8 Reasons Why You’ll Fall in Love with Mount Rainier National Park – Just Go Travel Studios

8 Reasons Why You’ll Fall in Love with Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park Washington

Mount Rainier National Park, the 5th oldest national park in the US, is best known for its glacier-capped volcano which stands in the center of the park. Rising 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range and the most glaciated peak in the lower 48. On a clear day, it can be spotted from over 100 miles away!

Mount Rainier National Park

In 2017, Mount Rainier National Park had over 2 million visitors. Mount Rainier is clearly the best know feature of the park, but it has so much more to offer! Mount Rainier National Park is a popular destination for those wishing to escape the city for hiking, backpacking and mountain climbing in some of Washington state’s most stunning landscapes. Over 230,000 acres of glacial valleys, ancient forests and subalpine flower meadows surround Mount Rainier and are waiting to be explored!

Mount Rainier National Park is a hiker’s dream with over 260 miles of maintained trails. Trails range from easy nature trails suitable for everyone to strenuous, backcountry routes. The most famous of these is the ambitious 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which encircles Mount Rainier! The Wonderland Trail should only be attempted by the seasoned backcountry hiker, but you’re sure to find at least a few trails that are just right for you!

We spent two full days exploring and hiking in Mount Rainier National Park, and highly recommend you plan a trip to this stunning park.

These are the reasons why we know you’ll fall for Mount Rainier, too!

 

 

Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary 

 

Things to see and do in Mount Rainier National Park, useful maps, information on lodging and what to do in the area are covered in detail in our itinerary for Mount Rainier National Park.

 

 

1) EXPERIENCE PARADISE

Located along the southern face of Mount Rainier, Paradise is the most popular area of the park for good reason. Along with stunning views from an altitude of 5,400 feet, this area puts on a dramatic display of color during peak wildflower season (mid-July to mid-August). Paradise was named in 1885 by Virinda Longmire, wife to the mountain’s first white settler, when she rode a horse to the area. Upon seeing the alpine meadows carpeted in wildflowers, she exclaimed, “O what a paradise!” We agree, Virinda—it is a paradise indeed!

Wildflowers in Mount Rainier National Park

Paradise offers a variety of trails ranging from less than a mile to 5.5 miles. After two weeks of travelling and hiking in national parks, we chose the strenuous Skyline Loop, via the High Skyline Trail (5.5-mile RT and 1700’ elevation gain). If you are up for the challenge, this trail has it all—glaciers, wildflowers, waterfalls, alpine meadows and close-up views of Mount Rainier! {We chose to hike in the clockwise direction, where the trail climbs 2 miles to Panorama Point. Alternatively, you can hike towards Myrtle Falls first, and then take the trail in the opposite direction.}

The trailhead, located on the north side of the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center (5420’), is marked by stone steps inscribed with a John Muir quote.

John Muir Quote in Mount Rainier National Park

After ascending the steps, a steady climb up a paved portion of the trail yields leads to a trail junction. Follow signs to Panorama Point in the Skyline Trail. Pavement eventually transitions to a gravel path which yields amazing views of the Nisqually Glacier and Mount Rainier.

Hiking in Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park

The trail continues to wind up a ridge until reaching Panorama Point (at 6800 feet), where hikers are rewarded with expansive views of the Tatoosh Range, plus the peaks of Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Adams in the distance. (NOTE: there is a bathroom located at Panorama Point.)

Panorama Point in Mount Rainier National Park

Panorama Point in Mount Rainier National Park

Since a portion of the trail is generally covered in snow and ice that never melts, the park service advises hikers to use the High Skyline Trail. This trail climbs up another ridgeline beyond Panorama Point to over 7000’ before descending and reconnecting with the Skyline Trail.

Hiking up past Panorama Point in Mount Rainier National Park

The Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

The terrain transitions from what looks like moonscape rubble and snow fields to lush high alpine meadows and streams.

Mount Rainier National Park Sunrise Trail

Hiking across snow on the Sunrise Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Hiking in Mount Rainier National park

For a shorter route, hikers can follow the Golden Gate Trail through Edith Basin back to the visitor center. However, we recommend doing the full loop and continuing on the Skyline trail to Stevens Van Trump Historic Monument (a stone bench honoring the first known people to climb Mount Rainier, General Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump) and Sluiskin Falls.

Stevens Van Trump Historic Monument in Mount Rainier National Park

The kids especially enjoyed descending through several snowfields and spotting a black bear belly sliding down a distant snowfield to the valley below!

Black Bear in Mount Rainier National Park

The trail continues its descent into the Paradise Valley, and then climbs a bit to Myrtle Falls before returning to Paradise. The return route includes more views of the distant mountains, creek crossings, waterfalls and spectacular displays of subalpine wildflowers.

