How to go Horseback Riding

Horseback riding in a state park can be a ton of fun but it can also be a dangerous activity if you are not careful or if you do not know how to go horseback riding. Here is a simple guide to follow to learn how to ride a horse.

Step 1: Location

Three horses in riding stable who want to go horseback riding


The first thing that you need to do is find a good riding stable. Some riding stables have an experienced riding instructor to help you. Download your state’s Pocket Ranger® app to find a state park that offers horseback riding and equestrian trails.

Step 2: Prepare Your Horse

Grooming brown horse


Before you go horseback riding, it is important to groom your horse if it is dirty and to prevent your horse from feeling too warm. The next step is to tack your horse by putting on the saddle, the girth and then the bridle. You will have to know how to tie rope knots. An instructor will be there at your chosen location to help you with these steps, so don’t panic.

Step 3: Mount Your Horse

Woman mounting a horse


Always mount your horse on the left side. Hold the reins in your left hand and turn the stirrup (a pair of devices attached to each side of a horse’s saddle for the rider’s foot), towards you with your right hand. Put your left foot into the stirrup, hold the saddle and bounce gently on the stirrup. Then swing your right leg over the horse and sit down gently on the saddle.

Step 4: Find Your Balance

Horseback riding with instructor

Horseback Riding at Lake George State Park [Image Credit: Lisa Narine]

Once you are on the horse, the instructor will lead you until you are comfortable to ride on your own. If you feel unbalanced, hold onto your horse’s mane until you are steady. You will feel a rocking motion as you ride and the seat should naturally move with the motion. Your arms need to move with the motion of your horse while keeping your elbows light. Keep your back straight and look forward. One-third of your boot should be in the stirrup, keeping your heels pointing down.

Step 5: Using Aids to Control Your Horse

Woman holding horse reins, sitting on horse

Lake George State Park Stable [Image Credit: Lisa Narine]

Aids are considered to be your hands, legs and your seat. To make your horse move forward, squeeze your calves gently against the horse’s sides. If the horse doesn’t move, put more energy into it. Some horses also respond to clucks.

To make your horse halt, sit deep into the saddle and apply pressure with the reins. You can also say “whoa.”

To turn your horse, pull the left or right rein out to the side and apply pressure with your outside leg. If you don’t add pressure with your leg, your horse will not listen and it will continue moving forward.

Step 6: Trotting

English: Andalusian horse trotting with rider ...

English: Andalusian horse trotting with rider Deutsch: Andalusier im Trab mit Reiterin (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

If you are comfortable with the steps listed above, you can now learn how to trot with your horse! You have the option to either sit the trot or post the trot.

When you sit the trot, sit deep into the saddle and keep contact with your legs. Remember to keep your elbows relaxed. To post the trot, raise up in your stirrups every other step. Point your heel down and keep contact with the horse’s mouth. Make sure your hands stay still and don’t follow movements of the body because this is uncomfortable for the horse.

Horses trot diagonally, so when moving to the left, you should rise when your horse’s right shoulder is forward. When you are moving to the right, raise when your horse’s left shoulder is forward.

Step 7: Learn How to Canter

English: Andalusian horse cantering with rider...

English: Andalusian horse cantering with rider Deutsch: Andalusier im Galopp mit Reiterin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have become well experienced with horseback riding, you can now learn how to canter, which is a rocking motion. To canter, move your outside leg slightly back and squeeze. When you sit the canter, your seat will roll with the canter while you remain in the position you are riding. Remember not to tense up and keep a steady contact with the horse’s mouth. You can also canter while in “half-seat.” To sit half-seat, incline your shoulders and rotate your pelvis forward.

Remember to be cautious and always wear protective gear when you go horseback riding!

brown and white horse running in grass


Suggested Gear:

  • Helmet
  • Elbow/Knee Pads
  • Long Pants

For your safety, check out our Pocket Ranger® gear store for these items and much more.

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NPS: Grand Canyon Development A Bad Idea

NPS does not agree with proposed Grand Canyon development projects


When one thinks about the Grand Canyon, panoramic views, sweeping landscapes and jagged cliffs would normally come to mind, but if two proposed business developments come to fruition, Grand Canyon development like hotels, restaurants and a gondola will have to be added to that vision.

