Mount Rainier’s Westside Road

I found a great car-free biking spot nearish Seattle/nearish Portland: Westside Road, very close to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier. I didn’t have the kids with me for this trip, nor did Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie, but it would be really fun to take kids on all or part of it.

Here are all my photos: Mount Rainier’s Westside Road – October 12, 2018 – 45 photos
Here’s my Ride with GPS route for the trip
And here’s my Strava recording of our ride

Map of Westside Road (starting from Nisqually Lodge)

Elevation profile of Westside Road and back (from Nisqually Lodge)

Here’s a bit from Visit Rainier:

There was a plan once for a highway that would encircle the mountain, a road through the high alpine wilderness, a dream of twentieth-century engineering that never quite materialized. Budgets, priorities and simple topography combined forces to kill the idea, but parts of the vision were actually completed, and one of the key portions is this spur road from the Nisqually River to the Puyallup River.

It doesn’t take too long after leaving the parking area for the feeling of wilderness to take hold. The road follows Fish Creek at first, before a major washout and a log crossing, then climbs along a little copper-colored stream, another tributary of nearby Tahoma Creek. Over time, volcanic flows of water and rubble have scoured the surrounding area and the ghost forests in the flood path provide ample evidence of the power of the mountain.

The Westside Road is a gravel road just one mile past the Nisqually Entrance. The first three miles of it are open to cars (we only saw one car driving, and four parked) and then it’s nine miles of car-free gorgeous scenery. There’s a parking lot just before the gate so the easiest ride with kids would be to drive into the park and as far up the Westside Road as possible before getting on bikes. This is probably also cheapest: Mount Rainier entrance fees are $30 for a vehicle and its passengers or $15 for each bicyclist. For this trip we stayed at Nisqually Lodge (which I found via the BringFido website), just five miles from the park entrance so we left the car there and biked over. There’s lots of lodging there in Ashford and a decent shoulder for biking along, though I don’t generally ride on roads like that with my kids.

Most of the Westside Road is uphill so the easiest thing to do with kids would be to ride the first four miles past the gate before it heads downhill. At this peak before the real peak is a clearing and the Marine Memorial Airplane Crash Monument, making it a fine turn-around point.

After the memorial the trail goes downhill for two miles and then uphill another three to reach Klapatche Point.

View from the top, Klapatche Point

A lot of the trail is gravel, but some is dirt which meant for some muddy spots. None of the mud was too squishy for either climbing slowly or descending quickly through, during this visit anyway. I can imagine the mud might be a bit of a problem during and after rainy spells. The elevation at Klapatche Point is 4140 feet so we didn’t get to see any snow or marmots up close.

Speaking of animals, I let Pixie out of the basket to stretch her legs on the outside of the gate and then kept her cooped up for the entire “No pets” part of the trail, which I think is OK per national park rules since her feet didn’t touch the ground.

The road crosses several hiking trails upon which bikes aren’t allowed, but at least one goes to a waterfall and there are backcountry camping areas along them. It seems like it’d be safe to lock a bike at a trailhead and add a hike and/or campout to the bike ride.

The trail that continues when the road ends at Klapatche Point

Thanks to my friend Deb who rides Rainier often for the route advice! My original plan had been to ride up to Paradise again, but this was such a different experience and so fun! It was reminiscent of riding to Ipsut Creek for the 2016 Swift Campout, but much smoother than that gravel.

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