Camping Outside Mount Rainier: La Wis Wis

Mount Rainier is the crown jewel of Washington state, which means that it can get downright packed in the peak summer tourist season. So, if you’re looking to visit but having trouble finding lodging available within the park (or simply want to avoid the thickest crowds), then camping outside Mount Rainier is a great option.

There are multiple options for camping outside Mount Rainier, but today I’m going to share my thoughts on the National Forest Service’s La Wis Wis campground. I’ve written about La Wis Wis before in my Introverts Getaway Series, but that was in autumn, during the off-season.

Now that I’ve had a chance to try La Wis Wis during the busy tourist season, I’ve decided to cover it again. (This happens to be where I was camping, by the way, when I wrote my Pub Beer review.) Same campground, but different vibe, as last time I nearly had the whole place to myself but this time every spot was taken.

Three Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier

My brief summary of La Wis Wis during the busy season is simple: it’s very good. I highly recommend it to all visitors interesting in camping outside Mount Rainier. I stay at Forest Service campgrounds often, and I’d rank this as one of the better in the state of Washington.

The campground was filled to capacity when I visited in July, but my spot was wooded enough that I didn’t feel encroached upon. As you can see in the photo the left, there was a tent spot about 20 feet from the picnic table and fire ring, which is a feature I always enjoy in campgrounds.

With the separate tent spot, you don’t have to worry about stray sparks burning a hole in your tent, or about feeling crowded in when you sleep.

The fire ring has a grill and is excellently ventilated, so you can get a good hot fire going. Most of the spots are at least relatively close to water, which is also nice.

The campground is close enough to the town of Packwood that a short drive can get you to supplies, but the area in general surrounding area is so underdeveloped that it’s still nice and quiet.

The south entrance to Mount Rainier itself is not far from Las Wis Wis, which is also what makes it an ideal location for people who want to visit Rainier but not stay there. One thing that may confuse visitors is that it’s listed as being in Randle, but you drive many miles east of Randle before you get there.

You actually have to go all the way through Packwood and a few more miles east up the spectacular White Pass Scenic Byway before you get to La Wis Wis. You get ample warning that the turn is coming up, but it still kind of sneaks up on you because it’s right next to a bridge.

So, if you’re looking for camping outside Mount Rainier, I don’t believe you can go wrong with La Wis Wis. I’ll review some other sites in upcoming posts.

A Stay at the Cascade River House

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my Diablo Lake Trail and Skagit Trail hikes. In the midst of that, I somehow forgot to write about my excellent stay at the Cascade River House. This must be remedied!

The Cascade River House is located just outside Marblemount, which, with its whopping population of roughly 200 people, is one of my favorite little towns in the state. I thought I grew up deep in the country…then I saw Marblemount and realized I didn’t know what a country town was.

The Cascade River House location is pinned to the map below. It’s relatively easy to find and isn’t far from the town’s two gas stations, so worst comes to worst you can ask directions. Those gas stations are also stocked as little grocery stores, by the way, so you can get supplies there.

The Cascade River House has an actual house, and for people with larger parties I recommend checking it out. What I used was the “luxury” camper trailer parked on the grounds. It was a great compromise between camping and staying in a hotel.

The trailer is tucked behind trees, keeping it visually separated from the house. You don’t feel like you’re sharing property with the people in the house. While I was there, a woman and her two daughters stayed at the house. They stopped by briefly to chat, but other than that I never felt like my peace was ruined by their presence.

The trailer’s got a shower, toilet, and three beds. The kitchen’s got all the basics. None of this mattered a great deal to me, to be honest, as I planned on spending the least amount of time as possible indoors.

What mattered most to me was the grounds, and I wasn’t disappointed. The trailer’s yard’s got a great fire pit with good airflow. The owners keep the place fully stocked with firewood, as well. If you head towards the house itself, you’ll see a big garage, and you can find big stacks of wood behind it.

The river is just over the hill from the trailer. You can hear it flow from the trailer, in fact. The views of the mountains in the distance are stunning. You can fish the river, too, though I personally didn’t do that.

My stay at the Cascade River House was very quiet relaxing. I went through a lot of wood, as is my wont while being outdoors. During the days I went hiking and at night I sat by the fire, enjoyed some Sam Adams Summer Ale, and gazed at the stars with the soothing sound of the river nearby.

If you’re not up for camping but don’t want to stay in a hotel or buy your own trailer, I wholeheartedly recommend the Cascade River House luxury trailer. In fact, after staying in multiple places in Marblemount, I’d give it my highest recommendation (though if you have the chance and the inclination I simply must recommend tent camping there at least once).

For the North Cascades National Park area, I rate it as highly as I rate the Quinalt River Inn for the Lake Quinault area.

Skagit River Trail at the North Cascades National Park Visitor’s Center

The North Cascades are truly an awe-inspiring sight. The rugged landscape is so raw that it can be intimidating for some people, and many of the trails are too difficult physically and mentally for beginner hikers. The smooth, easy 2-mile-long Skagit River Trail, however, proves that the difficulty of a trail doesn’t always correlate with its overall quality.

The Skagit River Trail starts at the parking lot of the North Cascades National Park Visitor’s Center. I’ve got the location pinned to the map at the bottom of this post, if you’d like to see it. If you just park in front of the center you’ll find an outdoor station with a map showing how to get to the trail head.

I hiked the Skagit River Trail on the same trip during which I did the Diablo Lake Trail, and while the Skagit doesn’t have views anywhere near as grand as Diablo Lake, I have to say I enjoyed it more. Really, I can’t pinpoint why. That little stretch of woods just has a very soothing, relaxing energy about it.