National Park officials are saying no to Grand Canyon development plans to industrialize the American landmark, calling it a “major threat.” The LA Times says two unrelated projects would drastically alter the park’s ecology and “natural beauty.”

A man admires the Grand Canyon

Many want the Grand Canyon to remain a wild place [Image:]

“They are serious threats to the future of the park,” says Park Supt. Dave Uberuaga to the Times. “When you have that size and scope of potential development that close to the park, it will impact our visitor experience.”

The first development, the Grand Canyon Escalade, would be a 420-acre hotel, restaurant and retail complex complete with a gondola to the bottom of the canyon, a place where most tourists never make it. It is planned to be built on neighboring Navajo Indian land and is expected to be complete by May 2018. The Times of India reports R. Lamar Whitmer of Confluence Partners says the development would cause “minimal intrusion” on the landmark’s vista.

Whitmer told the LA Times that the park’s current tour isn’t an adequate option for tourists wanting to get the full Grand Canyon experience, especially for those yearning to visit the bottom of the Canyon.

Tourists take photos of the spectacular Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a favorite tourist destination [Image:]

The second Grand Canyon development is planned for construction in Tusayan, a tiny town adjacent the Canyon. This development would add 2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space to Tusayan. With the town’s proposed development, water demand would quadruple – this is water the NPS says they don’t have.

“The park service offers nothing more than “a drive-by wilderness experience,” Whitmer said to the LA Times. “The average person can’t ride a mule to the bottom of the canyon. We want them to feel the canyon from the bottom.”

The NPS is claiming that the bottom of the Canyon, above the high-water mark, is federal jurisdiction, while the Navajo say they are entitled to that land. For now, any plans for Grand Canyon development in that area are in limbo while the Navajo finalize their plans for the area. Any development on the project would require approval of the tribe’s government.

Biking at Alafia River State Park

Contributed by Justin Fricke of The Weekend Warrior

There’s great mountain biking at Alafia River State Park in FLORIDA?  But flat land, beaches, and humidity are synonymous with Florida, not mountains. Mountain bikes and Florida shouldn’t be associated with each other—right? Wrong! Tucked away in the middle part of the state, about an hour east of Tampa Bay, you’ll find some of the best mountain biking trails at Alafia River State Park.

What’s unique about Alafia is that it holds 17 miles of some of the best mountain biking trails in the state. With difficulty ratings from green circles to double black diamonds, the inexperienced and most advanced riders will all find some fun trails.

Man Mountain Biking at Alafia River State Park

Mountain Biking at Alafia River State Park [Image Credit: Wes Eubanks]

With lots of lucrative trails come lots of visitors. Make sure you get there within an hour of the state park opening if you want to get a good parking spot on the weekend. It’s much less crowded throughout the week, but you’re still going to want to get your rides in earlier in the day before it gets too hot and you’re drenched in sweat.

Group of Mountain Biking at Alafia River State Park

Mountain Biking at Alafia River State Park can get quite crowded, so leave early! [Image Credit: Jose Valdez]

Always take proper safety precautions and wear a helmet, whether you’re biking at Alafia River State Park or anywhere else. The state park has a strict rule on wearing helmets and will sometimes check to make sure everyone in the car has brought his or her helmet.

I was there a few days after a rainfall and the trails were great, not very dry, but not filled with disgusting muck either. The green circle trails serve as a great warm-up ride and riders can elect to make a short loop or link a couple of these easy trails together to make for a longer warm-up. My buddies and I started on Sand Pine, a 2.5 mile green circle, and linked it up with Rock Garden, a 3.5 mile green circle, to start off our day.

Main Mountain Biking at Alafia River State Park on Sand Pine Trail

Sand Pine, a 2.5 mile green circle [Image Credit: Wes Eubanks]

The trails really lived up to their names and exemplified what I think is so unique about Florida’s trails. On Sand Pine we were pedaling and spinning our tires through sugar sand and with the flick of a light switch, we were in the damp woods pedaling through numerous rock gardens.

