Mount Rainier National Park is absolutely gorgeous. It blew our expectations out of the water. Even though Mount Rainier seems like just one mountain, there are so many amazing things to see here. There is something here for everyone, whether you are searching for waterfalls, mountain views, or wildlife.
About Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet tall and is the tallest mountain of the Cascade Range. It is stratovolcano that can be seen from Seattle, WA on clear days. It last erupted around 1,000 years ago. Another name for Mount Rainier is Tacoma, as this was one of the names given to the mountain by the native people that originally lived here. Mount Rainier has the most glaciers out of any peak in the contiguous United States. It became a national park in 1899, before the National Park Service was even created. Many people visit Mount Rainier every year and there is something here for everyone.
When can I visit Mount Rainier National Park?
The best time of year for most people to visit Mt Rainier is in the summer, especially July or August. The average annual snowfall at the Paradise area of Mt Rainier National park is over 53 feet! Since there is so much snow, it takes a long time to melt and will not fully melt in some areas at all. When we were here in July, there was still a lot of snow throughout the park, but especially in the Paradise area. Most of the hikes in the Paradise area were still on several feet of snow.
Other areas, such as the Sunrise Area and the Ohanapecosh area had less snow, but still there was snow present. Areas higher in elevation such as Sunrise and the Stevens Canyon Road are all closed in the winter due to the huge amounts of snow.
There are still things to do in the winter, but the areas you can access by car are much more limited and much of the outdoor activities require skis, snowshoes, or sleds.
How to Get to Mount Rainier National Park
To go to Mount Rainier National Park, you will need to go by car. There is no shuttle service within the park, so accessing the different parts of the park requires driving.
Distance from Seattle, Washington: 90 miles, 2 hours (Nisqually Entrance)
Distance from Portland, Oregon: 138 miles, 2 hours and 20 minutes (Nisqually Entrance)
There are 4 main entrances to enter Mt Rainier National Park. Nisqually Entrance is on the Southwest side of the park. Stevens Canyon Entrance is on the Southeast side of the park. White River Entrance is in the Northeast side of the park. Carbon River Entrance is in the Northwest side of the park.
The most popular entrance stations are the Nisqually Entrance and White River Entrance as these two entrances provide areas to the most popular parts of the park with the most activities you can do. We entered all the entrances except the Carbon River Entrance. Try to arrive early because in the summer, the entrances can have long lines of over an hour just to enter the park. The earlier in the day you arrive, the less waiting you will likely have to do.
Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park
There are so many places to stay in or around Mt Rainier National Park. Many options are available, ranging from budget camping to luxurious lodges. There are also several nearby towns that have multiple lodging options.
Lodging in the Park
In the park, there are several National Park Lodges where you can stay comfily in the park. Currently there is the National Park Inn and Paradise Inn. A lot of history surrounds both of these lodges.
National Park Inn is located at Longmire in the southwest part of the park. It is open year-round and has 25 rooms available for rental. It is a National Historic Landmark and was built in 1906. Room pricing begins around $169 for a room with a shared bathroom and $234 for a room with a private bathroom.
Paradise Inn is located at Paradise, also in the southwest area of the park. It is at an elevation of 5,420 feet and was built in 1916. It is a gorgeous hotel and has rooms with direct views of Mt Rainier. Due to the snow received at Paradise, the Paradise Inn is only open from May to October. We chose to splurge and stay at Paradise Inn during our only night in the park. We are so happy we stayed here as it allowed us to have direct access to the mountain and all of the hiking trails that begin here. Room pricing begins around $169 for a room with a shared bathroom and $236 for a room with a private bathroom.
Bookings at National Park Inn and Paradise Inn can be made with Rainier Guest Services.
Camping in Mt Rainier National Park
There are 3 car campgrounds in Mt Rainier National Park and 1 walk-in campground. The auto campgrounds are Cougar Rock, Ohanapecash, and White River and the walk-in campground is Mowich Lake. The National Park Service has a great chart comparing the campgrounds on their website. The only two campgrounds that can be reserved in advance are the Cougar Rock Campground and the Ohanapecosh Campground. They can be reserved on the recreation.gov website.
