Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park

Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

Paradise Meadows Wildflowers Mount RainierParadise Meadows Wildflowers Mount Rainier #73268  Purchase

This post is the second of a two part article about planning and photographing in Mount Rainier National Park Paradise Meadows. Read part one here.

A trip to photograph in Mount Rainier National Park or any other national park can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a disappointing exercise in frustration. Good planning and having enough time available to meet your photography goals will increase your chances of success.

Since I’ve already given some tips on trip planning in my previous post, let’s start talking about locations and how best to photograph them. Mount Rainier is a big park with lots of great areas to photograph in. However, for the purpose of this article I’m going to focus only on the Paradise Meadows area and a few adjacent locations.

Essential Tip #1:  All of the locations in the Paradise Meadows area provide excellent opportunities for both sunrise and sunset . In summer the sun will rise and set a bit further in the north. There will be a slightly more light hitting the glaciers on Mount Rainier at sunrise than there will at sunset. Both times can provide some excellent side-lighting to wildflowers.

Paradise Meadows Skyline Trail Mount Rainier Skyline Trail Mount Rainier #72892 

But First a Lecture

Mount Rainier National Park receives over 2,000,000 visitors every year, and that number will continue to grow every year. The park service has gone to great lengths and expense (your tax dollars!) to make the meadows accessible for everyone, while also trying to keep them from getting trampled into oblivion.

Please take a minute to read the parks Meadow Preservation page.

Many trails are paved and roped off, and all have numerous signs to keep people on the trails. Please be thoughtful and considerate to the plants and future visitors, stay on the trails!

It is absolutely 100% possible to get great images while staying on the trails. But every time I photograph here I see other photographers going off the trail and trampling the flowers just to get that seemingly better photo. If everyone did that then Paradise Meadows would be nothing more than Paradise Dust Pit.

I wish I didn’t need to say this but here it goes. Do not even think of visiting Paradise Meadows unless you plan on strictly photographing only from established trails and keeping off the meadows. If you can’t do that then you should probably stay home!!

Paradise Meadows Wildflowers Mount RainierParadise Meadows Wildflowers #73347  Purchase

Paradise Meadows Trails and Locations

There are numerous trails in the Paradise Meadows area that give access to all the best photo locations. I like to divide the trails in the area between the west and east halves of the Paradise Meadows area. Both sections have excellent photo opportunities, but the west half has a better unobstructed view of Mount Rainier. I also feel that the west half often has better groupings of flowers and opportunities for compositions.

Download the Paradise Meadows Hiking brochure and map here.

Essential Tip #2:  Scouting is an essential technique for better photography. Always scout out the best locations in advance by spending the day hiking as many trails as possible. Make notes of the best spots and how long it will take to reach them in morning and evening golden hours.

Essential Tip #3:  Keep in mind that to reach most of the best flower meadows there is an elevation gain of several hundred feet from the parking area. While the trails aren’t steep or difficult it will take some effort to reach the best spots, especially if you’re racing against time and chasing light.

Essential Tip #4: Photo compositions in the west and east sections of Paradise are sufficiently far enough apart as to exclude photographing in both areas during the same morning or evening golden hour. Stick to one area and come back the next morning or evening for the other.

Tatoosh Range, Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier National ParkTatoosh Range Paradise Wildflower Meadows #73159  Purchase

Skyline Trail: This is the main trail that makes a loop through the entire Paradise area. This scenic trail makes an excellent leisurely all day loop. However, be aware that the higher elevation part of this trail traverses mostly rocky alpine terrain. Nearly all of the best flowers meadows are at middle elevations on the western parts of this trail.

There are many great compositions to be had around 5800′ elevation by using the trail network between Skyline and Deadhorse Creek Trails.

Deadhorse Creek, Moraine,  Nisqually Vista Trails: The main attraction for all of these trails are the views of Mount Rainier, and the yawning chasm of below the Nisqually Glacier. Deadhorse Creek trail connects with the Skyline trail so a loop will offer both glacier views and great wildflower photos.