While the trails weren’t very strenuous, I found the most challenging part of these trails to be the close proximity of trees. There were solid straight-aways with a quick turn, so I kicked it into high gear with the intention of speeding out of the turn. Just as I hit the turn I saw a couple of trees standing right next to each other. I had to hit the brakes pretty quickly to navigate my way through them without bumping shoulders with the trees.

Mountain biker on the Rollercoaster trail at Alafia River State Park

Image Credit: Wes Eubanks

My favorite trail when I’m mountain biking at Alafia River State Park has got to be the Rollercoaster trail. It’s a 2.8 mile blue square that resembles a rollercoaster, but for mountain bikers. This trail’s littered with quick climbs and some steep drops. My little trick is to lay off the brake to pick up some speed and pump through sections. I can conserve some energy and it’s so much fun to feel the flow of the trail.

Going down the Rollercoaster Trail at Alafia River State Park

The Rollercoaster trail is a 2.8 mile blue square that resembles a rollercoaster, but for mountain bikes. [Image Credit: Wes Eubanks]

Be sure to bring some snacks or food for a picnic under one of the pavilions. Heck you can even go all out and have a barbeque using one of the grills there if you’d like, just bring your own charcoal and lighter. You will go hungry if you choose to forgo bringing snacks. There aren’t any places to buy food onsite, just a soda vending machine.

The trails see lots of locals. Respect the locals and they’ll help you out and answer any questions you might have. There’s also a good chance that the locals you see help maintain all the trails, so you can thank them for the great mountain biking at Alafia River State Park. The local SWAMP Club chapter takes it upon themselves to host trail days the Saturday before the third Sunday of every month. Without these folks, the trails would look ramshackle and wouldn’t be a very fun place to ride.

Load up your buddies and bikes, pack a lunch, and go mountain biking at Alafia River State Park. There are plenty of trails for everyone to have some fun and you’ll have some great stories to tell your coworkers and classmates when they ask you how your ride went.

For more information about mountain biking at Alafia River State Park and for information about other state parks in Florida, download the The Official Guide for Florida State Parks powered by Pocket Ranger®.

North American Rodents: Our Top 5

They were here long before we were and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. I’m not talking ancient aliens – I’m talking rodents. Despite evoking fear and/or disgust from many, rodents and humans have much in common. Like us, rodents are social animals. Their mating habits sound like our own TV soap operas, complete with monogamy, polygamy, and promiscuity. Also like us, rodents have managed to conquer and thrive on every continent except Antarctica. Really the only difference between rodents and humans is that rodents have a pair of continuously-growing incisors, which requires them to gnaw in order to contain their growth. But if left unchecked (or should we say “un-gnawed”), who knows? They might just grow until their infinite mass rips apart the universe.

Some of the better-known members of Rodentia [image:]

Some of the better-known members of Rodentia [image:]

No 5. Chipmunks are the Gatsbys of the forest floor. They live grand solitary lives in vast subterranean mansions accumulating huge stores of chipmunk gold (a.k.a. nuts, seeds and acorns) until its time to surface and search for Daisy. Trees and plants sprout up in places where nuts and acorns have been forgotten. What if all trees in the world today are the result of chipmunks and squirrels with bad memories?



No. 4 The porcupine is the Chicago Bulls of the North American animal scene: a ruthless defensive juggernaut. In addition to their formidable size, which is second only to the beaver in North America, porcupines are covered in modified hairs called quills that can injure and even kill if you step to this. As the Alliance found out in Return of the Jedi, never approach a Death Star when the deflector shield is fully operational. In fact, porcupines are so well prepared that if it falls out of a tree and stabs itself, which apparently happens quite often, their naturally antibiotic skin prevents the wound from becoming infected.

