Julie United States 11 Comments

For jaw-dropping views of Mount Rainier National Park, it’s hard to beat the Skyline Trail Loop.

The entire hike is a beauty. Starting in Paradise, you will hike past lovely Myrtle Falls, through pine forests, and then ascend the slopes to the base of Mount Rainier. From Panorama Point, enjoy spectacular views over the park, and on a clear day you can see as far as Mount Hood in Oregon. Then it is a steep descent back to the Paradise Visitor Center.

This is an essential hike in Mount Rainier National Park and it is one of our favorites. With everchanging views and a chance to get up close to Mount Rainier, this hike is an unforgettable experience.

Facts About the Hike

Distance: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Total Elevation Gain: 1,900 feet
Starting Elevation: 5,460 feet
Highest Elevation: 7,020 feet
Length of Time: 3 to 5 hours

Skyline Trail Loop Map

Skyline Trail Loop Elevation

Elevation profile of the hike doing the loop in a counter-clockwise direction.

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.

Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise?

Since the Skyline Trail is a loop, it can be done in either direction. We hiked it both directions and based on our experience, it is equally awesome both ways.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each direction.

If you hike the Skyline Trail in a clockwise direction, you will have a short, steep climb up to Panorama Point (so you get a majority of the uphill work over with early in the hike). For this entire section of the hike, Mt. Rainier will be smack in front of you, so even though it is a tough climb, you get an amazing view for the first third of the hike. Once you reach Pebble Creek Trail (the trail that continues up to Camp Muir), it is a steady downhill walk and Mt. Rainier will be behind you, so you will have to keep turning around to see it.

If you hike the Skyline Trail in a counter-clockwise direction, it’s a longer but more gradual climb up to Pebble Creek Trail and Panorama Point. For most of the hike, Mt. Rainier is right in front of you. Once you start the downhill walk back to Paradise, Mt. Rainier will be behind you.

If you want to get the hard, uphill walk over with quickly, hike the loop in a clockwise direction. If you want to enjoy the view of Mt. Rainier for a longer period of time, hike it counter-clockwise.

If you start this hike early in the morning, I recommend hiking the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, so the sun is at your back for most of the hike.

But really, you can’t go wrong with which direction you choose.

Hiking the Skyline Trail Loop

This trail description is for the counter-clockwise route.

Getting to the Trailhead

The trail starts and ends in Paradise near the Visitor Center. There is a large parking lot but it does fill early, especially on the weekends. Less than a quarter mile away is a second, large, overflow parking lot. By late morning, both of these lots can fill to capacity, so it’s best get here early (no later than 9 am is what I would recommend during peak season) to ensure you get a parking space.

The trail starts between the visitor center and the Paradise ranger station. Look for the paved path and a trail sign indicating that you are on the Skyline Trail.

Myrtle Falls

The first part of the hike is on a paved trail. A half of a mile into the hike you reach Myrtle Falls. Take the staircase down to the viewpoint and enjoy the gorgeous view of the waterfall with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Myrtle Falls

Best Hikes Mt Rainier

Hiking to Panorama Point

Just beyond Myrtle Falls the paved path is replaced with a dirt trail. At the fork in the trail, stay to the right to continue on the Skyline Trail. If you take the trail to the left (the Golden Gate Trail), it is a short cut. It takes off a big chunk of the Skyline Trail but it is a tough climb up to rejoin the Skyline Trail. 

Paradise Mt Rainier

The Golden Gate Trail heads directly towards Mt. Rainier. It’s shorter but much steeper than staying on the Skyline Trail, which continues to the right.

After a brief downhill walk, you will cross several small creeks and then the climbing begins. You climb up out of the forest and then hike along a ridgeline. To your left is Mt. Rainier and to your right are snow-covered mountain ranges and Mt. Adams off in the distance. Even in the summer, you may have to hike through snow.

First Part Skyline Trail Loop

Skyline Trail Loop in July


Eventually, you will arrive at the Stevens-Van Trump Monument, which commemorates the location of the campground from where Hazard Stevens and PB Van Trump made the first ascent of Mt. Rainier on August 17, 1870.

Mt Rainier Memorial

Stevens-Van Trump Monument


When we did this hike in mid-July, there was still a lot of snow on the ground. From the memorial almost to the highest point of the trail, we hiked across huge patches of snow. This is slippery, tiring, and can slow you down.

Kara on the Snow

Hiking on the Snow


It is also very easy to lose the trail here. In some places, some small flags were placed along the trail, but these can be very difficult to spot. To keep moving in the right direction, we used Google Maps and hiking maps on our Garmin Fenix 5 watches. Fortunately, cellular service is quite good in the Paradise area of the park and we had a few bars of LTE for the entire hike.

Past most of the snow fields, the Golden Gate Trail rejoins the Skyline Trail. As you hike higher, the vegetation disappears and the ground gets to be more rocky and rugged. It’s a tiring hike up to Panorama Point, but the views over the park from the trail here are astounding.

Paradise Mt Rainier

Marmot Mt Rainier

Keep an eye for marmots and mountain goats on the trail.

From the highest point on the trail, you get the best view of the hike. Spread out below you is Paradise. On a clear day, you can also see Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens, and if you really look hard, Mt. Hood in Oregon. At this point you are also close enough to Mt. Rainier that you can hear the glacier popping and cracking.

View from Skyline Trail

View of Paradise from the Trail


To the right, the Pebble Creek Trail heads up Mt. Rainier. For those hiking to Camp Muir and those who are starting their ascent to the peak of Mt. Rainier, this is trail that takes you higher up the mountain.