Golden Gate Trail: This mile long trail begins on the lower Skyline at Myrtle Falls, and ends at the upper Skyline trail on Mazama Ridge. There are some great flower groupings all along this trail, especially near Myrtle Falls. Make sure you check out classic compositions of both Edith Creek from the foot bridge, and Myrtle Falls from the lower overlook.

The downside of the Golden Gate trail is that views of Mount Rainier are partially obscured by Panorama Point Ridge. However this trail is great for including the Tatoosh Range in compositions instead. There are some wonderful flower groupings on the upper section switchbacks for use in such compositions.

Tatoosh Range and Skyline Trail Paradise Meadows Skyline Trail Mount Rainier Tatoosh Range from Mazama Ridge #73153

Mazama Ridge Paradise Meadows 

Mazama Ridge can be accessed by several different trails. It can be reached via the Skyline Trail from Paradise Meadows parking area, or from below at Reflection Lakes. Keep in mind that if you are starting from Reflection Lakes you will have a considerable amount of elevation to gain before reaching the best areas.

Due to the nature of the snowpack melting out many of the best wildflower displays on Mazama Ridge often bloom a bit later than elsewhere in Paradise.

Skyline Trail on Mazama Ridge:  Access is either part of the Skyline Loop or from the end of the Golden Gate Trail. I feel the upper part of Mazama Ridge on the Skyline Trail offers the best photo opportunities. This is mainly due to the more open views of the Tatoosh Range.

Lakes Trail:  While there are some good photo ops on this trail they are mostly the upper half. One of the benefits of this trail is that the views of Mount Rainier are set back a bit.

Paradise Glacier Trail: This trail begins on the upper part of Mazama Ridge. For the most part it travels through fairly barren rocky terrain. But there are some decent flower displays along the first half mile or so. The attraction on this trail is viewing the raw landscape which not too long ago was beneath glaciers.

Some of the best displays of Lewis’s Monkeyflowers are near the junction of the Paradise Glacier and Skyline trails. Here they grow alongside streams thick with bright green mosses. Unfortunately it’s difficult to include a satisfactory view of Mount Rainier or the Tatoosh Range in photos from this spot.

Mount Rainier and Edith CreekEdith Creek Mount Rainier #3522  Purchase

Myrtle Falls Edith Creek Paradise Meadows

These classic locations are only a half mile from the Paradise parking area on the Skyline Trail. Both photograph well in morning or evening light with a preference for sunrise.

Be aware that this is one of those locations that can be crowded not only during the day but during golden hour light. This is a very popular spot for photo workshops and wedding photographers. Please be considerate of other photographers, especially those photographing newlyweds.

Myrtle Falls Mount Rainier National ParkMyrtle Falls Mount Rainier #72865  Purchase

Also use caution at the overlook to Myrtle Falls. It’s a small cliffside viewing area which can be a bit dangerous for you and your gear when surrounded by overzealous visitors. Early in the season dangerous snow bridges and slippery snow pack can prove fatal, exercise extreme caution or avoid the overlook completely at this time!

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lakes Mount Rainier #73126  Purchase

Reflection Lakes

The roadside view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes is one of the classic photographic vantage points in the park. One can easily argue it’s one of the most classic views in the entire Pacific Northwest!

To get here just take the road turnoff to Stevens Canyon just below Paradise Meadows, or follow Paradise Valley Road east from the Visitor’s center parking lot.

Essential Tip #5: This is a primarily sunrise location. Like many classic national park photo locations it attracts hordes of photographers and workshops. Plan on setting up in the best spot at least an hour before sunrise. Bring a headlamp and a thermos of coffee! And of course please heed the signs and help preserve fragile areas by staying out of closed areas.