Porcupines and gingerbread, a holiday tradition [image:]

Porcupines and gingerbread, a holiday tradition [image:]

No. 3 Eastern grey squirrels range from Texas to Canada and have recently colonized England and Scotland. In England, the eastern grey squirrel is outcompeting the native red squirrel population proving that American squirrels are better than European squirrels. One reason for their success is that, like Americans themselves, eastern squirrels have proven to be better at storing fat than their European counterparts. Besides being world conquerers, squirrels are adept deceivers. If a squirrel feels its being watched while storing food, it mimes tossing its acorns into a hole while hiding its victuals in its mouth. Sneaky devils.

This forest needs me [image:]

I swear I’m not cold [image:]

No. 4 Beavers are ecological architects, the engineers of wetlands, the dreamers of dreams. Their dams improve water quality, create habitat for waterfowl and fish, and provide water and nutrients to nearby vegetation. It is estimated that between 100 and 200 million beaver lived in North America prior to the arrival European settlers. After being hunted nearly to extinction for their valuable fur, beaver numbers have rebounded to a healthy 10 million. They have even moved back into large urban areas like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City.

Beaver dining on a willow shoot [image:]

Beaver dining on a willow shoot [image:]

No. 5 Rats hardly ever inspire neutrality: you’re either one of those crazy albino rat-loving goth people or you want them all exterminated (the rats, not goths). New York City has been at war with the rats ever since they arrived on the Mayflower. As a sign of humankind’s collective rat angst, people who betray trust are called rats. Why? Because rats are opportunists who do what it takes to survive. And that’s why they’re North America’s number one rodent. Next time you find yourself in a sticky situation where your very own survival is at stake, just ask yourself: WWRD (what would a rat do)?

Rat on a Cat [image:]

Rat on a Cat [image:]

Get out in your backyard or state parks to see the top 5 North American rodents for yourself! And don’t forget to bring these items from our Pocket Ranger® Gear Store:

  • Binoculars
  • Hat
  • Water Bottle

Camping in the Wilderness

Setting up camp can be a hassle. But even more so when camping in the wilderness or a totally isolated place! Many campers want privacy and choose areas beyond the multitude of campers that station themselves in popular, often crowded spots. Check with you’re national or state park to see where you’re allowed to camp; some wildlife habitats are restricted from human-use. In case you don’t want to be totally stranded or lost, go for primitive camping!

If you don’t already have the items to sleep comfortably outdoors you have to purchase or borrow them. It would be ideal to sleep in the woods without needing anything, perhaps on a tree, but let’s be realistic. When a torrential downpour comes our way we want a comfy tent protecting us, and a warm sleeping bag for those high mountain winds. But we don’t want to overwhelm ourselves by carrying a tons of stuff we don’t need. The best policy is travel lightly, live simply, and learn to improvise.  Here’s a basic guide on what you’ll need to camp in the wilderness.

A girl, alone, camping in the wilderness.


Camping Items:

Tent: Know weather conditions, number of people to find the tent with the right space, weight and price. You want a tent that is roomy, light, and moderately-priced. Is it easy to set up? Tents are separated by number of sleepers and seasons. 3-season tents are good for spring, summer and fall. If you’re anticipating humidity, make sure your tent has ventilating mesh panels. If you’re expecting to face harsh weather, a 4-season tent is best.

tent camping in the wilderness

Why not? [Image:]

Sleeping Bag: When choosing a sleeping bag, make sure it fits your body size. Check the temperature rating; most bags go between 15°F to 50°F. For example, if it says ” 30-degree bag,” the temperature should not fall below 30°F, otherwise your sleeping bag will not warm you. Bags can also differ by gender. There are three sleeping bag shapes to choose from: rectangular, barrel-shaped bags and double-wide bags that sleep two people.

Sleeping pad: Don’t let the bitter cold get you! A sleeping pad keeps your sleeping bag away from the cold, hard ground, and adds a cushioning layer. Think about weather, style of travel, thickness and weight when choosing the right sleeping pad. On the heavier side there are air pads and self-inflating pads. The basic foam pads are lighter, inexpensive, but somewhat stiff.

Two hikers on their way to camping in the wilderness.


Backpack: Depending on length of travel, preference and body size, you can pick between a variety of backpacks. Go with a lighter bag if you plan on climbing or hiking 1 to 2 nights. Consider the size of your torso when choosing a backpack. There are backpacks especially designed for women. Check for extra pockets, compartments, and water reservoirs (some backpacks come with this feature).

