The Paradise Ice Caves and their network of interconnecting glacier caves were once one of Mount Rainier National Park’s most popular attractions.
The spectacular views of the mountains and Glacier Paradise were incredibly captivating, making the ice caves famous worldwide from the 1930s to the early 1980s.
The History Of The Paradise Ice Caves
The caverns originated in the remains of the once-active Paradise Glacier, with the compacted ice providing an unearthly blue light that lit the caverns.
In 1906, Paradise Glacier spanned from 6000 to 6200 feet in elevation.
Then, in the 1930s, the glacier split into upper and lower parts.
Unfortunately, with all this activity, ice began filling the caves.
The caverns were still relatively accessible throughout the summer following World War II until 1970.
People flocked to the cave to experience the strange sensation of wandering within the tunnels’ blue, icy environment.
But then, in the early 1970s, record quantities of snow fell, and the cave entrances remained snow-covered.
An increasing number of ice pieces and flakes kept breaking away and falling from the cave roof, some as large as a vehicle.
As a result, although the ice caves could still be visited in 1985 and were still remarkable, they had significantly reduced quantity and length.
Closure Of The Paradise Ice Caves
Eventually, the Park Service discouraged people from entering the caverns for safety concerns.
The caverns were now exceedingly dangerous, and as degradation continued, it deemed them most likely never to be safe to access.
Disappearance Of The Paradise Ice Caves
By 1993, neither the ice caves nor the glacier had survived.
Then, during a succession of terrible winters between 2002 and 2005, the glacier receded substantially.
It was just around 20 feet thick at one point and could no longer be classified as a glacier.
The upper Paradise Glacier was still there in 2005 and 2007.
However, it was receding with greenery sprouting up where hikers had walked through ice caves a generation earlier.
By 2008, the Paradise Glacier had lost all of its snow cover. By 2009, not only the lower Paradise Glacier but also the Williwakas Glacier had vanished.
What Is At The Paradise Ice Cave Site Now?
Washington boasts more glaciers than any other state in the lower 48, with a total area of 279.93 square miles.
However, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, glaciers in the North Cascades have lost 18 to 32 percent of their total volume since 1983.
Some crevasses there are almost 100 feet deep.
The three-mile hike to the cave region is breathtaking, revealing the visual tale of change brought about by glaciers and volcanic eruptions.
The ice caverns are only one chapter in an ever-developing story.
This 8.7-kilometer track is near Paradise Inn, Washington.
It takes an average of 2 hours and 52 minutes to finish this reasonably easy trail.
Although this is a popular hiking, snowshoeing, and backpacking track, you may still find some peace during the calmer hours of the day.
July through October are the ideal months to tour this route.
Unfortunately, they do not permit dogs on this route, so leave them home.
Although the caverns, as well as the entire lower Paradise Glacier, are now gone.
A valley of volcanic rocks now stands in its place. A dilapidated sign proclaims, “Caution: Near Ice Caves.”
The Trail At The Paradise Ice Cave Site
The Paradise Ice Caves were one of Mount Rainier National Park’s most popular attractions. But during the following decades, before climate change seized the frozen feature.
The 8.7km route that formerly led to the caverns is still in existence, albeit it now sees barely a fraction of the visitors it did in its heyday.
At the Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument, the trail splits off, with the quickest way to get to the Skyline Trail being to take the 4th Crossing Trail from Paradise Valley Road.
Start on the Skyline Trail, heading northeast from the Jackson Visitor Center.
Past the Paradise Inn, Guide House, and Waterfall paths, and continue on the paved route.
Enjoy a splendid look at Mount Rainier from here and a glimpse of Myrtle Falls before taking a brief turn right.
The Skyline Trail continues on a bridge across Edith Creek, eventually meeting up with the Golden Gate Trail.
Continue straight on a broad graveled route with several spectacular stone stairs and stone drainage ditches.
The road winds its way through the Paradise Valley’s high hills.
Enjoy breathtaking views of the valley and the Tatoosh Range in the distance.
After a wet crossing through the Paradise River creek, the route drops to a footbridge over another stream.
The 4th Crossing Trail takes a right here.
It would be best if you now ascended Mazama Ridge on the left side.
A few switchbacks make the gradient easier.
The breathtaking vistas of Mount Rainier, which looms above Paradise, do as well.
At 1.4 kilometers, you’ll reach Mazama Ridge and the Lakes Trail’s intersection. Continue going up the broad ridge to the left from here.
The views east to Stevens Canyon and beyond, as well as the views south to the Tatoosh Range, are breathtaking.
Finally, at 1.8 miles, you’ll reach the Stevens-Van Trump Memorial and plaque.
Now turn right along the less-traveled Paradise Glacier Trail, which ascends a ridge above Stevens Creek’s tumbling waterfall.
The route continues north, and you’ll want to spend some time here attempting to get some beautiful photos.
Then continue going across along the ledge and glacier hill towards a rockier trail.
Recently, this whole area was covered with glacial ice. Stevens Creek, which is fed by the glacier, is now only a few hundred feet distant on the right.
The Spot Where The Glacier Once Stood
A marker marks the end of the maintained path at 2.5 miles.
However, when there is no snow, a well-defined trail can be followed for a short distance.
A vast network of ice caves and the snout of the glacier were located here recently.
The caverns are no longer there, and the glacier has receded further up the adjacent rocky slopes.
The location is still lovely, and it reminds us how our climate and ecosystem are changing.
Heading Back Down The Trail
Off-trail hikers with more experience may opt to see distant waterfalls.
Mostly, though, this is an enjoyable place to turn around.
Retrace your steps back to the Skyline Route—and then return to the way you came—or take the longer trail by heading right on the Skyline Trail and following it back to Paradise.
Otherwise, you could opt for a shorter, equally beautiful return by taking the Golden Gate Trail back to Paradise.
Although the Paradise Ice Caves no longer exist, there is still a lovely walk to take in beautiful scenery where you can picture the amazing sight of the blue-lit caves.
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