The Skagit River Trail is short, and much of it intertwines with portions of the Newhalem Campground, but the woods are still nice and silent. They have a sort of homey feel about them.

In a couple places, the trail leads out into the Skagit River. The wide tree canopy blots out the sun and, while I’m sure there are periods where the sun hits the spots, I don’t think they’d make realistic sunbathing areas. I could be wrong, though. I went there in the early morning.

Either way, the view from the shore is beautiful, with the Skagit at your feet and the soaring North Cascades in the distance. I definitely plan on hiking this little trail again next time in the area. I’d also like to check out the Newhalem Campground, as my guess is that that spot makes for some terrific sleeping.

Hiking the Diablo Lake Trail at North Cascades National Park

You’d be hard pressed to find any place in Washington state more rugged than North Cascades National Park and its surrounding area. The mountains jut straight up out of the earth, no foothills or gradual incline to speak of. The dramatic landscape makes many of the area’s trails among the most challenging you’ll find. Luckily for those not looking to set their thighs on fire or to take a mallet to their feet, the 7.5-mile-long Diablo Lake Trail is an easier option that nevertheless leads to some beautiful views.

Note that I said “easier” here, not “easy,” which is what some other sites designate the Diablo Lake Trail as. I disagree with that designation, and I base that disagreement on the fact that most of the people I came across on the trail were sweating heavily and asking how much farther they had to go.

Diablo Lake as seen from Diablo Lake Trail.
Diablo Lake as seen from Diablo Lake Trail. You come across this view within the first couple of miles of the trail.

I’m just getting back into hiking shape myself, but I’m not THAT far out of shape, and the trail certainly didn’t feel “easy” for me, just “easier” than the other trails I’ve done in the North Cascades. It’s no Storm King, but it’s no Box Canyon Loop, either.

I’m more apt to lean towards a classification of “moderately difficult” in terms of strenuousness. The Diablo Lake Trail is straightforward, though, and doesn’t have any river crossings or climbs or anything that will test one’s outdoors skills in any serious way (assuming that you don’t sustain some kind of injury, of course).

The trail takes you up the mountain and then down the other side to the shore of Diablo Lake. The lake is artificial, created by Ross Dam, which you can also see while being down by the lake. So, if you’re looking for a feeling of escaping civilization, this trail might not be for you.

Ross Dam as seen from the Diablo Lake Trail. A crane is working on top of the dam.
Ross Dam as seen from the Diablo Lake Trail. It’s somewhat intrusive and maybe an unwelcome reminder of human civilization, but the dam is actually kind of cool looking in and of itself. Quite a feat of engineering.

If you’re just interested in a nice, easier hike with some pretty views, the Diablo Lake Trail is a good choice. It’s not as as easy (and not nearly as short) as something like the Skagit River Trail, however, so there may be better options if you’re looking for something extremely quick and easy.

The trail leads through the base of  a boulder field that offers some interesting views. Another section of the trail leads over an extremely steep slope that drops off and leads a long, long ways down to the water at the bottom of the mountain. The trail is plenty wide at this spot, but people who don’t like heights might find it frightening.

North Cascades National Park is one of the lesser-visited parks in the Pacific Northwest, but its spectacular, rugged scenery shouldn’t be missed. The Diablo Lake Trail is a good starter hike to get to know the area and to get a feel for what it has to offer.

New Maury Island Incident Film Sheds New Light on an Old Legend

For me, one of the highlights of the UFO/Paranormal Conference at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino was their showing of The Maury Island Incident.

The film, now being shown on select dates around the Pacific Northwest, dramatizes one of the most fascinating events in Washington state history, and one of the most significant UFO events (or hoaxes, depending on where you stand on the issue) ever.

That event is known as the Maury Island Incident, and it just happened to be the event that spawned the “Men in Black” myth.

The event took place on June 21, 1947, just off the shore of Maury Island (same location as Point Robinson Lighthouse), which is just off Vashon Island, which itself is a short ferry ride from Tacoma‘s shore.

During the event that would come to be called the Maury Island Incident, Fred Crisman and Harold Dahl were working on a harbor patrol boat when six UFOs appeared in the sky.

One of the doughnut-shaped objects emitted a lava-like substance onto the boat. The impact of the substance killed the dog on board and broke a man’s arm. The men initially spoke about the event, but eventually the official story became that it was all a simple hoax cooked up to win the pair a spot in Fantasy magazine.

The new Maury Island Incident film, however, uses newly declassified FBI documents to make the case that the hoax claim was a lie made out of fear after Dahl and Crisman were harassed by unidentified men wearing black suits.

These “men in black” appeared to be unrelated to the FBI or the Air Force personnel also sent to investigate the situation. No one’s really sure who they represented.

If they were real, though, they managed to frighten two hardy Pacific Northwesterners enough that they destroyed their own reputations and said they’d been hoaxing everyone the whole time.

My purpose in this post isn’t to give away the new information contained in the film nor to fully recap the whole Maury Island Incident story, but instead to encourage readers to check out the film and the rest of the story.

The film is half-an-hour long and very well made, so much so that it can be enjoyed purely as a fictional movie, if the reader is not a UFO believer at all.

In the short space of 30 minutes, the movies packs in a whole lot of intrigue and emotion. I felt connected to the characters despite the relative brevity of the film and the broad scope of the events packed into that short time frame.

It’s well worth checking out, whether you’re a devout believer, a devout non-believer, or just someone interested in one of the most fascinating, iconic events in Washington state history.