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The road to Paradise; Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State Route 706 and Paradise Road

The day following the weekend excursion to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park the skies over the Puget Sound area cleared.  The weather was perfect to take a trip to Paradise on the southern flank of Mount Rainier via Washington State Route 706 and Paradise Road.






The morning drive leading to the Cascades was a slog of misery with Monday morning traffic in the Seattle Area.  I took I-405, WA 167 and WA 161 to reach the foothills of the Cascades which took almost two hours.  Seattle traffic on weekdays is generally a excursion in misery with some worst congestion in the nation.  The roadways were clogged with cars bottlenecked into corridors operating way beyond capacity with no additional room for expansion.  The express lanes on I-405 even reached the state maximum of $10.00 dollars which I'm to understand is a rare sight.

Upon reaching the surface alignment of WA 161 things got much better climbing into the Cascades.  Highway shields began directing traffic to WA 7 and Mount Rainier National Park.


Things finally got really interesting on WA 7 with the mountain grades and curves.  Entering the small community of Elbe in Pierce County where Mount Rainier National Park traffic is directed onto WA 706.


I stopped in Elbe to check out some of the sights, namely; the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad and Nisqually Reservoir.  The road side of WA 7 along the Nisqually Reservoir is lined with rail cars converted into a lodge and a diner.


Elbe founded in the 1890s as Brown's Junction.  The community became a rail siding was of the Tacoma Eastern Railroad which was expanded from Tacoma in the very early 20th century to the Nisqually Coal Fields located in Mineral.  The Tacoma Eastern built the current railroad grade through Elbe some time in 1904.  The Tacoma Eastern was the primary means of travel to Mount Rainier via an eastern spur to Ashford until automotive travel became viable.  Passenger service between Elbe and Ashford was discontinued in 1924.  The seven miles of track between Elbe and Mineral were maintained as Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad starting in 1980 when the parent line went bankrupt.  The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad still operates out of this rail station.


More information regarding the Tacoma Eastern Railroad and Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad can be found here.

Mt. Rainier Railroad website 

A map of the Tacoma Eastern Railroad at it's prime can be found here.

Map of the Tacoma Eastern Railroad

The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad still boasts a vintage steam locomotive on the side of WA 7 and the 1906 Elbe Lutheran Church (the real name is substantially longer).




There is a decent view of the Nisqually Reservoir behind the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Depot.  The Nisqually Reservoir was created by the Alder Dam impounding the Nisqually River when it finished in 1945.





There isn't much to Elbe these days, supposedly there is less than 30 residents left.  Oddly there is still a couple general stores and even a state rest area.



After leaving Elbe I turned onto WA 706 to head eastward towards Mount Rainier National Park which is located 13 miles away.   WA 706 follows the general course of the Nisqually River to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park.  WA 706 was designated as the "Road to Paradise" in the 1990s in recognition of the community of Paradise located on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park.






WA 706 eastbound quickly crosses over the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad twice.  Oddly there is a small segment of the Ashford Spur which still exists north of WA 706 which is called Park Junction.




Heading east from Elbe towards Ashford the speed limit is a leisurely 50 MPH.


WA 706 enters the community of Ashford which dates back to 1888.  Really there isn't much to the community aside from small lodges and a couple old general store buildings intended to service travels to Mount Rainier National Park.  The speed limit in Ashford on WA 706 drops to 35 MPH.







East of Ashford the speed limit of WA 706 kicks back up to 50 MPH.  The Nisqually gate of Mount Rainier National Park is signed as 5 miles away.









WA 706 enters the boundary of Gifford Pinchot National Forest and crosses a couple creeks before dropping down to 35 MPH.












WA 706 has an unsigned eastern terminus at the Nisqually Gate of Mount Rainier National Park.  The road ahead continues in Mount Rainier National Park as Paradise Road.





Prior to the 1964 State Highway Renumbering WA 706 was known as Primary State Highway 5 TR.  The designation of WA PSH 5 TR apparently dates back to 1937 but I'm not sure when the route might have been legislatively defined.  A maintained roadway can be seen on the 1938 Washington State Highway Map running east from Elbe to Paradise.

1938 State Highway Map

A spur of WA PSH 5 can been seen running from Elbe to the Longmire gate of Mount Rainier National Park on the 1956 State Highway Map.

