Trekking in the Pacific Northwest

Before I arrived in Seattle for my exchange at the University of Washington, I already had an idea of some of the places in the United States that I wanted to find the time to visit. Due to the sheer size of America, it seemed like there were so many options for places to check out, and it was almost overwhelming trying to cherry pick my destinations. Whilst most of the year abroad is up, I’ve certainly hit most of the places I wanted to go to, and I can safely say that Mount Rainier National Park was a highlight. I hope this post can inspire anyone who loves the outdoors and is thinking of doing an exchange in North America, and provide a little insight into the kind of things you can get up to on a year abroad!

One of the best things about being based in Seattle is the proximity to nature- from the islands in the Puget Sound to the Cascade Range only a little over half an hour away, there are a lot of outdoor locations right on your doorstep. Perhaps most one of the most exciting of which is Mount Rainier National Park, one of three national parks in Washington and home to its tallest mountain from which the park gets its name. It therefore seemed like the most fitting place for one of our first weekend trips from the city, and by no means did it disappoint. There were countless trails to choose from for our hike, and we ended up opting for the Burroughs Mountain Trail so we could get as close to Mount Rainier itself as possible. For anyone who’s done any backpacking through the highlands, Rainier, a stratovolcano (and yes, it is apparently active) over 14,000 feet, will dwarf the likes of Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms. Its sheer scale was almost daunting to face, whilst also being a testament to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The only real difficult part about visiting national parks is their remoteness, which can make them difficult to access. Mount Rainier isn’t too far from the city- only about two hours by vehicle- but since public transport doesn’t reach the park, the only way to really get there is by driving. Since, as exchange students, none of us owned a car, we ended up renting one, which added cost to the trip. That being said, splitting the cost of a rental car amongst several passengers makes it worth it, and that being said, I would always recommend going to a national park if you are lucky enough to be living close to one.

When we got there, it turned out that we had also lucked out with the weather, which can sometimes be quite precarious in these mountains. However, the summer-esque sun was still shining even in mid-October, so we got to enjoy trekking in the vibrant heat. And it would have been the perfect trip had we not accidentally taken a detour that added another 8 miles and 2,000 feet elevation to our journey. Top tip: be meticulous in reading your maps! The added mileage ended up having us scramble through the woods after dark to get back to our starting point- an excruciating end to the hike only made sufferable by the stunning views of Rainier illuminated under the stars. We arrived back exhausted and out of water (please don’t let this happen to you), with still a two hour drive and a train ride to campus to go.

Even though the route didn’t go exactly to plan, it was all in all a fun and certainly memorable trip, making for a great way to get to know other exchange students at the beginning of the year abroad. I forged friendships that have lasted the exchange, and always look back on the views we saw fondly. The hike was a truly rewarding way of seeing the area surrounding our new home, and I would encourage anyone on exchange to get out and explore their new natural surroundings like we did.

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