Julie United States 2 Comments

Mount Rainier is a glacier-capped, active volcano that can be seen from hundreds of miles away. In the summer months, the lower slopes are carpeted with wildflowers. With its old growth forests and network of hiking trails, this is an outdoor paradise for many travelers. In this post, we cover the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park.

We loved every minute that we spent in this national park. The hikes are spectacular and you really don’t have to go far to get some truly amazing views. There are many short, relatively easy trails that offer jaw-dropping views of Mount Rainier. But there are also short trails that lead to hidden waterfalls and subalpine lakes, making this is a great place to visit for those who want to hike, but not too far.

And for those craving more adventure, there are plenty of longer, more strenuous hikes that take you to extraordinary viewpoints of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range.
 

 

Interesting Facts about Mount Rainier National Park

At 14,411 feet (4,392 meters), Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington state and the Cascade Range.

It is also the most topographically prominent mountain in the lower 48 states and it towers over everything. We first saw it from the airplane as we flew into Sea-Tac and let me tell you, it is massive. You can see Mount Rainier from Olympic National Park, Seattle, and on a clear day, even from Vancouver, Canada and Portland, Oregon.

Mount Rainier is also the heaviest glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. 26 glaciers sit on Mount Rainier and these rivers are sources of the Carbon, Mowich, Puyallup, Nisqually, and Cowlitz Rivers.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano. In fact, due to is high probability of eruption in the near future, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world (do you still want to visit Mount Rainier National Park?).

Mount Rainier was first called Tahoma or Tacoma by the Puyallup tribe and this was name that was used long before colonization of the United States. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver named the peak Mount Rainier in honor of his friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier Jr, a man who never set foot on the mountain. The closest that Rainier ever got to Tahoma was the east coast of the United States. There is a movement to restore the name to Tahoma, as the name Denali was restored to Mount McKinley in 2015.

Mount Rainier officially became a national park on March 2, 1899, making it the 4th national park in the United States.

Mount Rainier Sign

A Quick Geography Lesson

Before we dive into the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park, I think it helps to have a quick geography lesson.

Mount Rainier is located centrally within the national park. Due to its massive size, snow fields, and forested lower slopes, no roads cut across the center of the park. To visit Mount Rainier National Park, you will drive the roads that circumnavigate around the mountain and take the short access roads to get closer to Mount Rainier.

Below is a map of Mount Rainier National Park from the national park service. I labeled the main areas of the park where most visitors will spend their time.

Map of Rainier NP

There are four entrances into the park: the Nisqually entrance (in the southwest), the Stevens Canyon entrance (in the southeast), the White River entrance (in the northeast), and the Carbon River entrance (in the northwest).

Paradise, which is located on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier, is one of the most heavily visited areas of the park. Numerous hiking trails are found here, including the spectacular Skyline Trail, and nearby, you can also hike to numerous lakes and waterfalls.

John Muir Steps

Paradise

Longmire, which is located just west of Paradise, is now a historic district as this was once the gateway into to the park.

At Ohanapecosh, which is on the southeastern corner, you are tucked away in the ancient forests. A visit here isn’t so much about big views of Mount Rainier. Instead, you can walk through forests of trees that are hundreds of years old.

Highways 123 and 410, which run along the east side of the park, come together to create a beautiful scenic drive with great views of Mount Rainier.

Sunrise is similar to Paradise (don’t you just love the names?), with amazing views of Mount Rainier and a multitude of hikes to choose from, depending on your activity level.

Finally, the northeastern quadrant of the park, with the Carbon River, lakes and fire lookouts, is one of the quietest areas of Mount Rainier National Park to visit. It is more remote, so if you like the idea of hiking a quieter trail, it’s worth the extra time to get here.

Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park

In no particular order, here are 14 things to do in Mount Rainier National Park.

1. Spend Some Time in Paradise

Paradise definitely lives up to its name. This is one of the most beautiful areas of Mount Rainier National Park.

During the summer months, the fields on the slopes of Mount Rainier are covered with wildflowers. The waterfalls are gushing from the snow melt, the weather is warm, and the views are gorgeous.

Take your pick from numerous hiking trails that lead higher onto Mount Rainier. The shorter, easier trails take you up to nice viewpoints of the mountain, and these include the Alta Vista Trail (1.7 miles) and the Nisqually Vista Trail (1.2 miles).

For the best experience, hike the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point, one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.