Landscape photography doesn’t get much easier than at Reflection Lakes. Parking is right alongside the lake so theoretically you don’t even need to get out of your car! Of course getting the best photos will involve a bit more than that. It will be to your advantage to scout out the best spots the day before so you won’t be guessing in the dark the next morning.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection Lake Paradise MeadowsReflection Lakes Mount Rainier #73103  Purchase

I feel the best spots are on the eastern end of the lake where small groups of wildflowers can be used in the foreground. This is also one location that will provide great photos whether you are there during of after wildflower season. On a cold fall morning there are often thin sheets of ice on the lakes that are very photogenic.

Essential Tip #6:  Don’t make the mistake of setting up your tripod and photographing only one composition. Pick out the best primary spot and wait to photograph it in the best light, then move on to other compositions.

Bench Lake Mount Rainier National ParkBench Lake Mount Rainier #73143  Purchase

Bench Lake

This is a great sunrise location with wonderful views of Mount Rainier that not many photographers visit. The view of Rainier from Bench Lake shows more of the lower part of the mountain than at Reflection Lake. However you are limited to a tiny stretch of sand along the lake for compositions.

Bench Lake is an extra doable location after photographing sunrise at Reflection Lake, if you still have some nice early morning light to work with. Drive about 1.5 miles east of Reflection Lakes to reach the trailhead to Bench and Snow Lakes. The lake is about 1.25 miles along the trail with some minor ups and downs along the way.

Pinnacle Peak Trail Mount Rainier National ParkPinnacle Peak Trail Mount Rainier #72992

Pinnacle Peak

If you have extra time during your trip a hike up to Pinnacle Peak is definitely worth the effort. The trail starts across from Reflection Lakes and is about 1.25 miles in length with about 1400′ of elevation gain. It feels longer than 1.25 miles but the increasingly dramatic views of Mount Rainier keeps your mind off the work.

There are several good spots along the trail for photos which include wildflowers or hikers on the switchbacks. Just west of the saddle at trail’s end there are a few spots to sit and get some pics. If you’re up for it you can continue the steep route to Plummer Peak. For the really adventurous photographer continue hiking east on a rough semi-exposed trail to a saddle above Pinnacle Glacier. The views of Mount Rainier from there are wide open.

Essential Tip #7:  Photography from Pinnacle Peak trail is best in evening light. Bring water and wear a hat, this trail can be very hot in the afternoon during the summer. Make sure to bring a headlamp for the way down if you’re planning on golden hour photography.

Christine Falls Mount Rainier National ParkChristine Falls #73210  Purchase

Christine and Narada Falls

These two waterfalls are an absolute must photograph when you’re in the area. Both are very easy short walks from the road and both offer perfect compositions from the viewing areas. As with most waterfalls they are best photographed on an overcast day, or in early morning or evening when they are in shade.

Essential Tip #8:  Like nearly every location in a national park try to avoid photographing these waterfalls during the crowded busy part of the day. Before 9:00am or after 5:00 pm is best, then you’ll probably have them all to yourself.

Narada Falls Mount Rainier National ParkNarada Falls #72871  Purchase

Camera Equipment Suggestions 

What camera gear should you bring on a Mount Rainier photography trip? In a nutshell, everything you have. Ok, maybe not everything, especially if you’re a gear junkie with dozens of lenses and camera bodies. 

If you’re using a camera with a full frame sensor the most useful focal lengths are 14mm-70mm. So basically ultra-wide to very slight telephoto should cover most compositions. The only time I used my telephoto lens was to zoom in on some glacier details.

Basic Essentials:

  • Tripod
  • Wide to ultra-wide lenses
  • Normal range lens
  • Telephoto lens; for landscapes up to 200mm would be good enough. Paradise Meadows isn’t really know for wildlife photography so long telephotos aren’t necessary.
  • Polarizing filter
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filters;  I still use these in the field in certain circumstances instead of creating the effect in post-processing. Although they are not always the best option.
  • Remote shutter release
  • Bug Spray!

