How do you plan the perfect Mount Rainier National Park itinerary?
The answer to this question depends on how much time you have to spend in the park and how much you like to go hiking.
At a minimum, you need two days in the park, in order to visit the highlights and hike a few trails. With a third day, you can explore a quiet corner of the park for a highly underrated experience. And if you are an avid hiker, or if you like to travel at a slower pace, it would be easy to spend a week here and never run out of things to do.
In this post, get an overview on the best things to do in the park, when to visit, and learn how to plan your Mount Rainier itinerary, based on your interests and available time.
While in Mount Rainier National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Overview of Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is a glacier-capped, active volcano that can be seen from hundreds of miles away. At 14,411 feet (4,392 meters), Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington state and the Cascade Range.
With its forests of evergreen trees, subalpine lakes, and network of hiking trails, this is an outdoor paradise for many travelers.
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.
The geography of this national park, plus its large size, makes it impossible to zip through the park in just a day or two. Mount Rainier is a beautiful park to explore, whether or not you are a hiker, which is why I recommend spending a minimum of three days here.
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.
Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
Here is a list of the top things to do in Mount Rainier National Park. For more information, and many more photos, check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park.
1. Visit Paradise. Paradise is one of the most beautiful areas of Mount Rainier National Park. 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).
2. Hike the Skyline Trail. Located in Paradise, this is one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a tough 6 mile hike but the views from Panorama Point are jaw-dropping.
3. See Myrtle Falls. Myrtle Falls is also located in Paradise. It’s a short stroll to one of the prettiest waterfalls in the park (and more great views of Mount Rainier).
4. Visit Reflection Lake. This colorful lake is located near Paradise. From here you have a great view of Mount Rainier and it’s a great spot for a family photo.
5. Go hiking in Sunrise. Like Paradise, Sunrise is one of the best places to spend your time in Mount Rainier National Park. There are a handful of hikes that start in Sunrise, ranging from short, easy strolls to challenging day hikes.
6. Walk the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail. This easy, 1.5-mile walking trail takes you past some of the largest and oldest trees in Mount Rainier National Park.
7. Scenic Drives and Overlooks. Drive the Cayuse Pass and Chinook Pass for stunning views of Mount Rainier. As you drive through the park, there are also numerous overlooks to visit. Our favorites are Sunrise Point and Ricksecker Point.
8. Go Hiking. One of the best ways to experience Mount Rainier National Park is from a hiking trail, of which there are many. Read our article 15 Epic Hikes in Mount Rainier to learn more.
9. Ride the Mount Rainier Gondola. For one of the best views of Mount Rainier, ride the Mount Rainier Gondola to Crystal Mountain. As you have lunch or dinner at Summit House Restaurant, enjoy the spectacular view.
10. 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.
11. Summit Mount Rainier. It takes most people 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.
Overlooking Paradise from Panorama Point on the Skyline Trail.
How Many Days Do You Need in Mount Rainier?
I recommend spending at least three days in Mount Rainier National Park (one day for Sunrise, one day for Paradise, and one day to either explore the Carbon River area of the park or spend more time on the hiking trails). Extra days give you more time for hiking, for exploring quiet corners of the park, and some contingency time just in case you get bad weather.
We spent six days here and still could have used more time. The hikes are incredible and there are a lot to choose from.
Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary
First, I list a sample 3 day itinerary which gives you a nice overview of Mount Rainier National Park. This itinerary includes the highlights (Sunrise, Paradise, and Ohanapecosh) as well as one off-the-beaten-path location that is well worth the drive, especially for hikers (Carbon River).
Following the 3 day Mount Rainier National Park itinerary, I give you suggestions on how to shorten it, how to add more time, and the exact 6 day itinerary from our visit.
These itineraries work best from July through mid-October, when the roads are open and the weather is warm.
Wildflowers on the trail to Summerland
3 Day Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary
This 3-day itinerary is a good place to start when planning your trip. It is easy to add on to this, if you have more time, and it’s relatively easy to shorten it to 2 days, if your time is limited.
This itinerary starts in Packwood, which is located near the southeastern corner of Mount Rainier National Park. You can also spend the first night in Ashford or at the Paradise Inn, but you will spend a lot more time on the road today.