Paradise Hiking Trail

The start of the Skyline Trail in Paradise

 

Mount Rainier Panorama best things to do in Mount Rainier

The view of Paradise from the Skyline Trail

Planning Your Time: Start with brunch at the Paradise Inn. Hike to Panorama Point and then spend the afternoon visiting the nearby sights such as Narada Falls, Reflection Lake, and Snow Lake.

2. Visit Myrtle Falls

For one of the prettiest views in the park, put the short walk to Myrtle Falls on your to-do list.

Myrtle Falls is located in Paradise. To get here, it is a relatively easy walk on a paved trail (1 mile round trip).

Take the staircase down to the viewpoint for this view:

Myrtle Falls

Then walk to the bridge that crosses Edith Creek for this view:

Paradise Mount Rainier

3. Have Brunch at the Paradise Inn

The Paradise Inn, which was built in 1916, is a historic building in Mount Rainier National Park. The restaurant is open all day but their brunch gets rave reviews.

4. Take a Photo at Reflection Lake

On a clear, windless day, it is possible to capture the reflection of Mount Rainier in Reflection Lake. It’s also a great spot for a family photo.

Kara and Tim

Reflection Lake is located on Stevens Canyon Road, just a 10 minute drive from Paradise.

5. Narada Falls

This lovely waterfall is located between Paradise and Longmire on Paradise Valley Road. To view Narada Falls, it is a short but steep walk to the viewpoint (0.2 miles round trip). You might get a little wet, since you are close enough to feel the spray of the waterfall.

Narada Falls

6. Visit Longmire

Longmire was once the gateway into Mount Rainier National Park. This was the location of the park headquarters when Mount Rainier became a national park.

The park headquarters has moved and Longmire is now a National Historic District. The original headquarters building is now a museum where you can learn about the early years of the park.

Longmire is located is the southwest part of the park, between the Nisqually entrance and Paradise.

7. Walk the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail

The Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is located in Ohanapecosh, in the southeastern corner of the park.

This easy, 1.5-mile walking trail takes you past some of the largest and oldest trees in Mount Rainier National Park. These ancient Douglas firs, western red cedars, and western hemlocks are enormous. You will cross a suspension bridge and then walk on a series of boardwalk and dirt trails through the forest.

Grove of the Patriarchs Bridge

Grove of the Patriarchs

The Grove of the Patriarchs is located on Stevens Canyon Road near the Stevens Canyon entrance. The parking lot has space for about 20 cars. It can be challenging to get a parking space here midday during the summer months.

8. Cayuse Pass & Chinook Pass

The Chinook Scenic Byway is described as one of the most scenic drives in Washington. This road starts in Enumclaw and ends in Naches. Along this drive you have great views of Mount Rainier.

The Cayuse Pass is located at the junction of SR 123 and SR 410 and has an elevation of 4,675 feet. It is here that the road twists and turns up to Tipsoo Lake.

The Chinook Pass, at 5,430 feet, is located 3 miles east of the Cayuse Pass on SR 410.

Chinook Pass best things to do in Mount Rainier

Chinook Pass

In this area, park at Tipsoo Lake and you can hike the Naches Peak Loop or hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass are generally open from Memorial Day through mid-November, depending on snowfall.

9. View Mount Rainier from a Scenic Overlook

There are several great places where you can get a view of Mount Rainier from the roadside. Here are our three favorites.

Sunrise Point

To get to Sunrise, you will drive Sunrise Park Road, a winding road that climbs up the slopes of Mount Rainier. There are several viewpoints and overlooks along this road. Our favorite is Sunrise Point, which is located on the final hairpin turn before you arrive in Sunrise.

Sunrise Point

From Sunrise Point, not only do you get a great view of the peak of Mount Rainier, but you can also see Mount Adams, the second highest peak in Washington.

Ricksecker Point

From Ricksecker Point, you get a view of the south side of Mount Rainier. It is located on Ricksecker Point Road, not far from Paradise.

Ricksecker Point

Ricksecker Point

Near the Trailhead for Bench and Snow Lakes

On Stevens Canyon Road, there is a hairpin turn just a short distance east of the trailhead for Bench and Snow Lakes. There is a turnout here (GPS: 46°45’50.789″ N 121°41’46.007″ W) that can hold one to two cars. Here is the view.

View of Mount Rainier

10. Ride the Mount Rainier Gondola to Crystal Mountain

This is one of the best things to do in Mount Rainier if you want jaw-dropping views with very little effort.

