Washington’s scenic “Road to Paradise” delivers everything it promises—and more!
Story and Photos by Tim Fitzharris
It meanders through ancient forests, winds alongside the rocky Nisqually River and hugs Mount Rainier’s rugged terrain, all the while snaking up the volcano’s southern slope. Washington Route 706, known as the “Road to Paradise,” delivers on every promise its name implies. For one, this scenic road literally takes you to Paradise, Washington, an area about 5,400 feet up that’s one of the most stunning locations in Mount Rainier National Park. But every moment spent on this road brings paradise to your soul.
Driving under the imposing cedar log gate of the western Nisqually entrance, with columns nearly 4 feet in diameter, I get a hint of what’s to come. Old-growth red cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock soar so far out of sight I have to stop and hang my head out the window, staring straight up, to see their tops. Moss-wrapped trunks offer a thousand shades of vibrant green.
Bigleaf maples and alders line the route when it runs alongside a creek or a tumbling river, and every cascade tempts me to stop and photograph the silky streams.
As I climb into higher elevations, the road emerges from the forest now and then to skirt a curving rock prominence, reminding me of the utter immensity of this alpine country. I’ve settled into the alternation of forest and scenic overlook when I round a bend and suddenly, there it is right in front of me—Mount Rainier, filling up the sky.
Finally, the route takes me to my favorite shooting location in the national park: the meadows at Paradise. In early August, when paintbrush, beargrass and lupines stand in profuse bouquets among the bubbling creeks and lingering snow patches, I focus them in the foreground, against the glacier-clad backdrop of Mount Rainier, and capture a perfect photograph.
And yet, Mount Rainier’s rugged beauty inspires me to return tomorrow and look for even more stunning scenes. From Mount Rainier at sunrise to a day of exploring roadside trails and overlooks, Route 706 will not disappoint.