Trail of the Shadows: Mt. Rainier National Park

The past four years, my family has used Longmire as a pit stop on the way to Paradise. When visiting Mt. Rainier National Park it is easy to overlook the Longmire area as it is pretty – but not as pretty as the aptly named Paradise.

While camping at Big Creek Campground recently, we decided to pop over to Longmire and check out the Trail of the Shadows.

Catarina was thinking of making a break for it over the fence.
Catarina was thinking of making a break for it over the fence.

The .75-mile, nearly flat trail explores the historic beginnings of the park. James Longmire discovered hot springs in the area in 1883. He and his sons then cut a 70-mile long trail from their home in Yelm, built a vacation spot and then brought tourists to their version of a spa.

While there isn’t much standing today of the Longmire’s resort, the nature itself is more than worth the visit.

The trail starts by taking you out to a viewpoint in the middle of a giant meadow. The rock cliffs looming in the distance reminded me a bit of Yosemite National Park in California – all that was missing was a giant waterfall.

The wetland in the meadow houses a variety of plants and animals, but also features the bubbling mineral springs which help to create giant brown spots in the grass.

This giant meadow showcases everything from a wetland to a marsh to beaver dams to the discolored earth because of the area mineral springs.
This giant meadow showcases everything from a wetland to a marsh to beaver dams to the discolored earth because of the area mineral springs.

Continuing counter-clockwise on the path leads you to a stone structure with a mineral hot spring in the center. Unfortunately, this water is freezing, so I don’t recommend getting in. I guess back in the day it was a thing to do, however. There were 49 hot springs discovered around Longmire with temperatures ranging from 50 to 85 degrees per VisitRainier.

One of the mineral springs discovered in the 1880s by James Longmire. Unfortunately, it was not hot.
One of the mineral springs discovered in the 1880s by James Longmire. Unfortunately, it was not hot.

The path then enters an old growth forest, featuring a cabin built in 1888 by the Elcaine Longmire (James’ son), which is the oldest structure in the park. It has been repaired numerous times, but is in the original spot and of original design. Note the orange water flowing in this area, which is caused by the iron in the mineral springs.

We really enjoyed the forest in this area, which is packed with red alder, western red cedar and lodge pole pine. The trail then quickly leaves the forest, offering views of beaver dams (look for trees the beavers have chopped down) and comes to an end with more views of the meadow.

I couldn't get over the immense trees in this area. So enjoyable to just be awe-inspired by them in the forest.
I couldn’t get over the immense trees in this area. So enjoyable to just be awe-inspired by them in the forest.

While this trail isn’t going to give you a workout, it is good for small children and folks with mobility issues.

From here we headed through the employee housing area of Longmire to the suspension bridge. The giant wooden structure which is reminiscent of the CCC-era bridge in Spokane’s Riverside State Park crosses the Nisqually River and affords peek-a-boo views of Mt. Rainier.

The Longmire Cabin is the oldest structure in Mt. Rainier National Park and was built in 1888.
The Longmire Cabin is the oldest structure in Mt. Rainier National Park and was built in 1888.

We then checked out the gift shop, admired the National Park Inn from the outside and made a brief stop at the museum. While Longmire doesn’t have the same views of Rainier that you get at Paradise, it is worth a visit and trip on the Trail of the Shadows.

– Craig Craker

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