Lodging and Camping Outside Mount Rainier National Park
There are several towns outside the park that have lodging options if you wish to stay outside the park. On the southwest side of the park, the town of Ashford has various accommodations. There are several campgrounds and accommodations on the southeast side of the park near the town of Packwood, WA. On the northeast side of the park, there are a few options with the Crystal Mountain Ski area and in the National Forest areas leading up to Greenwater, WA. The National Park Service has a great list of resources for lodging outside of the park.
Mount Rainier Things You Must Do
You can do these things in as little or much time as you want. We spent 2 days here while staying in the park. Keep in mind, the more time you have in the area, the more likely you will be able to see the top of Mount Rainier. There are so many things to do at Mount Rainier National Park, so we have only included our favorite things that we did.
Nisqually Entrance is the first (or the last) place you will see in the park if you plan on entering or exiting on the Southwest side of the park. This entrance is the entrance with the wooden sign arching over the road as you go into the park. Many videos and pictures of the park showcase this entrance sign, so I was excited to get to drive through this entrance.
Longmire is the first main area in the park after entering through the Nisqually Entrance. Here you can visit the Longmire Museum which houses exhibits at the park and was the original headquarters of the Mt Rainier National Park when it was first established. Here you can also find various amenities such as picnic areas, lodging, restrooms, and food. Many beautiful trails leave from Longmire. Some notable trails include the Eagle Peak Trail, Carter Falls Trail, Comet Falls, and Van Trump Park Trail.
In between Longmire and Paradise, you can find Narada Falls. There is a small parking lot here and a trail that goes down and around to see the falls. The parking lot is actually at the top of the waterfall, but you can’t really see much of the waterfall until you walk down to the bottom. The Narada Falls trail is 0.3 miles and easy, but steep. It is worth it as it is a gorgeous waterfall created by the Paradise River cascading down a rocky cliff face. Also, while in the area, keep on the look out for wild grouse. Around this area, we saw a wild grouse and heard many more. They look like little chickens and make a cooing sound. In the summer they are all around the area, making their signature cooing sound that almost sounds like an owl.
On clear days, there are beautiful views of Mt Rainier from Paradise. When we visited Paradise in July, there was so much snow! This is the snowiest part of the park that can be accessed by car. In the summer, wildflowers fill the fields and in the winter the same areas can be used for skiing and sledding.
Paradise Visitor Center is located in the Paradise part of the park. This area of the park is the closest you can get to Mount Rainier by car. Most expeditions to summit Mount Rainier leave from here. In this area, there is also the Paradise Inn with food and a gift shop. Many trails leave from the Paradise Visitor Center. The park rangers here were super helpful to us in recommending trails and giving us the conditions of all the trails in terms of snow levels and safety. They have various maps to help you in planning your hikes in this area and throughout the park. Since the weather changes quickly here, you may have to do a different trail or activity than you originally planned.
On the trails in this area, there are many volunteer park rangers on the trail and at areas of interest to give you more information or help you with your trip. We talked to one park ranger for a while on the trail to Panorama Point that gave a lot information about the types of wildflowers growing at the time and the animals that we out and about. They are very helpful in aiding you to have the best trip possible.
Myrtle Falls is a gorgeous, 60 foot waterfall from the Paradise area. The Myrtle Falls Trail is a 0.8 mile out and back trail that begins from the Paradise Visitor Center. This is the way that we chose to see Myrtle Falls. When you arrive to Myrtle Falls, there is an overlook and a small bridge that allows you to stand at the top of the falls. When we went in July, almost the entire trail was completely covered in snow. An animal that is often seen near the falls is the hoary marmot. The hoary marmot can be seen scurrying around looking for food after the cold months of hibernation.
Myrtle Falls can also be seen if taking the Skyline Trail that showcases Myrtle Falls, Panorama Point, Alta Vista, and Sluiskin Falls. The Skyline Trail is 5.6 miles and rated as strenuous. This trail was too snow-covered in early July for us to try this trail, but those that are able to do this trail say that it is absolutely fantastic.