Food: You need to decide whether you’re cooking. Are you fishing or hunting? Otherwise take protein bars, freeze dry food, and food that can easily be cooked. Salad, fruit, vegan-food, burgers, hot-dogs, and sandwiches are the easiest to cook up when camping.

cast iron skillet and kettle on a stove outdoors


Food Storage: If you’re camping in bear country make sure to take a bear canister with you to keep your food safe. You don’t want bears attacking your tent! Some parks have large food storage compartments at each tent site. For light-use, try picnic coolers with shoulder straps and backpack coolers. For larger groups, try chest coolers.

Lighting Materials: If you’re cooking, you’ll need matches and lighter fluid. You can’t eat chips and peanuts all day! Gasoline is not a good idea; it will make the fire uncontrollable. Make sure open fires are allowed, since campfires may not be permitted in certain parks. If campfires are permitted and a fire grate or pit is not present at the campsite, scout out your campsite for an appropriate place. Pick an area that is not bushy or full of low-lying branches, and keep your campfire low. You can also make fire by using the battery/wool, or the flint/knife method as seen below.


Cooking Equipment: If campfires seem too stressful, try using a campstove or a solar oven. To experience old-timey outdoors cooking, try cooking with a cast iron pot, dutch oven or a grill.

Cooking with a cauldron on an open fire

[Cauldron Image:]

Wood: The best wood is the small, thin stuff (twigs, small branches, leaves, birch bark), but it must be dry. Most parks don’t allow outside wood, since it might contain invasive species, so you’re better off buying it at the campground or finding fallen wood far from your site. Never cut live trees at the campground. Make sure to fully put out the fire when you’re done. Campfires can deplete soil nutrients, so be aware how and where you build your campfire.

Thermo/Canteen: You’ll be needing this for water, juice, tea or coffee. BPA- free, stainless steel insulated canteens are best for hot and cold insulation for many hours.

First Aid: You can make you’re own first-aid kit by storing band-aids, antibacterial ointment, large bandages, alcohol packets, gauze pads, fabric bandages, and medical adhesive tape or safety pins in a small receptacle.

Flashlight: LED flashlights are now smaller and brighter. When buying a flashlight, consider its use, battery type, size, ruggedness, and if it’s water resistant. Solar-powered flashlights and headlamps are also advisable.

Multi-use knife: Ideally, you should have two: one for cutting food and the other for doing manual work. If you don’t have two, one knife will be sufficient.

Wilderness camping knife on a rock


Biodegradable Soap: It’s important to leave a light footprint when going to these secluded places. Try a soap that is organic or biodegradable. Make sure to use it far away from the water source.

Hiking Boots: Sneakers are often too light and provide little cushion. Hiking boots can take you through rocky trails and slopes without much damage to your feet and knees.

Wooden utensils, plates and cups: Choose lightweight over bulkiness. These are easy to wash and don’t contain chemicals.

Tarp: It’s extra protection in case you encounter heavy rain or your tent rips.

Check out our Pocket Ranger® Gear Store for these items and more! And remember to breath, take in the scenery, and write about it. There’s nothing like recording your thoughts while being surrounded by nature.

girl writing in her notebook in the wilderness


State Park Events this September

September is for apples, fall foliage, and state park events! From fiddling to marbles, bison to wild ponies, we’ve uncovered September’s liveliest state park events to kick off your fall.

State Park Event: Mountaineer Folk Festival 
Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee
September 5 – 7, 2014

children playing on the grass at the Mountaineer Folk Festival state park events at old time sorghum-milling

Old Time Sorghum-Milling [Image:]

Head to Fall Creek Falls State Park for incredible food, music, and amazing views of the park’s popular waterfalls! For three days, the Mountaineer Folk Festival will be playing up live bluegrass and gospel music. Visitors can try their hand at pioneer skills and square dancing. There’ll be cannon firing, sorghum-making, and blacksmithing demos, and over 100 craft booths to browse for treasures. Fall Creek Falls State Park was listed as one of the most popular family destinations by Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living. With Pocket Ranger®’s Tennessee State Parks app, reserve a campsite or cabin to enjoy the park’s outstanding waterfalls, forests, canyons, and golf course!

