Outside is the name of the game this summer. And any way you look at, it riding the Mount Rainier Gondola is the pinnacle of summertime adventure. But that’s just the cherry on top of family-friendly activities you can find at Crystal Mountain Resort. Read on to plan the perfect mountain play day with your crew.
1. Ride with a 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. Saint 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.
2. Hit the Trails
Exploring at the summit is easy to do with your sidekick. You can hike 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. A quick out and back hike is just as informative and exciting as a longer, winding walk across the ridge. 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.
Good to know: Snow is a definite possibility on trails at high elevation until late summer.
3. Mine for Treasure
Hit the Silver Creek Mining Sluice at the base of the mountain for an old-timey activity. The kids can pan for fossils or gems when you purchase a 3-pound bag of dirt ($7.95) at Right Angle Sports. Everything you need to find these tiny treasures is there—pans, running water and a sluice box that stands just the right height for little gold miners. Best part? Anything the kids find, they get to keep.
4. Play a Round of Disc Golf
Pack Frisbees with your gear (or rent them from Right Angle Sports) if you want to play the lower, 9-hole 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 the kids 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.
5. 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 Crystal Mountain Outfitters, above the C parking lot, can get you riding in no time. They offer one-hour long rides ($40/person), two-hour long rides ($75/person), a scenic ride ($110/person), a three-hour long tour ($125/person) and a half-day, five-hour long ride ($190/person) if you want to truly go the distance through the Cascade wilderness. You can also tag them for specialty tours (like fishing) and overnight adventures, too. Anyone who’s six and older can saddle up. You can use your card to book a reservation (with a $10 convenience fee) or use cash to avoid it (psst… cash works best to tip your wranglers, too.) Rides just opened for the season (June 27) and they run through Labor Day.
6. Elevated Eats
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 colorful planter boxes is about as picture perfect as you can get. And the menu’s got items that’ll please everyone in your bunch. In-restaurant dining isn't currently an option, but you can grab to-go order from the pick up window. Bring your appetite because portions are generous. The Fireside Cantina takes care of hungry explorers at the base. They serve grab-and-go street tacos and provide a shady spot to eat under the over-sized canopy. It’s the place to be on a hot afternoon.
What to Pack… Beyond Diaper Bag Basics
1. Masks. They are required inside, outside and in lines, so be sure to pack yours with you. Hand sanitizer, too!
2. Even on a sunny day it can be super breezy at the summit, so be sure to bring extra layers for the fam.
3. 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!
4. Even if hiking isn’t in the cards for your fam, pack water bottles. On a sunny day it’s hot up top and dry too.
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. 7, 2020
Times: Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: $25-$34/Adults, $16-$24/Child (4-12), free for kids 4 & under
— Allison Sutcliffe
featured photo: A. Longstreth