Hiking into Paradise Valley in Mount Rainier National Park

Hiking into Paradise Valley in Mount Rainier National Park

This hike is not easy but is well worth the effort and the time (it takes roughly 3.5 to 5 hours to complete the entire loop). We found the earlier part of the trail to be crowded, even in the morning. However, many hikers didn’t venture beyond Panorama Point and returned the way they came.

Finishing our hike in Mount Rainier near the Paradise Visitor Center

If a strenuous 5-mile hike isn’t your thing, try the picturesque Nisqually Vista Trail. This 1.2-mile round-trip hike has a 200’ elevation gain and is suitable for almost everyone. The loop trail takes about 45 minutes to walk and has views of the Nisqually Glacier and Mount Rainier. The trailhead is located at the northwest end of the lower parking lot.

INFORMATION/TIPS:

  • Due to the popularity of this part of the park, we recommend you arrive to Paradise early (by 9 am) to get parking. Otherwise, you may experience a long wait for a parking spot.
  • Midweek visits are best, if you choose to visit during the popular summer and winter seasons.
  • Trails that climb to higher elevations, like the Skyline Trail, may remain snow covered until mid-July. So, we highly recommend hiking shoes with good grip and hiking poles, if you have them.
  • Be sure to check weather and current trail conditions before heading to the park.

Paradise is located 19 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance. For more information about services, attraction and hiking at Paradise, visit the NPS website.

 

 

2) HIKING IN SUNRISE

Spectacular views coupled with an amazing trail system make Sunrise the second most popular area of Mount Rainier National Park. At 6,400 feet in elevation, Sunrise is the highest spot that can be reached by a vehicle in the park. In addition to views of Mount Rainier and other prominent peaks in the Cascade Range, the Sunrise area offers breathtaking 360-degree vistas of the surrounding valleys.

The Sunrise Area in Mount Rainier National Park

There are a wide variety of trails in the area. Two popular trails include the Sunrise Nature Trail (1.5-mile loop with 300’ elevation gain, 45 minutes) and the Frozen Lake Loop Trail (west up Sourdough Ridge to Frozen Lake, 3-mile loop, 500’ elevation gain, 1.5 hours).

As with the Paradise area, we always like to seek out the best day hike that is challenging and rewarding, yet reasonable enough to do with three kids. After speaking with a ranger about our options, we settled on the Sunrise Rim Loop Trail (5.5 mile loop, 1115’ elevation gain, and about 3 hours).

Mount Rainier from the Sunrise Area

 {If you aren’t up for the entire loop, you can walk to Shadow Lake and then loop back to Sunrise via the Wonderland Trail and the old Campground Trail; or, stay on the Wonderland Trail over to Frozen Lake.}

When hiked in the clockwise direction, the Sunrise Rim Trail passes first through forest and subalpine meadows before reaching Shadow Lake. (Our mid-summer hike yielded blooms of mountain wildflowers along the path and around Shadow Lake where the kids stopped to examine the plentiful salamanders and frogs in the alpine lake.)

Hiking in Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park

Shadow Lake in Mount Rainier National Park

Salamander in Mount Rainier National Park in Shadow Lake

After leaving the lake, the trail winds up a forested ridge to the Glacier Overlook, where you should stop to take in stunning views of Mount Rainier and the Emmons Glacier Moraine 3,000 feet below.

Glacier Overlook in Mount Rainier National Park on the Sunrise Trail

Glacier Overlook in Mount Rainier National Park on the Sunrise Trail

Beyond the overlook, the trail climbs steadily (with steep drop-offs in places) through alpine tundra to First Burroughs with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, and Glacier Peak, Mount Baker and Mount Adams in the distance. Be careful to stay on trail and watch your step to avoid crushing the fragile vegetation of the alpine tundra!

Information on hiking in the Sunrise Area of Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier from the Sunrise Trail

Mount Rainier National Park and the Just Go Travel Kids

Enjoy the views as you follow the trail to Frozen Lake. FUN FACT: This beautiful little lake is the main source of drinking water for the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park!

A view of Frozen Lake in Mount Rainier National Park

Frozen Lake in Mount Rainier National Park

Return to Sunrise via the Sourdough Ridge Trail which yield views to the north side of Sourdough Ridge.

Returning to the Sunrise area in Mount Rainier

The Sunrise Rim trailhead is located on the south side of the parking lot just past the Sunrise Visitor Center.

INFORMATION/TIPS:

  • Due to the popularity of this part of the park, we recommend you arrive to Sunrise early (by 9 am) to get parking. Otherwise, you may experience a long wait for a parking spot. We arrived after noon, circled around a few times and eventually found a spot.
  • Midweek visits are best, if you choose to visit during the popular summer and winter seasons.
  • The road to Sunrise usually opens in late June or early July and closes in late September to early October depending upon conditions.