State Park Event: National Rolley Hole Marble Championship 
Standing Stone State Park, Tennessee
September 13, 2014

Featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic, the National Rolley Hole is the world’s most challenging marble tournament. The best players from around the globe come to compete at Standing Stone State Park. Tournament players use flint marbles made by local craftsmen on the park’s clay dirt marble yard. Not yet a marble pro? Check out the marble-making demos, kids’ games and swap meet!

State Park Event: Archeofest 
Pinson Mounds State Park, Tennessee
September 15 – 16, 2014

Pinson Mounds State Park in Tennessee

Pinson Mounds [Image:]

You won’t want to miss Archeofest at Pinson Mounds State Park! Archeofest celebrates Native American culture and features traditional singing, dancing, regalia and games. Participate in some of the exciting demos on pottery, flintknapping, leatherwork and jewelry or check out the craft fair. The fifteen Native American mounds found at the park were created thousands of years ago. Archeological evidence suggests that these mounds may have been used for both ceremonial and burial purposes. Tour the park’s museum to learn more about these fascinating, man-made structures.

State Park Event: Laura Ingalls Wilder Days 
Heritage Hill State Park, Wisconsin
September 13 – 14, 2014

Families at a state park event called Laura Ingalls Wilder Days at Heritage Hill State Park

Laura Ingalls Wilder Days [Image:]

Celebrate the early American pioneer lifestyle of author, Laura Ingalls Wilder at Heritage Hill State Park’s Laura Days! Laura Days is a weekend full of family fun. Watch the beautiful Grand Parade in the park, and partake in a pie-eating contest or a spelling bee. Take it easy in a horse-drawn wagon ride and later throw up your heels at the square dance. There is an exciting tomahawk-throwing contest and medicine show to see, too! The arts & crafts market features fresh produce, Amish baked goods, and handmade items.

State Park Event: Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival 
Custer State Park, South Dakota
September 27 – 28, 2014

The world’s largest, publicly-owned bison herd roams free over Custer State Park’s 71,000 acres. Each year, this herd of 1,300 is brought thundering into the corrals by cowboys and cowgirls. The bison are then sorted, branded, and given health checks. If you’re not one of the lucky few astride a horse, watch the buffalo stampede over a hot cup of coffee from the corrals’ bleachers. Afterwards, mosey on over to the bustling arts festival and fantastic food challenges, such as the Annual Buffalo Wallow Chili Cook-off and Cabela’s Challenge Dutch Oven Cook-off.

State Park Event: Prairie Jubilee 
Prairie State Park, Missouri
September 27, 2014

Bison at Prairie State Park for the Prairie Jubilee state park event

Bison at Prairie State Park, MO [Image:]

Come celebrate the tallgrass at Prairie State Park’s Prairie Jubilee! A living history loop gives visitors insight into what life was like for early Missouri settlers. Listen to live music and give the bison chip-throwing contest a try. There will be a reenactment of an old-time medicine show and free tours of the bison herd. Hungry? Grab yourself a bison burger and settle down in the tallgrass to gaze out at the gorgeous sea of green.

State Park Event: Annual Fall Harvest Festival
Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia
September 27 – 28, 2014

Wild Ponies feeding at the Annual Fall Harvest Festival State Park Event at Grayson Highlands State Park

Wild Ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park []

Since 1976, Grayson Higlands State Park has held the annual Fall Harvest Festival. Bursting with autumn foliage and exhibitions of Appalachian culture, the Fall Harvest Festival is a treat for the whole family. Help yourself to local food, like hobo pies, biscuits, and BBQ. Stop by the craft fair for walking sticks, quilts, turkey calls, and puppets. Grayson Highlands State Park is also home to a population of feral (and very cute!) ponies. The ponies protect the park from dangerous forest fires by eating back the brush. Wish you had your very own Grayson Highlands pony? You’re in luck! Each year, a few of these wild ponies are auctioned off to the public during the festival.

