What it’s like to Stay at Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park

Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington is one of those quintessential destinations that make America’s national parks such a treasure.

Obviously, Mount Rainier is a place to get outside and celebrate Mother Nature. But if you do nothing more than drive up to Paradise Inn, hang out in the lobby or have lunch or dinner in the restaurant, you’ll have an experience worth telling your friends about, one that makes you appreciate the tenacity of human beings and the love we have for the wilderness.

Paradise Lodge entrance at Mt Rainier National Park

It doesn’t look that impressive from the outside, but you know the old expressions about judging a book by its cover? Don’t judge the Paradise Inn by the worn, low hung wood-shingled roof or the institutional green paint on the windows and doors.

Come on inside. Paradise Inn has a story to tell.

What Makes Mount Rainier National Park So Fabulous

Mount Rainier was America’s fourth national park, signed into law 17 years before the National Park Service was created. Bruce and I counted. Visiting Mt. Rainier put us at about 115 of the 423 units of the NPS.

Located in the Cascade Mountains of western Washington, Mount Rainier is 14,441 feet high (4,401 meters) or almost three miles high. The park is home to 25 glaciers and a heavenly blend of rain forests, evergreen forests, lakes, wildflowers and yes, lots of snow. The Paradise area of Mount Rainier gets about 53 feet (16 meters) of snow a year. It’s one of the snowiest places on Earth.

We were there in late May/early June and yes, it snowed on us. Paradise Inn is located at 5,400 feet and in late May, that’s as far as we could drive. Roads were still closed.

John Muir wrote of Mount Rainier:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy. while care will drop off like autumn leaves.

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What Makes Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier so Special

Many of our park lodges and other buildings are magnificent, historic structures, built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

That’s not the case with Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier.

A group of business people from the Tacoma area formed the Mount Rainier National Park Company and, at a cost of $91,000, built a 37 room guest room lodge with a dining room that seated 400. It opened July 1, 1917.

The lobby simply takes your breath away. A picture does not do justice to the massive size of the support beams, the heft of the furnishings and the immense warmth that envelops you as you begin to explore. These beams are Alaska yellow cedars from Mount Rainier that had been destroyed by fire around the turn of the 20th century.

The massive lobby at Paradise Lodge, Mt Rainier National Park, Washington

A German immigrant named Hans Fraehnke built the furniture you see in the lobby. For seven years, he snowshoed up the mountain, through the deep, deep snow, in March and worked until November, when he would snowshoe back down the mountain. He worked by lamplight with tools he had brought with him from Germany.

Using more of the Alaskan yellow cedars, he hand-carved dozens of these massive throne chairs, huge tables and benches where families gathered to play board games and work puzzles, and this wonderful clock.

Add a few big rugs, some cozy leather couches and roaring fires, the lobby is so wonderfully comfortable. I honestly fell asleep on the couch watching the fire.

Bruce did not get pictures of the hand-carved desk where you check in – he might have been eyeing the couch for a nap – but it’s pretty darn cool as well. Hans carved it.

And then there’s the piano. Hans did not build the piano per se, but he built this colorful case around it. And they hire a college kid to play throughout the day in the season. Tip him/her generously.

The Lampshades of Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park

I became fascinated with the lampshades in the lobby of the Paradise Inn. When the snow melts, Mount Rainier is renowned for its beautiful wildflowers. So the story goes that in the early days of the inn, park service employees (mostly men) and their wives began painting the wildflowers found in the park on these paper lampshades. There are more than 60 of them and they hung there for more than 50 years.

One of the originals has been preserved by the National Archives, but the rest became brittle and fell apart. In 1989, the NPS commissioned a retired employee to replace them, individually painting wildflowers, shrubs and trees found on Mount Rainier on these paper lampshades. A garden club out of Seattle has published a book on the lampshades, which is available for sale in the gift shop. Proceeds benefit Washington’s National Park Fund.

Handpainted lampshades at Paradise Lodge, Mt Rainier National Park, Washington
Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

Guest Rooms at the Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier National Park

Sometimes getting a room at one of our national park lodges is akin to winning the lottery. We started in January trying to get a room for two nights in late May. We were too late. I checked every day for weeks and finally, one room with twin beds was open for two nights mid-week, so we grabbed it. It was pricey, but it was so fun to have stayed there.

Twin bed guest room at Paradise Lodge, Mt
Photo by Bruce N. Meyer

When the inn opened in 1917, it had 37 guest rooms. Three years later, they added a wing with 104 rooms, and that’s where our room was. It’s all re-arranged now for a total of 121 guest rooms.

Were people smaller 100 years ago? This was all there was to our room, and an itsy bitsy tiny bathroom. The ceiling was sloped, there was one window and a few pegs on the wall to hang coats. We had, at most, about three feet at the end of our beds to stash luggage and three feet between our beds. It was cozy.

Electrical outlets were not conveniently placed, there was no TV or wifi, of course, but hey, we had cell service.

Here’s the fun thing – the 100 year old wooden floor slopes rather significantly in places. Both nights, I dreamt that I was slowly sliding down the mountain.

One morning, the maids left the doors open to a few other guest rooms. Me being me, I stuck my head in and looked around. They were bigger, some with double beds, bunk beds and such. The website says there are suites and adjoining rooms.

Tip: If you want to stay at Paradise Inn while visiting Mount Rainier National Park, plan ahead. There’s another lodge farther down the mountain called the National Park Inn, and two others in other parts of the park. Reservations open a year in advance. Try the midweek, try the shoulder seasons and have fun. It’s like a fun rugged experience in a national park without camping and with flush toilets.