Panorama Point is one of my very favorite things that we did while at Mount Rainier. The Panorama Point Trail is 4.1 miles with around 1,200 feet of elevation gain. This trail becomes very crowded, so try to start early here if possible. This trail can be completely snow-covered until July, so be sure to check with rangers about the status of the trail before beginning.
Insider tip- once you make it to Panorama Point, which will likely be crowded with many people, continue on the skyline trail for not much longer until you reach the next small area of rocks where you can stop and take in the view. It is only about 50 meters further on the trail, but so much more beautiful, less crowded, and better views in general. We stayed here and soaked in the views for a good 30 minutes before heading back down. This would be a great place to bring a picnic lunch to.
While staying at Paradise Inn, the entire time we were there everything was covered in fog and we could not see Mount Rainier. As a last chance effort, we decided to try walking up to Panorama Point in hopes of getting a glimpse of the mountain. And oh boy, did this trail amaze us. Shortly up the trail, we started to come above the clouds and were able to see the giant that Mount Rainier is. It was like a whole different world.
As we continued up the trail, we climbed higher and higher above the clouds and were able to see the mountain clearly. Besides Mount Rainier, the trail itself is absolutely beautiful. The hike winds up through colorful wildflower fields. We saw many wildflowers growing in the gaps in the snow or even through the snow. There were also many animals on this trail as we saw multiple marmots playing and hunting for food in the wildflower fields. There were also many chipmunks running around, exploring their recently thawed environment. We passed many climbers on their way to summit Mount Rainier. I never thought that I would be able to throw a snowball in the middle of July, but here you can. Overall, I say all this to emphasize that if there is one trail you do in Mount Rainier National Park, this should be the trail you do.
Reflection Lake can be found on the road after Paradise as you continue on Stevens Canyon Road. If it is clear, from Reflection Lake you can see Mount Rainier reflected onto the lake’s water. It would make a gorgeous picture. Unfortunately, while we were here, it wasn’t clear and we didn’t see the reflection of the mountain. Regardless, it is a nice lake surrounded by pine trees and makes a nice stop. There is also a 5.25 mile “Lakes Trail” that you can take from here that loops up to Paradise and gives you unique views of Reflection Lake.
Martha Falls is a waterfall located in the Stevens Canyon. The best way to see Martha Falls is from a roadside pull-off on Stevens Canyon Road that gives views of the falls across the canyon. The part that you can see from the road is where Unicorn Creek drops 121 feet down a rocky cliff. If you are interested in hiking to the waterfall, you can hike the Stevens Canyon Waterfalls Trail which is 8.0 miles roundtrip. However, take note that from the trail, it is difficult to see Martha Falls, but you should be able to hear.
Box Canyon is located along Stevens Canyon Road. This canyon was created by glaciers many years ago. Scrape-marks from the glacier can be seen on some of the rocks in the area. Here there is a viewpoint and a 0.5 mile trail that gives a closer look of Box Canyon. The first half of the Box Canyon Trail is paved and accessible. There are wildflowers along the trail, giving a wide variation of the color to the area. This is a quick stop and able to be enjoyed by anyone of any age. There is also the Box Canyon picnic area with picnic tables in an old growth forest if you are needing someplace to picnic.
Grove of the Patriarchs
Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is a highly rated trail in the park. It features a unique suspension bridge, bright blue water, and old growth forest. The Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is 1.1 miles and rated as easy. You can also hike to Silver Falls from this parking area as well. We were unable to do this trail because there was no parking when we arrived, but really wish we were able to do this. To find parking, arrive very early in the morning, or in the evening after most of the crowds have left. It is very close to the Stevens Canyon Entrance and the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center.
Sunrise has a beautiful vantage point of Mount Rainier and gives unique views that you can’t see in other parts of the park. The area is also on the east side of the mountain and tends to be drier than the Paradise area, which means you are more likely to see Mount Rainier from here rather than Paradise. The road to Sunrise is the highest road in Washington State. Driving on the road to Sunrise is worth going into this part of the park itself because as you drive it feels as if you are driving directly into the mountain. It is one of the most gorgeous drives we have ever driven.