Suggested Gear List

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Travel Handbag

Check out the Pocket Ranger® Gear Store for these items & more!

Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Majestically set against the Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier dominates the Washington landscape, making it one of the most iconic sights in the state. At 14,411-feet, the mountain is the centerpiece of the national park, and the highest point in the state of Washington. While much of the activity in the national park involves summiting the volcano, Mt. Rainier National Park has acres of magnificent trails, campsites, and Washington’s most famous trek.  Pristine snowfields, deep forests, breathtaking views, and colorful wildflower meadows surround the peak. Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park features trails for every skill level from easy day-hikes to multi-week epics.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier along the Glacier Basin trail

The Glacier Basin trail leads to up-close views of Mt. Rainier’s famed glaciers. [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Hiking in Mt. Rainier you’ll discover over 290 miles of maintained trails. The easier trails around Rainier’s slopes are low-grade and family friendly while still promise spectacular views. The Glacier Basin trail, which traces the White River to an unforgettable mountain valley, leads to up-close views of the mountain’s famed glaciers. Starting at the Glacier Basin trailhead, this six-mile hike on a well-kept trail never goes beyond a low grade, as it ascends over 1,000 feet to the subalpine forest under St. Elmo Pass. The incredible views and easy hiking make this a family and child friendly hike, and the campsites at Glacier Basin Camp lie at the Inter Fork of the White River, with a gorgeous sunrise from the Southern Cascades.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier to Camp Muir Climber's Camp

The trek to Camp Muir traverses the steep snowfield hills as it gains over 4,500-feet in six miles. [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Those who are looking for a greater challenge while hiking in Mt. Rainier can attempt the strenuous, but rewarding trek to Camp Muir, the climbers advanced camp at 10,000 feet. Permits are required to camp at Muir, but it makes for an adventurous daytrip over its namesake snowfield. Starting from the trailhead Paradise, the fields under the slopes are snow-covered until midsummer, but in July and August, reveal a carpet of brightly colored wildflowers–one of the prized attractions of the park. The trek to Camp Muir traverses the steep snowfield hills as it gains over 4,500-feet in six miles.  Trekking on the slopes beyond Camp Muir requires a climbing permit, but from the camp, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams dominate the skyline. It isn’t specifically a camp for climbers, but in the high climbing season, tent spots are hard to find.

A view from the Muir Snowfield while hiking in Mt. Rainier

A View of Mt. Rainier From the Muir Snowfield [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

If challenge isn’t obligatory, but great views and color are, the trails do lead to many wildflower fields and lakes, reflecting the volcano’s white glaciers in their waters. Trails from Sunrise, Chinook Pass, and Paradise, lead to a series of lakes and fields that are great introductory trips for children. One of the most famed of these fields is Grand Park in the Sunrise District. Deer and Elk forage on the Lake Eleanor Trail as hikers trek through an old growth forest that leads to the flat plains beneath the peak’s South Face. In the summer, Indian Paintbrush, daisies, fireweed, and lilies provides a stunning contrast to the stark-white icy slopes.

Rainier’s most famous trail, and arguably it’s most challenging, is the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile circumnavigation of the mountain, considered not only a park Classic, but a lifetime trekking experience. On average, it takes about ten days to complete the entire length, as the trail ascends onto high passes, descends into thick forests, and traverses snowfields, alpine meadows, and high passes. If you’re looking for something that requires commitment, skill, and good wilderness knowledge while hiking in Mt. Rainier then try hiking the Wonderland Trail. Much of the trail passes through remote areas and treacherous terrain. The trail requires crossing numerous rivers, sometimes on established bridges, or by improvised method. The river level is dependent on the melting of the glaciers. It’s important to know one’s abilities before taking on a trail such as the Wonderland.

Mt. Rainier National Park is much more than just the mountain. Hiking in Mt. Rainier entails miles of colorful trails, meadows, forests, wildlife, and great campsites, for all ages and all activities. The mountain is still the centerpiece of the park, and in my next article, I’ll be talking about the experience of climbing to the summit.