you will be charged $10 per bicycle. An easily worth while $10 that goes towards park maintenance, but make sure you have cash or card.
We parked the car just outside the National Forrest on the South East side of Rainier and cycled up Hwy 123, past Stevens Canyon turn and up over Cayuse Pass and onto the amazing views. Not for the faint of heart mind you, this is 72miles and 8,000ft of climbing. Here is my route. Also check out OMTM website for other great rides in the Portland and Washington area.