Essential Tip #9:  Brush up on your focus stacking techniques. Since you’ll probably be photographing wide angle compositions with wildflowers in the foreground and Mount Rainier in the background you’ll need to use methods which increase your depth of field.

Essential Tip #10: Mosquitoes, gnats, and other flying insects will be especially bothersome during times around sunrise and sunset. Exactly the same time when you will need to concentrate on your photography. Bring insect repellant or wear netting.

Essential Tip #11:   BE CREATIVE! Use you own eyes and mind. Just because there are 20 other photographers photographing the exact same scene, in the exact same position, with the exact same gear and settings, doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. Photographing something in a unique and creative way could be as simple as just turning around to see what’s behind you!

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lake Sunrise Mount Rainier #73082  Purchase

In Conclusion

Combining all the information and tips in this post and Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning, you now should have everything you need to know to have a productive, safe, and enjoyable trip to Paradise Meadows. Now get out there and have fun!

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Mount Rainier, Paradise Meadows Wildflowers

Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning

Mount Rainier, Paradise Meadows WildflowersParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #3485  Purchase

This post is part one of a two part article about planning and photographing in Mount Rainier National Park Paradise Meadows. Jump to part two here.

One of the most popular locations for photographing wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest is at Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier National Park. There are few mountain locations which have such an abundant display of wildflowers along with easy access to them. But at Mount Rainer there is more than just subalpine meadows bursting with color. The views of the meadows include the hulking mass of a 14,411′ volcano and some of the largest active glaciers in the lower 48 states.

What is even more impressive is that there are numerous meadows of wildflowers around the entire circumference of the mountain. Some of them, like those at Paradise and Sunrise, are just a short walk on paved trails from the parking lot. While other locations like Spray Park are only accessible as longer day hikes or overnight backpacking excursions.

The most extensive and luxurious wildflower displays by far are found at the Paradise Meadows area. It is at this and adjacent locations I’ll be talking about in this post.

Mount Rainier, Paradise Meadows WildflowersParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #3499  Purchase

But First a Lecture

Mount Rainier National Park receives over 2,000,000 visitors every year, and that number will continue to grow every year. The park service has gone to great lengths and expense (your tax dollars!) to make the meadows accessible for everyone, while also trying to keep them from getting trampled into oblivion.

Please take a minute to read the parks Meadow Preservation page.

Many trails are paved and roped off, and all have numerous signs asking  people to stay on the trails. Please be thoughtful and considerate to the plants and future visitors, stay on the trails!

Skyline Trail Mount Rainier National ParkSkyline Trail Mount Rainier #72982

It is absolutely 100% possible to get great images while staying on the trails. But every time I photograph here I see other photographers going off the trail and trampling the flowers just to get that seemingly better photo. If everyone did that then Paradise Meadows would be nothing more than Paradise Dust Pit.

I wish I didn’t need to say this but here it goes. Do not even think of visiting Paradise Meadows unless you plan on strictly photographing only from established trails and keeping off the meadows. If you can’t do that then you should probably stay home!!

Paradise Wildflower Meadows Mount RainierParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #73244  Purchase

Planning A Paradise Meadows Photography Trip

You can spend as little as a day in the park and come away with a few good photos. But if your goal is portfolio quality images you’ll need to schedule in more time. So I would recommend at least three days. That way you can explore all the trails and photo opportunities in the area.

Ideally a better trip length might be 5-7 days. With a week available you’ll be able to scout out all the best locations and be able to photograph them in multiple lighting events. On my last trip to Mount Rainier I photographed every day for a week but had only one morning and one evening of outstanding light. Because of this I stayed in the Paradise area the entire trip to make sure I got the images I wanted.

Essential Tip #1: Always give yourself enough time and be flexible with your itinerary.

