snow capped mountains in background lake in front best mount rainier small towns

“Nature’s allure is for everyone, not just the people with the biggest backpacks…”

Mount Rainier small towns are now easier to access with a prepared three-day itinerary known as “Flowing Wonders.”

“Nature’s allure is for everyone, not just the people with the biggest backpacks…”

That’s what Matt Wakefield, Chief Marketing and Data Officer for Travel Tacoma said recently as they debuted Washington’s “Flowing Wonders.”

Flowing Wonders is designed to spark ideas when you visit Washington State by providing a ready-made spring itinerary. You’ll love that the ideas are designed for people of all abilities. Afterall, it does us all good to be closer to nature. The sentiment of Flowing Wonders is that you don’t have to be an ultra-backpacker to enjoy the stunning waterfalls and vistas that Tacoma, Washington and Mt. Rainier are known for.

This travel experience is great for families, casual adventurers, and anyone eager to explore the beauty of the South Sound. You get the beauty without the rigor of intense hiking as this three-day journey celebrates Pierce County’s most scenic vistas.

From the panoramic sea-and-island views at Chambers Creek Regional Park to the serene waters of Alder Lake, they got you covered. From wildlife encounters at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, to the pop-up symphony of wildflowers, the itinerary ensures a seamless blend of natural exploration and leisure. Each day unfolds with new wonders, offering easy access to some of the most photogenic and memorable spots in the Pacific Northwest.

“Flowing Wonders” promises a journey filled with moments of awe, relaxation, and family-friendly adventure. It’s a unique opportunity to witness the splendor of the South Sound’s landscapes, creating unforgettable memories along the way.

In this article, we’ll highlight the three-day itinerary. Plus, we’ve added more! Discover all the reasons to explore these Mount Rainier small towns, things to do, places to eat, and memories to make. Let’s get started!

Day 1: Flowing Wonders in Buckley, Washington

waterfall in a meadow with mt rainier in background best Mount Rainier small towns

Buckley is known as known as “The City of Good Water,” adventurers are tempted with scenic views of the Cascade Mountains.

You’ll begin with Bloody Marys (or your favorite morning beverage) overlooking the bay at The Grill at Chambers Bay. The afternoon brings you to Buckley and the Lower Burnett Road Waterfall located right off the highway. Take in some history at Wally’s Park and then end your day at the Main Street Bistro.

What You Should Know about Buckley, Washington

The charming Mount Rainier small town of Buckley is nestled in the foothills. Serving up small-town appeal, outdoor recreation is their calling. Situated along the White River, the town is known as “The City of Good Water,” and adventurers are tempted with scenic views of the Cascade Mountains. Outdoor recreational opportunities include fishing for steelhead trout and salmon during their annual migrations. The White River Trail snakes along the riverbanks, giving hikers and mountain bikers access to the William O. Douglas Trail deeper in the forest.

The town itself was founded in 1889. It was a supply stop for loggers and miners headed into the Cascade foothills. Many of the original buildings from Buckley’s frontier days still stand.

Main Street Buckley provides a taste of local culture with shops exhibiting works by regional artists and artisans. Drop into one of the locals’ favorite restaurants like Wally’s Drive-In, a retro-styled hamburger joint, The Scoop on Main, or Bootleggers Bar and Grill.

Explore local farms like Maris Farms, where there are special events each season, tulip fields, pumpkin patches, sunflowers, and more. Or take a short drive to nearby Wilkeson to see what’s cooking at The Simple Goodness Soda Shop. These sisters are brewing up drink syrups and a brand of goodness you’ll love. They even have a Cocktail Farm Club you can join! We’re putting their store on the list for our next visit to Washington State.

Day 2: Flowing Wonders heads to Eatonville and Ashford

Mount Rainier small towns live and thrive at the base of the mountain

Mount Rainier is a constant companion, for better or worse, to the small towns that live and thrive in its shadows.

The second day of your small town road trip brings you to Eatonville where you may catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier over a cup of morning coffee and a plate of strawberry Belgian waffles. Wildlife enthusiasts can drive through the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park for a chance to view bears, elk, bison, and mountain goats. Finally, head to the Mill Haus Cider Company for a sip of something sweet with a hearty lunch to match.

Alder Lake is on the list of things to do where you can kayak, fish, or simply enjoy the lake views. You can camp and picnic too, so why not grab your lunch from Mill Haus Cider and enjoy it at the lake. To top off your second day, you’ll head to the Copper Creek Inn and Restaurant, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the state. Get ready for a home-style, made-from-scratch dinner and some of their famous blackberry pie.

Tip: Boaters…watch for stumps in the water!

What You Should Know about Eatonville and Ashford, Washington

Situated at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, Eatonville and Ashford offer plenty of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. Eatonville marks the beginning of the Highway 706 corridor into the Park with the Nisqually River carving its way through town. Tackle the rapids with a whitewater rafting trip or cast for steelhead from the banks of the Eatonville Salmon Hatchery.

Meanwhile, Ashford serves as the basecamp for Mount Rainier climbers with prime access to popular trails like the Paradise Glacier Climb and the Northern Loop.

Mount Rainier Trailheads

Both towns provide trailheads into the Mount Rainier wilderness. Challenge yourself by summiting the local peaks or hike one of the trails. The historic 93-mile Wonderland Trail circles the mountain, offering a great challenge. Always be mindful of the weather as it can change quickly. If you’re a new hiker, but sure you are prepared or consider a group hike.