 

The Sunrise Area parking lot in Mount Rainier National Park

Sunrise is located 60 miles northeast of the Nisqually Entrance and 14 miles northwest of the Sunrise/White River turnoff on Highway 410. For more information about services, attraction and hiking at Sunrise, visit the NPS website.

 

3) CHASE WATERFALLS

Strenuous hiking trails may not be for everyone, but who doesn’t love waterfalls? With all the snow melt after a long winter, Mount Rainier National Park has plenty of waterfalls from which to choose!

Myrtle Falls in Mount Rainier National Park

The half-mile hike to Myrtle Falls (1-mile RT and 100’ elevation gain) is a must-do if you are visiting Mount Rainier. Take the paved Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls for a stunning view of the summit and admire the wildflowers along the way!

Myrtle Falls in Mount Rainier National Park

The trailhead is located behind the Paradise Visitor Center. This trail is suitable for wheelchairs with help (due to the elevation) and strollers.

Located east of Longmire and along the main park road, Christine Falls is one of the most easily accessible falls. You can descend 100’ to an iconic view of the lower falls framed by a historic stone bridge. Use the pullout just beyond the stone bridge for parking.

We could have used a couple more days to explore all the waterfalls in Mount Rainier! We hear that both Silver Falls and Narada Falls are both worth the visit. Silver Falls are accessible via a 3-mile loop trail which winds through old growth forest and along the Ohanapecosh River. Apparently, these falls are quite impressive and run all year long! Narada Falls are located just west of the road to Paradise, and an overlook is accessible via a short but steep trail. If you love hiking to less visited falls, consider Comet Falls or Carter and Madcap Falls—all in the Longmire area.

 

    4) WALK AMONG GIANTS AT THE GROVE OF THE PATRIARCHS 

    Due to its accessibility and short length, the Grove of the Patriarchs is one of the most popular hikes in Mount Rainier. Some of the biggest and oldest trees in the Cascades stand tall here, and you can’t help but be in awe of these ancient giants.

    Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier National Park

    Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier National Park

    This 1.3 mile-loop trail winds along the Ohanapecosh River through canopied old-growth forest. One of the highlights of this trail is the suspension bridge which crosses the Ohanapecosh River and leads to an island where the grove resides. This bridge has just enough bounce to add a little fun to the walk!  

    Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park

    Bridge across the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park

    After crossing the bridge, follow the boardwalk loop to walk among 1,000-year-old Western red-cedars, Douglas-firs and Western hemlocks. Green moss clings to these ancient trees that tower over visitors and lends a magical feel to this grove. Isolated on the island, these trees have been naturally protected from forest fires, allowing them to grow to their enormous size. Some measure over 30 feet in circumference and stand more than 300 feet tall!

    Walking on the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier

    Walking on the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier

    INFORMATION/TIPS:

    • The parking lot is small and only accommodates about two dozen cars. It is generally full in the summer, so go early or late in the day if you prefer to avoid the crowds.
    • There are bathrooms located near the trailhead.
    • Ohanapecosh is not open in the winter.
    • The east side of the park tends to be drier and sunnier than the west side, so this may be a good destination on days when Paradise and Longmire and are foggy and wet.

    Walking on the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier

    The Grove of the Patriarchs is located in the southeast part of the park, just west of the Stevens Canyon entrance on the Ohanapecosh River. For more information about this trail and the Ohanapecosh area, visit the NPS website.

     

        5) PLAY IN THE SNOW

        Paradise has been named “the snowiest place on earth,” as it receives an average of 680 inches of snow per year! Snow fields on the high trails can linger into summer. Our kids loved encountering snow on the Skyline Trail in mid-July!

        Playing in the snow in Mount Rainier National Park

        Playing in the snow in Mount Rainier National Park

        However, if you prefer the cold, a winter visit might be for you! Paradise is also a winter wonderland and popular destination for winter recreation activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding. Skiing and snowboarding are even allowed once the snowfall exceeds five feet (to protect exposed vegetation). Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also popular in the Longmire area which is also accessible year-round.

        Winter access is only available from the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park. For more information on winter recreation opportunities at Mount Rainier National Park, visit the NPS website.

        6) PHOTOGRAPH ALPINE LAKES

        Mount Rainier is home to over 300 crystal-clear subalpine lakes with incredible scenery. Photographers visit the parks in hopes of catching Mount Rainier’s dramatic reflection on a calm day.

        Tipsoo Lake in Mount Rainier National ParkTipsoo Lake

        In the summer, wildflowers surround Tipsoo Lake. An easy loop around the lake provides opportunities to view reflections on Mount Rainier and surrounding peaks. Reflection Lakes, located 3 miles east of Paradise on Stevens Canyon Road, is also a popular spot to catch a stunning reflection when the conditions are right.