Trail to Camp Muir


From here, it is a downhill walk back to Paradise. The views are better from here than from Panorama Point (just a short distance down the trail from this spot) so take your time and enjoy this view. It’s also a lot quieter. Many people hike out-and-back along the Skyline Trail just to Panorama Point, so expect more traffic on the trail as you head back to Paradise.

View from the Skyline Trail Loop

Kara Rivenbark

Top of the Skyline Trail

Panorama Point

It’s a short, steep hike down to Panorama Point. The view is similar to what you had just a short time ago, but it’s still worth a quick break to enjoy the view.

Panorama Point Mt Rainier

Panorama Point View

Mt Rainier from Panorama Point

The view up to Mt. Rainier from Panorama Point.

To the Visitor Center

From Panorama Point, it is a downhill walk to the visitor center. Mt. Rainier is now behind you, so don’t forget to turn around and look back at it occasionally.

Mt Rainier Paradise

Skyline Loop Hike

Hike Mt Rainier


On the way down, you can take the detour out to Glacier Vista to get a closer view of the glacier on Mt. Rainier. It rejoins the Skyline Trail so it does not add much time or distance to the hike.

Glacier Vista Mt Rainier

Glacier Vista

As you walk back to the visitor center, the trail splits several times. Continue to follow the signs to stay on the Skyline Trail. However, if you make a wrong turn, they all end up at the visitor center at some point (but the Skyline Trail will be the quickest way back). Once you start walking on a paved trail again you know you are getting close to the visitor center.

Skyline Trail Paradise

Mt Rainier in July

Tips to Have the Best Experience

To get a parking space, plan on arriving by 9 am, especially if you plan to visit Paradise in the summer months. If it is a Saturday, Sunday, or a holiday, arrive by 8 am to ensure you get a parking space.

Check the weather forecast before you do this hike.

Leave no trace. When you are in the park, practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring into the park, be considerate of other hikers, stay on the trail, and do not remove anything from the park.

Get updates on trail conditions and closures on the National Park Service website.

What to Bring on the Hike

Hiking shoes. Don’t do this hike in anything other than hiking shoes or hiking boots. There’s a good chance you will hike through snow, even in the summer.

Hiking poles. Hiking poles take the stress off of your legs and help to ease leg pain and fatigue. They also help you keep your balance on the snow crossings.

Crampons can also be helpful for the snow crossings, although we did just fine without them.

Water and snacks. At least 2 liters of water in the summer.

Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. For most of this hike you will be exposed to the sun, with very little shade.

Camera. Even a smartphone will do.

Rain jacket or fleece. Be prepared for all weather conditions, even snow in the summer months. Pack a rain jacket and/or fleece and even another layer of clothing.

Hiking Gear Guide

Mt. Rainier Panorama

Panorama from Panorama Point, taken with an iPhone.

More Information about Washington State

ROAD TRIP IDEA:  Washington Road Trip Itinerary: 7 to 14 Days in the National Parks
MOUNT RAINIER:  14 Amazing Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
MOUNT RAINIER: The Perfect Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary
MOUNT RAINIER:  Hiking the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail
MOUNT RAINIER: How to Hike the Summerland Trail to Panhandle Gap
MOUNT RAINIER:  15 Epic Day Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park
OLYMPIC:  How to Hike the Klahhane Ridge Trail to Mount Angeles
NORTH CASCADES: The Complete Guide to North Cascades National Park
NORTH CASCADES:  How to Hike Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm
ENCHANTMENTS:  How to Hike the Core Enchantments in One Day
NATIONAL PARKS:  Washington National Parks: Travel Guide & Road Trip Itinerary

If you have any questions about hiking to the Skyline Trail Loop, let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!!

Are you planning a trip through the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.

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Skyline Trail Mt Rainier


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Comments 11

  1. Hi! We just hiked in North Cascades and Mt. Rainier and your detailed hiking guides are so helpful!! This may be a silly question, but trying to differentiate your difficulty level of Moderate/Difficult (Maple Pass Loop) vs. Strenuous (Skyline Loop) – which is higher on the difficulty scale? I personally felt the Maple Pass Loop was harder than the Skyline Loop. Thanks!

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      That’s a great question. Strenuous is more difficult than moderate. I usually use the National Park ratings. You do raise a good point. I went back and compared the trail stats for each hike, and Maple Pass is about a mile longer with a little more elevation gain, so it is more challenging. I’ll have to go revise the ratings. Thanks for writing in! Cheers, Julie

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  2. I love reading your posts . Thank you for taking the time sharing all the details and beautiful photos. Great resources in planning my trips to all national parks. God bless.

  3. Hi.

    I understand that these pictures were taken in early August. Do you think there will be lot more snow on this trail around 10th July?

    I am planning a trip around that time but wanted to make sure trail is open and we don’t see too much snow.


    1. Post

      How much snow there will be depends on how much snow they had this winter. I don’t know the answer to that but it has been very warm in Washington. Even so, I think that there will be a very good chance that there will be snow in early July. You can get updates on trail conditions at the visitor center before you do this hike. Cheers, Julie

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  4. I know this may seem nitpicks, but there a couple of parts in your article that make it sound like Skyline Trail isn’t on Mt. Rainier…it is. Mt. Rainier has an extremely wide base and many, many ridges so while it may appear that you’re next to the mountain, you are actually on it, you are just viewing the summit from Skyline and other trails. To get a better idea I suggest stopping at the Visitors Center at Paradise and looking at the bas relief map in the lobby. I live not far from Mt Rainier and have hiked that as well as many other trails for years.

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