During winter, sledding and snowshoe adventures are plentiful at Paradise on Mount Rainier, while Christmas tree farms offer holiday magic and an opportunity to create a family tradition.

Another family tradition emerges from the bounty of the rivers and the land. The Nisqually River is home to five native salmon species: Chinook, coho, chum, pink salmon, and steelhead trout. The Nisqually Valley is known for productions of honey, lavender products, and local produce like marionberries. U-pick farms, fishing trips, and hometown goodness are plentiful.

Mount Rainier Small Towns Produce Earth’s Bounty

In addition to great salmon and fresh produce, sample some local wine at Honeysuckle Meadery. Flavors like lemon wine, rhubarb wine and cranberry wine tempt your tastebuds for something different and refreshing. Their mead comes in a variety of flavors too like boysenberry, cherry, and raspberry. Check their website for what’s available, other experiences (like coffee roasting), and when they are open.

History and Heritage

History and culture are touchstones of understanding. Native American heritage comes alive with experiences like the “Hands On” living history program at Pioneer Farm Museum and Ohop Indian Village.  Meanwhile, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad transports riders back to the area’s locomotive history. When you’re here, you’ll feel it. The natural splendor, adventurous spirit, and local charm of these Mount Rainier small towns capture the essence of the Pacific Northwest.

Day 3: Flowing Wonders heads to Ashford, Paradise, and Longmire

row of apple grove

Breathtaking views surround you in this outdoor playground.

Start the morning with Rise and Grind before heading to your self-directed waterfall tour. The third day of this journey will take you hiking around Mount Rainier National Park where road closures and weather changes can happen. Be sure to check ahead for any current information before your trip.

And if you’re wondering which waterfalls on your itinerary? Christine Falls, Narada Falls, and Myrtle Falls are part of the list. Because hiking will build up your appetite, compliment your trail snacks with a stop at Paradise Camp Deli and Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center.

Then, end your day by dining in the iconic National Park Inn, an ideal cabin experience that serves up satisfying American classics like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. You can linger by the fire, enjoy mountain views, and simply enjoy the beauty of Sound South.

What You Should Know about Ashford, Paradise, and Longmire

Close your eyes and imaging stunning alpine landscapes and outdoor adventures as far as your imagination can go. This is what awaits you in Ashford, Paradise, and Longmire.

Ashford marks the official entrance to the Mount Rainier National Park, making it a popular basecamp with trails leading through flower-filled meadows up to Glacier Vista. Paradise lives up to its name with breathtaking views of the mountain’s glaciers and valley—a reward after hiking the 5.5-mile Skyline Trail. Longmire sits in the valley surrounded by lush forests, the Nisqually River headwaters, and Eagle Peaks’ towering granite cliffs.

Adventure for All Seasons in Mount Rainier Small Towns

From sledding through snowy hills to climbing Mount Rainier’s 14,410-foot summit during summer months, the park offers exhilarating recreation. Test your courage by hiking across glacial moraines or along the historic Wonderland Trail circling the entire mountain. In Longmire, the Trail of the Shadows loop gives you a glimpse of Rainier’s first tourist facilities, while the Paradise Inn History Walk gives insights into visitor lodging dating back over 100 years.

As the snow melts each spring, an explosion of wildflowers blankets Paradise Meadows—a sight that’s kept visitors returning ever since the Longmire family welcomed the first tourists to Rainier over 130 years ago. Peak season for walking the trails, admiring, and photographing the flowers, is from mid-July to mid-August. The peaks, meadows, inns and trails of these three remarkable Mount Rainier destinations tell an ongoing story about the wonder and beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  

Get your wildflower guide here

Mt. Rainier Small Towns are Waiting to be Explored

iconic hotel among the pine trees-mount rainier small towns

You will enjoy a classic cabin experience at the iconic National Park Inn.

When we lived in Washington State, it was always fun to get away from the city centers.  Tacoma and the Mt. Rainier small towns were a great day trip or weekend getaway. One thing you’ll notice is that the mountain is always present. Whether it’s visible on a clear day, or shrouded in a mysterious mist, you feel its presence.

Buckley, Ashford, and Eatonville have a frontier spirit. You can see it in the small, local businesses that chose to make a home here and invest in their community. They play where they work and live. Mount Rainier and its surrounding communities offer a glimpse of Pacific Northwest history and endless opportunities for adventure.

White river rafting, hiking in old-growth forests, and tasting bold wines are just some ways to experience a different side of Washington.

Paradise and Longmire give you access to Rainier’s stunning mountain vistas and flowering meadows. The seasons unfold with a magic and wonder that is unique to the Pacific Northwest. Winter transforms to spring, then  spring to summer. Life bursts onto the scene, ripe with flavors from the fertile valley, and literally swimming upstream for survival during the annual salmon migration that occurs in the tributaries surrounding the area.

No matter the season, the small-town charm, family-run eateries, outdoor adventures, and legacy of the lumber and mining days of the past leave their mark. The raw, captivating landscapes dominated by the 14,000-foot volcanic peak draw you in, open you up, leave you wanting more.

Yet it’s the spirit of the people that keep you coming back. From the earliest Native American inhabitants to present-day adventurers and locals, the rich history and culture are given a new life for those hoping to capture a taste of authentic Pacific Northwest.


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