        Shadow Lake in Mount Rainier National Park

        Shadow Lake

        In other cases, day hikes are required to reach lakes like Shadow Lake (Sunrise Rim Trail), Frozen Lake (Sourdough Ridge Trail) and Bench and Snow Lakes (Bench and Snow Lakes Trail).

        Frozen Lake in Mount Rainier National Park

        Frozen Lake

        Mowich Lake, the parks largest and deepest lake, is located in the more remote northeast corner of the park. Accessible only in the summer, Mowich Lake is the perfect spot to get away from the crowds. Glide across the quiet lake in a canoe, fish the deep waters or hike the nearby trails. The road which is unpaved after the first three miles can be rough.

         

        7) TAKE A SCENIC DRIVE

        Scenic drives abound in Mount Rainier National Park where roads are winding and views are spectacular!

        Paradise Road is a popular 9-mile stretch of Highway 706 that winds its way up the southwest side of Mount Rainier to Paradise. This road is open year-round but weekday closures are possible due to wintry weather. All vehicles must carry chains from November through April.

        Overlook from Stevens Canyon RoadView from overlook on Stevens Canyon Road

        After Paradise continue east on Stevens Canyon Road and 123, which leads to the junction of Route 123 and 410 (near Chinook Pass). This route travels along ridges providing views of the Cascade Range, but also dips down to the valley floor where you’ll pass through rain forest.

        We didn’t have time to travel beyond Tipsoo Lake; however, traveling beyond this point on Route 410 takes you through the steep Chinook Pass via a series of switchbacks. Take in views of Mount Rainier and the east slope of the Cascades from the overlooks. Chinook Pass usually closes for the winter.

        Sunrise Road in Mount Rainier National ParkSunrise Road

        Sunrise Road is another popular scenic road located in the northeast area of the park. From the White River Entrance, the windy 11-mile drive leads from White River Valley up to Sunrise. Take in the vistas from Sunrise Point near the top of the ridge and enjoy the amazing trails in the Sunrise area. The road is usually open July to early October but varies due to weather conditions.

        Mowich Lake Road is located on the “quiet side” of the park in the northwest corner. The 24-mile road which leads to Mowich Lake is rugged and mostly dirt but perfect for the adventurous traveler looking to get away from the summer crowds. For more information on the Carbon and Mowich area, visit the NPS website.

        Be sure to check on road status and conditions before heading to the park.

         

         

        8) PROXIMITY TO SEATTLE  / TACOMA / PORTLAND

        Mount Rainier is an easy day trip from several major cities in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland (OR) are all within 200 miles of the park.

        Mount Rainier National Park’s stunning landscape and has so much to offer, and we can assure you that it is worth a visit! Whether you intend to drive through the park and take in views from the lake edge or forest floor, or you plan to go big and summit Mount Rainier, we know Mount Rainier will leave its mark on you, too!

         

         

         

         

        MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK INFORMATION

        Hiking in the snow in Mount Rainier
        • Mount Rainier National Park is open year-round; however, visitation is at its peak in July and August when the wildflowers are in bloom and weather is generally more favorable (low humidity and comfortable temperatures). If you are planning a summer visit, consider visiting mid-week when the park is less crowded. Parking is limited in many areas of the park. On the busiest summer weekends and holidays, wait times at the Nisqually and White River Entrances can be over an hour. Plan to enter the park by 9 am or late in the afternoon to avoid heavy traffic and find parking. 
        • The Paradise Jackson Visitor Center is the main visitor center for the park and is open year-round (generally weekends and holidays only from October through May). It offers general information, exhibits, a park film, guided ranger programs, a gift shop, snack-bar and a cafeteria. The historic Paradise Inn is only open from May through September.
        • The National Park Inn in Longmire is open year-round and offers lodging, a gift shop, post office and dining. The nearby Longmire General Store is also open year-round.
        • The Sunrise Visitor Center is open July to September. The Day Lodge, snack bar and gift shop are also open July to early September.
        Sunrise Visitor Center in Mount Rainier National ParkSunrise Visitor Center

           

          For more information on operating hours and seasons, visit the NPS website.

           

           

          FURTHER INFORMATION ON MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS

          • As you can see, Mount Rainier is full of great hikes and places to explore. We have Mount Rainier maps, places to see, what to pack, information on lodging and camping in our itinerary for Mount Rainier National Park.  
          • When you head to the park, you’ll be sure to get some great photos on your phone. After you get back, be sure to check out our custom, vintage-style National Park travel posters!  We’ll make one from your photo and we guarantee you will absolutely love it!

            Mount Rainier National Park Poster
            We create custom, vintage-style travel posters with personalized wording, from your photo!

                OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK


                  Amy and Pete from Just Go Travel Studios in Mount Rainier National Park



                           

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                          • Sarah Maurer on

                            Hey, thanks so much for mentioning my Mt. Rainier post! Really appreciate it. Your blog has so much valuable info and I loved all the pictures. Looking forward to sharing with my readers!


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