Tatoosh Range in winter, Mount Rainier National ParkTatoosh Range in Winter #5019  Purchase

Seasons in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

The road to Paradise Meadows and the parking area are open year round. Although summer sees the most visitors, the winter season which stretches from November until May is also very popular. During those months Paradise is a magnet for backcountry skiers, and climbers training for Alaskan or Himalayan expeditions.

For landscape and nature photographers late July to mid-August is the best time to plan a trip. However timing varies every year due to the amount of snowpack.  But generally you can usually be sure of hitting the peak wildflower bloom in the first weeks of August.

Keep in mind that all species of flowers don’t bloom at the same time. Glacier and Avalanche Lilies are the first to bloom as soon as the snow melts away. Shortly after Lupines, Sitka Valerian, Paintbrush, Pink  Mountain Heather and Western Anemone dominate the scene. After the Lupines begin to fade Asters and Arnica take over the show.

Essential Tip #2: Check out the Park Service’s Wildflower Status page to see what is currently in bloom.

One of my favorite wildflowers are Lewis’s Monkeyflower. These brilliant purple flowers grow in dense clusters along streams and marshy areas in the subalpine. You can often see them among mats of vibrant green moss. Note that Lewis’s Monkeyflower is often in full bloom later in the season.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lakes Sunrise #73114  Purchase

Guided Workshop Or Solo Trip

At some point you’ll need to decide whether to go with an established workshop/photo tour or do the trip on your own. There are many advantages and disadvantages for either option.

Photo Tour/Workshop Advantages:
-Led by a seasoned professional photographer with intimate knowledge of the park, and the opportunity of learning new techniques from a pro.
-Meals, lodging, and transportation usually included, someone else does the driving for you.
-Being part of a group dynamic can be creatively beneficial.

Photo Tour/Workshop Disadvantages:
-Limited freedom to photograph where and when you want.
-Inability to postpone trip or change schedule due to weather considerations.
-Daily schedules can be very rigid, there may not be any flexibility to stay longer in one location.
-Travel times and distances from lodging to locations can be great, making for very long days.
-Cost can be prohibitive

Solo Photo Tour Advantages:
-Unlimited freedom, photograph where you want when you want.
-Ability to postpone trip or change schedule due to weather considerations.
-Ability to lodge or camp where you choose, cutting down on travel time to locations.
-Huge cost savings.

Solo Photo Tour Disadvantages:
-Extra research needed to find best locations.
-Finding lodging on the fly on a daily basis can be difficult.
-Lack of assistance and input from leader or group members.
-No one to share ideas or experiences with.

During my entire career as a professional photographer I’ve traveled mostly solo. I love the freedom and flexibility associated with this mode of travel. And I know for a fact that I’ve been able to get better photos because of it. But of course this is just my preference and it certainly won’t work for everyone. It’s up to you to decide.

Paradise Road Mount Rainier National ParkRoad to Paradise Mount Rainier #72878  

Trip Logistics Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

Location, location, location. It’s all about location, and Mount Rainier National park is no different. Generally you’ll have time to photograph only one location during morning or evening golden hour. By the time you can reach the next spot the light will most likely have faded until the evening or next morning. And remember this isn’t a race or contest, slow down and appreciate where you are!

Keep in mind that it is about a 18 mile drive from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise Meadows. Since it is a slow winding mountain road allow about an hour for the drive. The closer you stay to your subject matter the better chance you have at being in right place at the right time. And you will be more relaxed and focused  when you get there.

Essential Tip #3:  Set your alarm and get used to rising very early. Absolutely nothing is worse than planning on being at a certain spot before sunrise than being late because of hitting the snooze alarm one last time, and then having a long drive ahead. Stopped for speeding, or worse, hitting a moose in the dark during your haste? Ughh!

