Maybe you’ve skied these slopes with your tiny tot in tow, and reveled in the snow-capped peaks that make Crystal Mountain Resort a hot spot when the snow flies. (Or maybe you’ve been thinking about it.) Either way, summertime at Crystal is equally as awesome, and the Mt. Rainier gondola is a big part of what makes this summer playground worth the trip. Read on to plan the perfect mountain play day with your crew.
A Bird’s Eye View
Although the destination is the highlight of the gondola ride, the journey itself is an awesome experience that’ll dazzle your adventurous half-pint. It’s like playing I-spy with 360-degree views, and trying not to miss anything as you travel 2,000 vertical feet during the leisurely 12-minute ride. The now-bare ski terrain reveals mountain wild flowers, animal trails and if you’re lucky, some wild critters too. When you look up you can spot mountain cabins, fields in the middle of lush forests and jagged mountain peaks that will leave everyone guessing which one is which. Psst… each gondola houses up to eight people for the smooth ride to the top.
The view from up top is what it’s all about. From the moment you step off the gondola at 6,800 feet, snowy Mt. Rainier’s presence looms. It’s larger than life and no matter where you wander it’s in view. In fact, on a clear day you can see all the way from Mt. Adams, to Mt. St. Helens on to Rainier and up to Mt. Baker from most vantage points along the ridge. There are a few spots where you and your kidlet can take it all in. If you’re feeling brave, try the sling back deck chairs that line the ridge by the Summit House restaurant. But if sitting there’s too edgy for your Little, head toward the picnic tables off to the right of the lift. They’re lined up along the ridge so you can enjoy the snow-capped peaks that surround you while getting your nosh on.
Hit the Trails
Exploring at the summit is easy to do with your sidekick. You can go at your own pace along the ridge trails that branch out in either direction from the landing point without much planning. If this option is up your alley, grab an area trails map at the ticket kiosks before you head up the mountain. Families can also join one of the interpretive walks hosted by Crystal Mountain Resort to learn more about the plants and geologic formations of the area, as well as the mountain’s history. These tours run Fridays through Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and don’t cost a penny. To join up, simply meet on the concrete pad ten minutes before the walk starts. The guides pace the journey to match the group, so if you’ve got tots with you, not to worry. A quick out and back is just as informative and exciting as a longer, winding walk across the ridge. Our favorite part? Hiking poles are provided for visitors at both the top and bottom of the gondola to make exploring that much easier!
Good to know: If you’re feeling super adventurous, families can ride the gondola up and take one of two trails back down to the base. Plan a solid two hours to make the trek and bring hiking essentials like food, water, poles and sturdy shoes if you go.
Play a Round of Disc Golf
Pack Frisbees with your gear (or rent them from the Alpine Inn) if you want to play the lower disc golf course while you’re visiting the mountain. Even if you don’t follow the disc golf rules to a tee, sinking baskets and walking around the mountain basin on a sunny summer day is an awesome way to wear your wiggler out. The course starts behind the chapel, and it’s easy to spot upcoming baskets each time you score. It’s the excuse you need to stay and play a little longer in the mountains.
photo: Chinook Pass Outfitter Facebook page
Mosey on With a Horseback Ride
Top off your day with a horseback ride through the mountains you’ve been admiring. The wranglers and guides at Chinook Pass Outfitters, above the C parking lot, can get you riding in no time. They offer three-mile, one-hour long rides ($35/person) and six-mile, two-hour long rides ($70/person) through the Cascade wilderness. Anyone who’s six and older can saddle up for this fantastic adventure. Psst… it’s cash only, so bring your green along if you’re interested.
At 6,872 feet, the Summit House Restaurant is the highest eatery in Washington state. So pulling up a bench on their outdoor patio is a must-do, and not just because of the altitude. The view of Rainier, framed by the colorfully filled planter boxes is about as picture perfect as you can get. And the menu’s got items that’ll please everyone in your bunch. Bring your appetite because portions are generous. And although they don’t take reservations, getting a seat is pretty easy, depending on the time of day. The Fireside Bistro is another nosh-worthy pit stop on a hot summer day. It’s where your mini-me can get her ice cream fix (and you can grab a coffee) and find some welcome shade under the over-sized canopy. It’s the place to be on a hot afternoon.
What to Pack… Beyond Diaper Bag Basics
1. Even on a sunny day it can be super breezy at the summit, so be sure to bring extra layers for the fam.
2. The sun at altitude is intense, and there’s not a whole lot of shade up top. So bring all the protection you can muster: sunscreen, sun hat, sunglasses and more!
3. Even if hiking isn’t in the cards for your fam, pack water bottles anyway. On a sunny day it’s hot up top and dry too.
4. With too many photo opp spots to count, you’ll want to have your camera at the ready.
5. If joining the interpretive tour or hiking on your own is on your to-do list, carrying your crew’s essentials in a backpack is the easiest route.
Good to know: You can bring your fur babies with you, too. Just keep them leashed and pick up after them so the pristine wilderness stays that way.
Crystal Mountain Resort
33914 Crystal Mountain Blvd.
Enumclaw, Wa 98022
Dates: Now thru Sept. 17, 2017
Times: Peak Season (thru Sept. 3), Sun.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Late-Summer Season (Sept. 4-17), Mon.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: Single ride, $23/Adults, $12/Youth (4-12), 3 & under Free; 1-Day Unlimited, $33/Adults, $18/Youth (4-12), 3 & under Free
Do you plan to ride the Mt. Rainier Gondola this summer? Already been? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
— Allison Sutcliffe (all photos courtesy of the writer, unless otherwise noted)