In Packwood, we stayed at the Cowlitz River Lodge. The Packwood Lodge and the Packwood Ski or Vacation Getaway also get good reviews. For dinner, we recommend Packwood Brewing Company and Cliff Droppers.
Day 1: Sunrise
On the Road (from Packwood): 110 miles, 3.5 hours
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Spend the morning in Sunrise. 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.
On the drive, get out and stretch your legs at Sunrise Point. From this hairpin bend in Sunrise Park Road, 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.
Take your pick from the list of trails that start in Sunrise. Some are short and sweet and others are much more strenuous.
I recommend hiking the Sourdough Ridge Trail…the views of Mount Rainier are awesome. For the best experience, continue 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.
For a detailed list of hikes in Sunrise, check out our article 15 Epic Day Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
Sourdough Ridge Trail
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.
Afternoon: Crystal Mountain
For one of the best views of Mount Rainier with very little effort, ride the Mount Rainier Gondola to Crystal Mountain.
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. Even during the summer months, temperatures can be very chilly, so bring extra layers for warmth.
For more details on hours and pricing, visit the official website.
Late Afternoon: Grove of the Patriarchs
As you drive south to Packwood, it’s worth hiking the Grove of the Patriarchs trail this afternoon, if you still have energy and if you can get a parking spot. Doing this now this frees up more time tomorrow.
This easy, 1.5 mile round-trip 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.
The Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is closed due to damage to the suspension bridge from flooding. Get updates on the National Park Service website.
Tonight, sleep in Packwood.
Grove of the Patriarchs
Day 2: Paradise
On the Road: 60 miles, 2 hours
In the morning, check out of your hotel in Packwood.
Morning: Sights Along Stevens Canyon Road
If you didn’t walk the Grove of the Patriarchs trail yesterday, this is the perfect place to start your day.
After visiting the Grove of the Patriarchs, take Stevens Canyon Road west towards Paradise. On the drive, make the quick stop at Reflection Lake. You will also pass the trailhead for Snow and Bench Lakes, but I recommend skipping this hike, in order to give you more time in Paradise.
Late Morning & Midday: Paradise
Once in Paradise, 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). And don’t miss the short, easy walk to Myrtle Falls (1 mile, easy, 30 minutes).
For the best experience, hike the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point, one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a big day, 6.2 miles round trip with some hefty elevation gain, but you are rewarded with panoramic views of the park.
Once you are finished in Paradise, continue the drive west on Stevens Canyon Road. Optional stops along the drive are Narada Falls and Ricksecker Point.
In the evening, check into your hotel in Ashford. In Ashford, we stayed at the Nisqually Lodge. Another nice place to stay is the Mountain Meadows Inn. For dinner, we recommend Copper Creek Restaurant.
Day 3: Tolmie Peak & Spray Park
On the Road: 72 miles, 2.5 hours, one-way from Ashford to Mowich Lake
Today you venture to a less commonly visited area of Mount Rainier National Park, but it is worth it. From Mowich Lake, located in one of the most remote sections of the park, you get to hike a quieter trail. Over the past two days, you saw Mount Rainier from the north, the east, and the south. Today, you get to see it from the northwest and it’s a beautiful view.
From Ashford, drive to Mowich Lake. This is a long drive, coming in at almost 2.5 hours. Once Mowich Lake, there are two great hikes to choose from.
Tolmie Peak Lookout is a moderately difficult hike that is 5.6 miles out-and-back. Not only do you get another spectacular view of Mount Rainier but you get to hike past several alpine lakes, and if you are here in August, get to see the mountainous slopes covered in wildflowers.
The view from Tolmie Peak Lookout
Spray Park is longer and more challenging. This 8 mile round-trip hike takes you through fields of wildflowers (in the summer) with views of Mount Rainier.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Mowich Lake Road, a mostly gravel road, is generally open from mid-July to mid-October. Get updates on road status on the National Park Service website.
After hiking to Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout or Spray Park, continue on to your next destination (Olympic National Park, Seattle, and Leavenworth are all relatively close to here).
