Introduction to the Subalpine Zone

There's a reason it's called Paradise. Most hikers know precisely when they reach the subalpine zone - it's when they say "finally!"; but in Mount Rainier National Park it's as simple as taking the Road to Paradise. It is the Park's primary visitor center, the jump-off point for climbers to Camp Muir and the principal place in the Park that is enjoyed by a large portion of the Park's nearly two million annual visitors.

It was probably from Paradise that the renowned naturalist John Muir made the following statement about Rainier's subalpine meadows: "Every one of these parks, great and small, is a garden filled knee-deep with fresh, lovely flowers of every hue, the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."

Dictionary.com defines 'park' (fifth definition) as . . Western U.S., a broad valley in a mountainous region. Over twenty areas around Mount Rainier are named a park and most are within the subalpine zone. Paradise Park is the area of the flower fields so widely photographed and enjoyed. At an elevation of 5,400' there is a full thousand feet of elevation above the visitor center in the subalpine zone. Due to the extensive snowfall at Paradise (680" average, 1,122" record in winter of '71 - '72) the subalpine zone is actually lower here making the meadows even more accessible (click here for discussion of elevational zones). Other 'parks' aren't quite so easy to access but most are actually within day hiking range. Some, like Klapatche Park, on the west side of the mountain require a long day with a strenuous bike ride on the closed Westside Road and a relatively easy hike up the Klapatche Ridge Trail.

'TraTTT Klapatche Ridge Trail, approx. 5,500' elevation

 

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