AT PARADISE, WHICH, which, let’s face it, is where we all deserve to be, I stood on one end of the mezzanine of the long, woody lodge admiring a superstructure of peeled Douglas fir logs that frame the rafters of the 1917 structure. “If you were going to count this truss alone, you’d find 70 logs,” said Ken Hardy, foreman of the construction crew that rebuilt Paradise Inn over the last two years. And if I were going to count all the logs in the whole building, starting with the stump mailbox and 1,500-pound tables in the lobby and the pine-branch headboards in the guest rooms…well, I can’t count that high. Suffice it to say that the bare logs and frontier decor are a considerable part of what makes the inn special, not to mention the location, seemingly at the top of Planet Washington.
The venerable old hostelry reopened in May at the 5,400-foot level of Mount Rainier National Park, making it the highest lodging on the mountain and a great base for exploring Rainier’s network of trails and alpine meadows. Twenty-one miles from the southwest entrance to the park, and 85 miles from downtown Seattle, the inn has been closed for repairs for the last two seasons; a horrific windstorm in November 2006 caused havoc on the roads and made access to the park difficult until May 2007. Crews have been trying to catch up with maintenance to everything from roads to campgrounds, and this season marks the first time that Mount Rainier looks ready again for the crowds who come from everywhere—Germany, New Zealand, Japan, Puyallup—to enjoy the park.
It is to the inn’s massive lobby that thousands of hikers repair every year to get out of bad weather, or get a cup of coffee, or just relax before or after hitting the trails. The room is flanked by tall stone fireplaces and decorated with even more natural wood furniture—including a piano cabinet, all done in logs and varnished wood, that Grizzly Adams might have owned.
Renovations to the inn have almost entirely been structural: Bracing it, taking apart the fireplaces stone by stone to fortify and bring them up to code (some of the stones in the dining room still had their chalk numbers when I was there), and creating ADA-compliant rooms.
Of course, the whole point of Paradise is to get outside and soak up some of the best alpine scenery in the world.
The 118 guest rooms are simple and spare and small, but perfect sanctuaries after a long day on the mountain. The restaurant dishes up surprisingly elegant fare, including elk roulades, good and flavorful salmon cakes, coq au vin, a pork chop stuffed with sweet onions, and the inn’s signature bourbon buffalo meatloaf that has been on the menu since the beginning of time and is, in the words of one diner, paradise on a plate.