From Crystal Mountain Resort, ride the gondola up to the peak of Crystal Mountain. This is the location of the Summit House Restaurant, Washington’s highest elevation restaurant.

The food is great and the view from the outdoor patio is absolutely amazing. There is also indoor seating if it is cold. Try to plan this for a day when the weather is clear so you are able to enjoy the view of Mount Rainier. Even during the summer months, temperatures can be very chilly, so bring extra layers for warmth.

Mount Rainier Summit House

Mount Rainier Gondola

For more details on hours and pricing, visit the official website. 

11. Visit Sunrise

Like Paradise, Sunrise is one of the best places to spend your time in Mount Rainier National Park.

This is the highest you can get by car in the park. At an elevation of 6,400 feet, not only do you have fantastic views of Mount Rainier, but you can also look out over the Cascade Range.

There are a handful of hikes that start in Sunrise, ranging from short, easy strolls to challenging day hikes. I recommend hiking the Sourdough Ridge Trail…the views of Mount Rainier are awesome. For the best experience, hike out to the Mount Fremont Fire Lookout for truly spectacular views (6 miles round trip). The Sunrise Nature Trail is also nice hike if you are looking for something shorter.

Hiking Mount Rainier

Sunrise best things to do in Mount Rainier

View of Sunrise from the Sourdough Ridge Trail

There is a visitor center in Sunrise, as well as the Sunrise Day Lodge, which has a gift shop and food services.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Sunrise Road is only open during the summer. The road opens in late June or early July and closes in late September or early October.

12. Go Hiking

One of the best ways to experience Mount Rainier National Park is from a hiking trail, of which there are many. Here is a short list of the best hikes in the park. For a longer list, read our article 15 Epic Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.

Skyline Trail to Panorama Point. This is one of the top hikes in the park. On this 6 mile strenuous loop you get panoramic views of Washington and can walk on the snowy slopes of Mount Rainier.

Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail

Naches Peak Loop. This easy to moderate 3.4 mile loop takes you through fields of wildflowers in the summer months. You will hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Naches Loop

Naches Peak Loop

Silver Falls Trail. This easy 3.4 mile hike weaves between old, giant trees and the highlight is the view of Silver Falls. From various overlooks and bridges, you are treated to views of the waterfall and the moss-covered rocks along the river’s edge.

Silver Falls best things to do in Mount Rainier

Silver Falls

Snow and Bench Lakes. On this 2.4 mile hike, you get to see two subalpine lakes. It is located near Paradise.

Bench Lake

Bench Lake

 

Snow Lake best things to do in Mount Rainier

Snow Lake

Eagle Peak. This 7-mile, strenuous hike ends on top of Eagle Peak where you will have a great view of Mount Rainier.

Mount Fremont Lookout Trail. If you are looking for a hike that’s not too long, not too difficult, and offers beautiful views of Mount Rainier, the Mount Fremont Fire Lookout is one to put on your to-do list. It is 6 miles long and takes the average person 3 to 4 hours.

Mount Fremont Hike

Mount Fremont Lookout Trail

Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout. This 6 mile hike is located in the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park, and due to its more remote location, tends to be a less crowded hiking trail. The views of Mount Rainier are spectacular.

Things to do in Mount Rainier

Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout hike

Spray Park. This is one of the best hikes to do if you want to see wildflowers. It is 6 miles round trip and located in the Carbon River area of the park.

Summerland Trail to Panhandle Gap. This hike is on the longer and more difficult side, but it has a little bit of everything…old growth forests, fields of wildflowers, views of Mount Rainier, the chance to spot wildlife, high alpine views, and panoramic views out to Mount Adams. It is 12 miles long and takes 5 to 7 hours.

Summerland best things to do in Mount Rainier

Summerland

 

Panhandle Gap best things to do in Mount Rainier

Panhandle Gap

13. Hike the Wonderland Trail

The Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile trail that circumnavigates around Mount Rainier. On average, it takes between 9 and 13 days to hike the entire loop.

Along the hike, you will cross rivers and streams, walk through canyons and temperate forests, and get to see Mount Rainier from all angles. It’s one of the best experiences in the park, if you have the time and the stamina.

To do this, you must have a permit, and these are in high demand. If this sounds like something you would like to do, you can learn more here. 

14. Climb to the Summit of Mount Rainier

This is another epic experience to have in Mount Rainier National Park. Wouldn’t it be incredible to stand on top of Mount Rainier?

