The 13-mile drive from Longmire  to Paradise is a delightful climb through tall evergreen forests where periodic openings provide down-valley and up-mountain vistas. Three miles before you reach Paradise is a pullout overlooking Narada Falls, where a steep trail leads to the plunge pool at its base. At an elevation of 5,400 feet, and with views across to the nearby mountain, Paradise Valley is appropriately named.
When Virinda Longmire first visited this gorgeous area in the summer of 1885, the abundant wildflowers created a colorful contrast to the snowy summit of Mt. Rainier. “This must be what paradise is like!” she exclaimed, and thousands of tourists have concurred ever since.
Get here in late July and August to see the peak of the floral display (and to join the throngs of fellow visitors who jam the parking lots and mountain trails on weekends). Paradise is easily the most popular place in the park, with an abundance of short and long hiking trails, grand scenery, and ample winter recreation opportunities.
In October 2008 park officials cut the ribbon on the new Paradise Visitor Center (360/569-2211, ext. 2328, daily 9 a.m.–7 p.m. in the summer, and 10 a.m.–6 p.m. in spring and fall, open weekends and holidays only Oct. 15–early May), which replaced the distinctive but out-of-place flying saucer–shaped Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center.
The gorgeous new facility matches the steep-roofed, stone-and-shingle architecture of Paradise Inn, while offering visitors up-to-date multimedia presentations, museum displays, and access to park rangers who are ready to answer questions and suggest hikes. During the summer, naturalists lead walks and give talks on a daily basis, and in winter they lead weekend snowshoe treks. Check the information desk for upcoming activities.
Built in 1917, Paradise Inn offers mountain-vista accommodations and meals mid-May through September only. Paradise visitors should do themselves a favor and take a peek inside before tromping away on a hike. The lobby hall and its massive fireplaces surrounded by rustic furniture are the best part of the inn.
A spiderweb of trails spins out over the subalpine forests and high-country meadows at Paradise; see the visitors center for a detailed map. Easiest is the Nisqually Vista Trail, a 1.2-mile loop hike that leads through flamboyantly floral high-country meadows west of the visitors center. Almost everyone in decent physical condition takes the oft-crowded Skyline Trail, a five-mile romp above the tree line to Glacier Vista and Panorama Point. Needless to say, the views are extraordinary. Be sure to carry water and stay on the path. Far too many folks wander off, creating damage to the meadows that takes years to restore.
Heading east from Paradise toward Stevens Canyon , the road passes Reflection Lakes, where on a calm and clear day the mirrorlike surface reflects Mt. Rainier and a rim of forest. The Pinnacle Peak Trail starts at the Reflection Lakes parking lot; hike this 1.5-mile trail to the saddle between Pinnacle and Plummer Peaks for Mt. Rainier vistas. You’ll gain 1,100 feet in elevation along the way.
An easier trail takes you uphill to Bench and Snow Lakes. The trailhead is a mile east of Reflection Lakes on Stevens Canyon Road, and the path goes 1.25 miles each way, through late-summer meadows filled with bear grass and flowers.