2 Day Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary
It is simple shorten the above itinerary. Do days 1 and 2 as they are written and eliminate day 3, where you hike in the Carbon River area of the park.
Day 1: Sunrise, Crystal Mountain, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, sleep in Packwood
Day 2: Sights along Stevens Canyon Road and Paradise, sleep in Ashford. You can also sleep in Packwood but you will have a slightly longer drive at the end of the day.
If you want to do these two days in the reverse order, this is what it would look like:
Day 1: Start in Ashford. Visit Paradise and the surrounding sights in the morning and midday (Narada Falls, Reflection Lake) and walk the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail in the afternoon/evening. Sleep in Packwood.
Day 2: Sunrise in the morning, Crystal Mountain in the evening. Stay in Packwood or another town that is convenient for your next travel destination in Washington.
With More Time
If you are an avid hiker, or if you just want to see more of the park, here are sample days to add onto your itinerary.
Hike the Summerland Trail to Panhandle Gap
This long, tough hike 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.
This hike is 12 miles long and takes 5 to 7 hours. It won’t take up a full day of your time, but most likely it will leave you feeling tired, so you could spend the rest of your day chilling at your hotel or campsite.
If you don’t want to do a long hike like the Summerland Trail, there are plenty of shorter hikes to add onto this Mount Rainier National Park itinerary. Several short trails that we like and recommend are the Silver Falls Loop (3.4 miles, 2 hours, easy), Naches Peak Loop (3.6 miles, 2 hours, easy to moderate), and the Bench and Snow Lakes Trail (2.7 miles, 2 hours, moderate). You can also go on another hike in Sunrise, since so many hikes start here.
LEARN MORE: 15 Epic Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park
Summit Mount Rainier
If you want to do something truly epic that does not take up a lot of time, consider summiting Mount Rainier. This typically takes 2 days and most people do it with an experienced guide.
6 Day Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary
Here is our exact 6 day itinerary for Mount Rainier National Park. We visited Mount Rainier on a road trip through Washington. Just prior to our visit in Mount Rainier we were in Olympic National Park. From Mount Rainier, we traveled north to Leavenworth, the Enchantments, and North Cascades National Park.
Day 1: Morning: drive from Olympic National Park to Packwood. Midday an afternoon: Sunrise and the hike to Mount Fremont Lookout, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail. Sleep in Packwood.
Day 2: Hike to Sun Top Lookout (we found this hike to be boring and since we did this on a cloudy morning, we had zero visibility of Mount Rainier), Mount Rainier Gondola to Crystal Mountain, Silver Falls Loop Trail. Sleep in Packwood.
Day 3: Summerland Trail Hike. Sleep in Packwood.
Day 4: Naches Peak Loop hike. Bench and Snow Lakes hike. Reflection Lake. Paradise and the Nisqually Vista Trail. Narada Falls. Tim hiked the Skyline Trail in Paradise solo. Sleep in Ashford.
Day 5: Kara and I hiked the Skyline Trail together in the morning. Sleep in Ashford.
Day 6: Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout hike. Sleep in Puyallup.
Tim had to work remotely on day 5, which is why he hiked the Skyline Trail solo on the evening of day 4 (he had a full time job outside of running this website). We also have some lighter days in this itinerary, since we need time to answer emails and comments on the website as we travel.
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).
As you plan your trip and just before your visit, get updates on trail and road closures and park conditions on the National Park Service website.
If you have any questions about this Mount Rainier National Park itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Washington
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Mount Rainier National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: Hiking one or more of the trails is one of the best things to do in Olympic National Park. See the full list of must-have experiences in our guide to the Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park.
ENCHANTMENTS: The Enchantments is an epic hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington State. Check out our Enchantments Trail Guide and our guide to how to handle the logistics of hiking the Enchantments.
NORTH CASCADES: Don’t miss the beautiful Maple Pass Loop and hiking to Sahale Arm for stunning views across the park. Get the full list in our article Best Things to do in North Cascades National Park.
VISIT THE US NATIONAL PARKS: Looking for your next big adventure? Read our article about the 15 Best National Parks, where we narrow down the long list into 15 must-see parks. You can also learn more about the national parks (and get the full list) in our Guide to the US National Parks. Finally, if you are traveling as a family, here are the best parks to visit with kids.
Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.
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Thank you for this info! It is so helpful as we plan a trip this summer. Would you recommend staying at a rental home or hotel? Thanks!
We typically stay at hotels, but if you found a rental home with a kitchen, that could be a great option. We have had better luck with internet connectivity at hotels than rental homes in the past and this is a huge factor when picking a place to stay for us, so I can answer comments like these while we travel (among other things that we need internet for). 😊 Cheers, Julie
Hi Julie, great write up as always. What would you recommend for someone very short on time? (You usually include one day itineraries so maybe this isn’t even possible!) For example, we plan to drive from Spokane to Mt Rainier for one night, explore for most of next day, and then drive on to Olympia?
Yeah, 1 day is tough in this park. There are a couple of different ways to plan your time, and I will write this out assuming that you will be here in the summer when the park roads are open. On day 1, drive from Spokane to Mount Rainer. That afternoon, either visit the Sunrise area and hike the Sourdough Trail (just 1 mile out and back gives you great views but you can go as far as Fremont Lookout) OR ride the gondola to Crystal Mountain. If you get an early start and you move quickly, you could potentially do both of these on day 1, just check the hours of the gondola and Crystal Mountain. Packwood is a good place to stay. Then spend day 2 in Paradise, hiking a short or long trail, and drive to Olympia. On day 2, you can also hike Grove of the Patriarchs (do this first, on the drive to Paradise). Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time in Paradise because this area is beautiful. Cheers, Julie
Fantastic, thank you Julie! I’ve been studying the map and can really picture this itinerary. Very helpful. Look forward to more of your write ups!
Very helpful info.
Unfortunately we booked our trip in June ( 19-21) Between a visit to Olympic and San Juan Islands.
What do you recommend for hikes and exploring at that time of year? Thanks
In June, Paradise and Stevens Canyon Roads should be open during your visit, giving you access to the southern part of the park. You can hike in the Paradise area, visit Reflection Lake, hike to Snow and Bench Lakes, visit the Grove of the Patriarchs, hike the Silver Falls Loop, hike the Naches Loop, and I think you should be able to ride the gondola to Crystal Mountain. What you will miss is Sunrise and the northwestern corner of the park (Tolmie Peak) but there is still a lot you can do in June. I hope you have a great trip to Washington! Cheers, Julie
Just curious. What benefit did you get from moving your base from Packwood to Ashford? I plan on spending 6 ish days there myself at end of July so curious if I need to do the same. Thanks!!
That’s a great question. Of the two towns, Packwood is the better home base, since there are more restaurants and hotels and it’s not too far from the park. As we planned our time, we didn’t know what to expect, driving through entrance gates (and waiting in line) and just generally driving around the park. The advantage of Ashford was that staying here shortened our drive to the Tolmie Peak trailhead, which is in the northwest part of the park. Staying in Packwood the entire time works well. It’s about an hour longer of a drive one-way than from Ashford to get to Tolmie Peak, but that may not be all that big of a deal. BTW, the Tolmie Peak hike is incredible and worth the longer drive to get here. Cheers, Julie
If people follow your directions to Carbon River they will never make it to the Tolmie Peak or Spray Park trailheads. Those trailheads are at Mowich Lake. Carbon River is further north and on a completely different road.
You also might give a warning about the road up to Mowich Lake. It is passable by almost every vehicle, but some will not like how rough it is.
Thanks for writing in and bringing this to our attention. We will clarify this. We do mention the unpaved road in our Tolmie Peak article but we will take a look to see how we can also mention it in the itinerary. Thanks again for bringing this to our attention.
Such great information, thank you for putting this together! Planning on following your 3day itinerary and proceeding to Olympic for a few days afterwards. Do you mind sharing the camera you’re using to capture these shots? I’m a budding photographer and just got my first DSLR!
The photos in this post were taken with a Canon 5D Mark IV and a 24-70 mm lens. We have lots of info about our camera gear in our Photography Gear Guide. Have a great time in Mount Rainier! Cheers, Julie