“You must book a room at the Paradise Inn!” said my friend Jay when I told him I was going to Mt. Rainier National Park. For years I had wanted to visit the park and every calendar I saw that included a photo of the mountain looming above meadows of brilliant wildflowers stoked the desire. Being a history geek, why wouldn’t I want to add a historic hotel to the trip? Built in 1916, the inn is designated one of the “Great Lodges of the West.” I’d been to the inns at Old Faithful and Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, but had never stayed in one. So I followed Jay’s advice and splurged for one night at Paradise, in the southwest corner of the park on the south slopes of the glacier-enveloped volcano. As the name implied, I expected my own version of paradise: spectacular views of Mt. Rainier and carpets of wildflowers all around. I had timed my trip for peek wildflower bloom period.
Paradise Inn is more subtle than the others, but no less grand. It was built from timber inside the park. Its expansive lobby includes small touches created by German artisan woodworker Hans Frahnke who spent seven summers on his masterpieces: three large cedar chairs that look like thrones, several 1500 lb. tables, a Bavarian Castle-like piano, a 14 ft. tall grandfather clock and a carved bear at the mail drop.
The Inn opened in July 1917, eighteen years after Mt. Rainier National Park was established. It was so popular that an annex to the inn was added in 1920. Due to its altitude and the abundance of snow during the year, it is open during limited months in summer and early fall.
I visited in mid-July and ended up exploring more of the inn than I had expected. I had previous experience with fickle mountain weather, I should have lowered my expectations. While I planned to be on the many hiking trails surrounding the inn, the weather did not cooperate. The mountain hid behind layers of clouds and visibility was extremely poor. I managed to see the mountain for a grand total of 15 seconds over two days! But it appeared in awesome splendor.
I enjoyed my stay at the inn despite the crowded lobby of frustrated hikers. I ate bison meatloaf in the inn’s dining hall at night, seated in front of the huge fireplace with fire blazing. I sat on one of the giant throne chairs and marveled at the wildflower decorated lamps hanging above the common room. I settled into a chair and listened to a pianist playing the recently-restored huge piano, accompanying a violinist. President Harry Truman had played that same piano on a visit in 1945. It was all so civilized. I heard many languages there in a mini-world high in the clouds.
I’d like to say that the view from my cozy room was spectacular and that a wind suddenly blew the clouds away. But that wasn’t the case. I’m sure the view from my room would have been spectacular. And, to top it off, I’m sure the wildflower meadows were equally spectacular when they bloomed SIX WEEKS before my visit. The high heat and decreased snow pack had altered blooming schedules and I saw fields of dead wildflowers.
Will I go back to Mt. Rainier? Absolutely. Will I stay at the Paradise Inn? Absolutely. This historic inn sits in a jaw-dropping setting and is indeed a treasure from the past.
Here are some links for more history of the inn: