You might have heard of my love for gondolas so of course, I had to jump at the next possible opportunity to ride the only gondola in Washington State (I believe?!). It’s at Crystal Mountain Resort, sort of just across the street from Mount Rainier National Park.
There’s one more gondola in the stateside part of the Pacific Northwest in Portland Oregon, the Portland Area Tram. Yes, it’s right in the middle of the city, which is sort of cool.
And there are the fabulous gondolas in BC: The Grouse Mountain Skyride just outside Vancouver, the famous Peak 2 Peak gondola in Whistler and the brand new Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish. I rode the Grouse Mountain gondola many many moons ago, but Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak I cancelled last year due to bad weather. I’ll be back soon.
Anyway, there’s a gondola, The Mount Rainier Gondola, just a quick 2 hours from my home and it was high time I went to check it out.
In the Summer of 2011, the Crystal Mountain Resort, located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, put a gondola up, connecting the base of their ski resort with the new Summit House – the highest elevation restaurant in Washington State. This effort was part of turning the ski resort into a 4 season destination offering year round activities like mountain yoga, horseback riding, and of course mountain biking, and plenty of hiking trails. (Check out the Crystal Mountain video archive on VIMEO for cool construction updates on the building of the gondola in 2010.)
The gondola sports a couple dozen (I didn’t count) cars for up to eight passengers and climbs from the base at 4400ft to 6873ft and a spectacular panorama of Mount Rainier in the distance. For those looking to get higher, the highest chairlift reaches up to 7002ft.
From I-5 head toward Enumclaw and note on the way the beautiful and somewhat surprisingly cute Buckley, WA. From Enumclaw follow signs to Sunrise, Mt. Rainier National Park. The entrance to Crystal Mountain is a left turn just a few hundred feet before entering the National Park. The road winds itself up to the base of the resort and to a huge parking lot.
Visiting this area, groomed as a ski resort and located o National Forest land is an entire different experience compared to visiting a National Park.
What you save in park entrance fees you’ll spend on gondola tickets, they aren’t cheap. A family of four pays about as much as what a single regular priced adult ticket to Disneyland would cost.
The gondolas themselves are beautiful, because they are red. The colors of all good gondolas, in my book. To get on you walk onto a slow moving car which doesn’t stop, kind of like an elevator. The kids really enjoyed that one.
The clean gondola moves silently and effortlessly up the mountain offering amazing views through the plexiglass windows on all sides. Seeing the kids’ faces change from reserved worry to over-the-top excitement is so worth the experience.
When the doors open at the top the cool high alpine air greets you and you’re confronted with the most spectacular panorama of Mount Rainier I’ve seen outside the park. What’s hidden from the base of the resort comes in full view right from the platform of the gondola.
The amenities on the top are simple. The Summit House restaurant, with outside seating and wait times on sunny weekend days. A gift shop, a few picnic tables, and a bathroom for hikers. In the Wintertime a couple of chair lifts connect to the same general area.
The helpful gondola staff was super-friendly, suggesting hikes and answering any other questions we had. There’s also a forest ranger who’s offering nature walks.
We ate our lunch in the sunshine at one of the picnic tables, refilled our water bottles and headed to our fantastic hike.
On the way down the kids were totally in love with gondola rides which pretty much exactly what I set out to do.
Here’s to the next gondola experience in the near future.