Getting here is no easy task. It is a tough climb at a high altitude and it takes a lot of mental and physical preparation. On average, it takes 2 to 3 days to summit Mount Rainier. You will need a climbing permit and you should have experience mountaineering and hiking glaciated peaks before doing this climb. Many people do this with an experienced guiding company.

Climbing to the summit of Mount Rainier is on our bucket list. If you have done this and have advice to offer, let us know in the comment section below. Thanks!

Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the walking route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

How Many Days Do You Need in Mount Rainier National Park?

As much time as possible. 😉

With one day, you can visit one area of the park. I recommend choosing between Paradise and Sunrise. Which one you choose will depend on where you are coming from and where you are going. Personally, I don’t think that one is better than the other. You have lots of hiking options and spectacular views from both places.

Two days in Mount Rainier gives you enough time to visit Sunrise and Paradise.

Beyond two days, each additional day allows you to visit another area of the park, tackle a big hike, drive the scenic drives, and visit the lakes and waterfalls.

I recommend spending at least three days in Mount Rainier National Park (one day for Sunrise, one day for Paradise, and the third day to visit Ohanapecosh and ride the gondola to Crystal Mountain). Extra days gives you more time for hiking, for exploring quiet corners of the park, and gives you some contingency time just in case you get bad weather.

We spent six days here and still could have used more time. The hikes here are incredible and there are a lot to choose from.

When is the Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier National Park?

The summer and early fall is the best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park. This is when all of the roads will be open and many hiking trails will be free of snow. During the summer months, the weather is also the warmest and driest of the year.

The wildflowers typically bloom from mid-July through mid-August. If you want to see Mount Rainier during the peak blooming season, plan your visit for early August.

In the spring and fall, the weather is damp and chilly. During the winter months, massive amounts of snow can fall in the park. It is not unusual for Paradise to get over 50 feet of snow each winter.

During the winter months, you can visit Paradise and go snow shoeing, sledding, skiing, and snowboarding. Snowmobiling is permitted in the southwest corner of the park.

In early fall, several main roads close in the park and don’t reopen to mid to late-spring, cutting off access to some of the best places to visit in Mount Rainier.

Road Closures in Mount Rainier National Park

Here are the opening and closing dates for the roads in the park:

  • Stevens Canyon Road: open during the summer and early fall
  • Sunrise Road: opens in late June or early July and closes in late September or early October
  • Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass: Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass are generally open from Memorial Day through mid-November, depending on snowfall

For updates on road status, visit the national park service website. 

Mount Rainier in summer best things to do in Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier in late July

Practical Information

Park Hours: The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Just be aware that large areas of the park will be closed due to road closures from winter weather.

Park Fee: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. For a longer stay, purchase the Mount Rainier Annual Pass for $55 which gives you unlimited visits for one year.

If you plan to visit multiple national parks, purchase the America the Beautiful Pass ($80 and valid for all of the national parks for one year).

Get updates on trail and road closures and park conditions on the national park service website. 

Where We Stayed

Over the course of our 6 day visit, we stayed in 3 different locations. We did this to minimize the amount of driving we did in the park, even though it was a minor hassle to pack and unpack several times.

We started off with 3 nights in Packwood, staying at the Cowlitz River Lodge. From Packwood, we visited the eastern side of the park: Sunrise, hiked the Summerland Trail, the Mount Rainier Gondola, Naches Peak, Silver Falls, and Grove of the Patriarchs.

Then we spent 2 nights in Ashford at the Nisqually Lodge. From here, we visited the sights in and around Sunrise.

Then we spent one night in Puyallup at the Fairfield Inn & Suites, using this as our home base to venture into the northwest corner of the park and hiking to Tolmie Peak.

Before our visit to Mount Rainier, we spent several days in Olympic NP. After Mount Rainier, we traveled northeast to Leavenworth where we hiked the Enchantments (which are AMAZING!). Our Washington road trip ended with a several days in North Cascades National Park, which is also amazing.

We were in Washington in late July and early August.


If you have any questions about the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Mount Rainier National Park:

Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

More National Parks to Visit:

 

Best of Mount Rainier Travel Guide

 

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Comments 2

  1. Mt. Jumbo, in Juneau, Alaska, is the most awesome (meant in the truest sense of the word) place in the known universe, but Mt. Rainier is a very close second.
    Seriously make it a goal to experience this magnificent place.

    1. Post
      Author

      I’ll put it on our list! We are planning a trip to Alaska this summer but won’t be making it to Juneau, at least not yet. We are potentially planning a trip to the Juneau area in 2022. Thanks for the recommendation! Cheers, Julie

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