1956 State Highway Map

A roadway is shown between Elbe and Paradise on the 1919 State Highway Map.  The Ashford Spur of the Tacoma Eastern Railroad can also be seen. 

A 1925 Map of Washington and Oregon shows the road between Elbe and Paradise as improved but not paved.

1925 Washington and Oregon Map

1919 State Highway Map 

I'm uncertain when a viable roadway from Elbe to Paradise was built but it did exist at least back to 1914,  Paradise road can been seen on a USGS map of Mount Rainier in 1914.

1914 Mount Rainier USGS Map

Upon entering Mount Rainier National Park I stopped along side Paradise Road at Tahoma Creek for a view of Mount Rainier.  Mount Rainier generally is only visible for 90 days a year from lower elevations.




East of Tahoma Creek I stopped at Longmire which now services visitors to Mount Rainier National Park.  Longmire dates back to 1883 when the Longmire family built a trail from Ashford to a natural hot spring.  Longmire became a popular head of a hiking trail to Paradise Valley and the community was eventually absorbed into Mount Rainier National Park when it was created 1899.  Most of the buildings in Longmire are very old and now house National Park facilities.  I thought the old gas station complete with old mechanical pumps was a nice touch.









Longmire is at 2,761 feet above sea level.  The community offers all-year hiking trails and a connector to the Wonder Land Trail which circles Mount Rainier.  Given that hikes from Paradise were likely going to require snow shoes I did about 5-6 miles on the Rampart Ridge Trail.



















A quick view of Mount Rainier over Paradise road in Longmire.



East of Longmire the alignment of Paradise Road begins to ascend towards Paradise.  At Van Trump Creek Paradise Road crosses the Christine Falls Bridge.









Suffice to say things were much more cloudy at the Christine Falls Bridge when I passed through in 2015.



East of Christine Falls the alignment of Paradise Road crosses the Nisqually River.  From the bridge over the Nisqually River the source of the waters can be seen high above coming from the Nisqually Glacier.





Paradise Road loops southward briefly after crossing the Nisqually River to Ricksetter Point.  On a clear day the summit of Mount Rainier can be seen to the north.  To the west of the confluence of the Nisqually and Paradise Rivers can be seen.




Paradise Road swings northeast from Ricksetter Point where it begins to follow the Paradise River.  Just before the junction with Stevens Canyon Road there is an overlook for the Narada Falls.










From Stevens Canyon Road the alignment of Paradise Road begins to make a final ascent to Paradise.





Paradise lies at an elevation of 5,400 feet.  Despite it being late May there was still a solid 10-20 feet of snow on the ground.  Many of the buildings required use of a snow shed to access.




Paradise is named after the valley it lies in as well as the Paradise Inn.  The Paradise Inn was completed in 1916 by the Rainier National Park Company but opened for business in 1917.  During World War II the Paradise Inn was used as mountain warfare training center.  Since 1952 the Paradise Inn has been fully maintained by the Park Service after it was sold by the Rainier National Park Company.

Paradise Road actually continues beyond the Paradise Inn back over the Paradise River to Stevens Canyon Road on a one-way alignment.  The alignment east of the Paradise Inn was still closed when I arrived in Paradise.

I did backtrack to Stevens Canyon Road to see Reflection Lake which was still covered in ice.


Stevens Canyon Road was open all the way to WA 123.  I would have taken WA 123 back towards the Seattle Area but it was closed north to WA 410.  There are some notable sites on Stevens Canyon Road like Louise Lake and Box Canyon.  I did take Stevens Canyon Road back in 2015 so I figured it would be worthwhile to show a couple photos before closing this blog out.










Update 6/1/18:  I was provided the following link to a historical FAQ page for Mount Rainier National Park by kkt on AAroads.

Mount Rainier National Park Fast Facts

The following is conveyed on the above FAQ:

-  A horseback trail existed to Longmire in the 1880s.  The trail was upgraded to a wagon route by the 1890s.
-  The first car to enter Mount Rainier National Park was in 1907.  Mount Rainier National Park was the first National Park to allow cars inside it's boundaries.
-  Cars reached Paradise via Paradise Road by 1911.

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