Recently, my family went for a long weekend to Mt. Rainier and Crystal Mountain. Here’s what we found ~
Gondola rides at Crystal Mountain
A cherry-red gondola takes you to the top of Crystal Mountain and a viewpoint. The gondolas seat six comfortably, but your family probably won’t have to share, even if there are only three of you. The gondolas arrive quickly and frequently. It’s not cheap ($20/adult r/t), but kids under age 10 are only $5 r/t.
On the 10-12 minute ride straight up the mountain, look sidelong for eagles, blue jays and red-tailed hawks as they fly from fir to cedar or chase prey, and look down on pockets of lupine and magenta paintbrush that grow in tidy bunches. The diversity and abundance of wildlife is a kid’s dream — other mountain denizens include black bears, Roosevelt elk, marmots, bobcats and blacktail deer.
Even on a windy day, the gondola doesn’t rock…much. Just a little, enough to get a tiny thrill.
Once the gondola delivers you to Crystal’s peak, sit back in one of the forest-green lawn chairs and enjoy views of Mt. Rainier’s glaciers and clusters of smaller mountains, including Mt. Shuksan and the adorable Sourdough Mountain. Or watch brides and grooms gettin’ hitched on the outdoor patio.
Eating at Crystal Mountain with Kids
Located on the top of Crystal Mountain, Summit House is Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant (it’s at 6,872 feet, to be exact) with almost 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. With a claim like that, I expected them to rest on their lofty laurels and serve fairly standard Food Service of America food (bleh). Instead, my waiter brought free-range chicken, fresh, sweet heirloom tomatoes. The potatoes were so well cooked that my 7-year-old stole them from me. Even the sausage (Uli’s Famous Sausage, from the Seattle Pike Place Market) and my daughter’s hamburger were good here.
Overhead, there are antler ceiling lights; outdoors, amazing views on the flower-box-rimmed outdoor patio (bring coat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and maybe all three). To keep the kids entertained, watch for the random chipmunk who might attempt to snatch a crumb (but don’t feed the critters — it’s not good for them). Children’s meals are available, but it will still run you about $8 for a burger or noodles. I suggest splitting one of the generously sized adult meals.
I looked at the Yelp reviews and it seems not everyone has had such a positive experience. I went at a quieter time of day (no wait for a table) and food was delivered promptly, at the right temperature. So I don’t know. Your altitude (and attitude) may vary, but Summit’s lunch was the best meal of my weekend.
For more casual grub, peer into cave-like The Snorting Elk Cellar. Located at the mountain’s base, Snorting Elk doesn’t boast the same alpine views but it’s a bit cheaper, and serves sandwiches, pizza and hot dogs for kids.
Activities at Crystal Mountain with Kids
In summer, downhill ski runs become hiking trails suited to various abilities. Here is Crystal Mountain Resort’s hiking paths in PDF form; many of the hikes take at least 90 minutes though, so prepare for variable weather and wear sturdy shoes (the usual). Also, keep a tight rein on antsy or impulsive toddlers — sharp drop-offs abound.
Forest Service Ranger-guided walks take place Thursday through Sunday.
Play disc golf with bigger kids — the path is free, so you can either bring your own discs or purchase them at Snorting Elk Cellar or one of the local shops. Read more about the sport of disc golf at the Disc Golf Association.
From here, it’s a short drive to Mt. Rainier. A quick word of note — cell phone service is available at the resort, but once you drive or hike outside the resort, cell phone coverage is spotty or nonexistent. Plan accordingly, make sure your car is well-fueled and you have everything you need.
If you’d like to read more staying and hiking at Crystal Mountain, check out Northwest Tripfinder’s post on Mt. Rainier North and Three Day Hikes.