Sunset over Paradise Mount Rainier National ParkParadise Sunset Mount Rainier #73203  Purchase

Lodging and Services

No matter where you stay, be it in a national park, a forest service campground, or in a motel or resort, be prepared to make reservations well in advance of your trip, if possible. Even in the shoulder seasons vacancies in lodging and campgrounds can be difficult to find. Popular campgrounds will fill by early morning. Research and plan ahead. It’s no fun driving around in the dark after a long day trying to find a place to sleep.

Essential Tip #4: Plan and reserve accommodations far in advance.

Lodging: There are several options for lodging when photographing in the Paradise Meadows area. If you can afford it the most convenient option would be to stay at the historic Paradise Inn. Situated right at Paradise all the best locations are literally right outside your door! For this option you’ll need to book well in advance. There is also the National Park Inn located lower down the mountain in Longmire.

Between the town of Ashford and the Nisqually entrance there are several options for cabins and motels. For camping the best and closest option is Cougar Rock, about a half hour drive from Paradise Meadows. Reservations are recommended but you can usually get a site if you arrive before 9:00am.  

Services: Gas and groceries are basically limited to Ashford which has one gas station and a couple small convenience type stores, and a small laundromat. In the park Longmire has a small general store with limited supplies. So it is best to plan in advance and arrive with all the food you need for your stay.

Cell Signal:  While in the park cell service is limited to the Paradise area, where there is a pretty strong signal. Otherwise you’ll have to travel all the way back down to Ashford.

Paradise wildflower meadows Mount Rainier National ParkPink Heather Mount Rainier #72905  Purchase

Fees Passes

The entrance fee to Mount Rainier National Park as of this date is $30 for a private vehicle and passengers and is good for seven days. An annual pass exclusive to Mount Rainier National Park is $55.

Consider purchasing an America The Beautiful annual pass if you photograph in many national parks and federal recreations areas throughout the year. This pass costs $80 and is good for National Parks, BLM lands, National Forests and more.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues!

Next up, part two of this article, Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier.

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Photographing Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning

Paradise Wildflower Meadows Mount Rainier

New Additions: Mount Rainier Olympic National Parks, North Cascades

Paradise Wildflower Meadows Mount RainierParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #73268  Purchase

The summer of 2021 has been challenging, to say the least. Record breaking heatwaves, devastating wildfires, widespread smoke, crowded parks, and the persistent COVID thing. There was so much hope that this summer would offer a return to normalcy. Well, it is better than last year, but not much.

View New Images

I can usually plan and complete successful photography trips by having various backup locations in mind. Mostly for when conditions are less than optimal. However, this year the wildfire season started much earlier than usual, and by early July thick smoke was present over all my primary and most backup locations. That is except one.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeMount Rainier from Reflection Lake #73103  Purchase

Backup Plans:  Mount Rainier

So far NW Washington has been, for the most part, lucky to escape all the wildfire smoke. So that gave me the opportunity to visit some great locations closer to home.  In particular I was able to make a long overdue trip to Mount Rainier National Park. For many years I’ve put off photographing in Mount Rainer for various reasons. Mainly because in August I’m usually off on more ambitious trips out of state, or in Canada. But also because of the summer crowds. And the necessity of having to drive through all the Seattle and Tacoma congestion to get there.

Diablo Lake, North Cascades WashingtonDiablo Lake, North Cascades #71713  Purchase

In addition to a very successful trip to Mount Rainier several other locations made it on my list. These included Olympic National Park, Diablo Lake, Heather Meadows, and Skyline Divide in the North Cascades. Summer isn’t over yet so hopefully there will be several more trips to be made before fall arrives.

You can see highlights from all of these locations in the New Images Gallery. For a more in depth selection check out the Washington, Mount Rainier, and Olympic National Parks Archives.

Old Growth Douglas Fir tree Olympic National ParkHeart O’ the Hills, Olympic National Park #71873  Purchase

Crescent moon over Vancouver British ColumbiaMoon over Vancouver British Columbia #7078 Purchase

Photos appearing in New Additions: Mount Rainier Olympic National Parks, North Cascades  are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!