At Sunrise there is a visitor center, lodge, gift shop, and several other facilities. Several trails begin from Sunrise, including the Mount Freemont Lookout Trail and the Crystal Lakes to Sourdough Gap Trail . The Mount Freemont Lookout Trail is popular for gorgeous sunrise views of Mount Rainier. In the Sunrise area, there are many fields filled with colorful wildflowers. Also note, this area was the least snowy out of all the areas we visited in Mt Rainier National Park, so the trails here are likely to have less snow than trails in other parts of the park.
I know it can be overwhelming with all of the things to do at Mount Rainier, so I have made itineraries for you depending on the length of your trip! Regardless the length of your trip, you have the opportunity to see the best that the park has to offer.
1 day in Mount Rainier National Park
- Drive in the Nisqually Entrance
- Stop at Narada Falls
- Drive to Paradise
- Walk to Myrtle Falls at Paradise
- Grab lunch at the Historic Paradise Inn or eat your picnic lunch at the Paradise Picnic area
- Drive on Stevens Canyon Road
- Stop at Reflection Lakes
- Hike the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
- Drive to your accommodation for the night
2 Days in Mount Rainier National Park
- Drive in the Nisqually Entrance
- Stop at Longmire and visit the Longmire Museum
- Stop at Narada Falls
- Drive to Paradise
- Hike to Panorama Point
- Picnic Lunch at Panorama Point
- Hike down from Panorama Point
- Go to Myrtle Falls (if you did not take the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point)
- Drive or hike to Reflection Lake
- Finish your day with dinner at Longmire, Paradise Inn, or Ashford, WA
- Begin the day by driving the Stevens Canyon Road
- Stop at Reflection Lake (if the view was not good the previous day)
- Take of peek of Martha Falls at the small road-side pull-off
- Hike the Box Canyon Trail at Box Canyon
- If lunchtime, picnic at Box Canyon Picnic area
- Stop at Grove of the Patriarchs
- Drive to Sunrise and spend the late afternoon and evening here walking around and walking to the multiple viewpoints
3 or more days in Mount Rainier National Park
Do the same activities listed in the 2 day itinerary, except you can do a longer hike on day 2 in the Stevens Canyon area and spend your entire day 3 in the Sunrise area. There are several hikes listed above that would be great if you are spending the day in the Sunrise area.
Tips for Visiting Mount Rainier National Park
Visit other nearby parks or national forests
Surrounding Mount Rainier National Park is an abundance of national forests and other national parks (North Cascades and Olympic). If you are considering a big trip to Mount Rainier, consider adding some of these other parks and areas to your itinerary.
Another nearby area is the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. We combined our trip to Mount Rainier with our visit to Mt St Helens. Being so close to each other, if you have an extra day, it is worthwhile to visit Mount St Helens. I have an entire guide on Mt St Helens to help you plan your trip.
Be prepared for frequent weather changes
The weather can change very quickly here. Be sure to check local weather reports and prepare accordingly. Since Sunrise and Paradise are at higher elevations, it can be colder or have completely different weather than lower down on the mountain. Make sure to be prepared with appropriate clothing and gear during your visit.
Mount Rainier is not always visible
Mount Rainier is covered by fog or clouds many days a year. We were at Paradise for 2 days, the closest place you can drive to Mount Rainier, and only saw Mt Rainier when we hiked up to Panorama Point on our second day and when we drove to Sunrise on the other side of the park. It is said that you’re more likely to see Mt Rainier from Sunrise as it is the drier side of the mountain. Keep this in mind as you probably will not see Mt Rainier every single moment you are in the park. It is hard to predict what the weather will be like, but be patient as the weather changes rapidly on the mountain!
The two pictures below are only minutes apart!
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Have you been to Mt Rainier? Do you have any questions about Mount Rainier National Park? Let me know in the comments below!
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