Mount Rainier National Park – Washington’s Crown Jewel

Mount Rainier National Park – Washington’s Crown Jewel

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Washington State has a special place in my heart and is by far one of my favorite places to visit in the U.S. The colors are so vivid, air is fresh and the temperature is cool even in the summer. Mount Rainier is Washington’s crown jewel. On a clear day you can see the mountain all the way from Seattle. Standing at 14,410 feet above sea level, this active volcano is the most recognized landmark of the Washington landscape.

View of Mount Rainier on a clear day.

The park covers 369 square miles and has more than 275 miles of maintained trails and 120 miles of roads. The weather is generally cool and rainy with summer highs in the 60s and 70s. Don’t let this deter you from visiting. Even on a cloudy day, the area is very beautiful and light rain adds to the feel of the place. July and August are your best bet for a sunny day. Mount Rainier is frequently hidden in the fog, making it a real treat on a clear day when it reveals itself.

Some wildflowers along park roads.

Getting There

It takes about 2 hours to drive to Mount Rainier National Park’s west entrance from Seattle. There is a $30 fee per car to enter the park. On busy days (including holidays and sunny days) the line can be long to enter the park so it’s best to go early in the day. On our last visit it took us two hours to get into the park when we decided to visit again in the afternoon! Note: There are no gas stations inside the park. Make sure you have plenty of gas for your exploring before you arrive. 

Two-way highway cuts through the park East/West and has a few detour areas, such as Paradise or Sunrise. Even in fog or cloudy weather you will love the views off this road.

Where to Stay

The best way to experience Mount Rainier is to camp inside the park (also great for avoiding the entrance line every day). There are 480 campsites available during the summer. No RV hookups or showers are available. Most campground require reservations. Book early to get the best spots. Note: When deciding where to stay you need to consider which side of the mountain you want to be on based on the activities you planned. 

If you don’t plan to camp, lodging is limited inside the park, so you need to book early to find a place to stay. There is an inn in Paradise, up on the mountain, but it books up way in advance.

Here is how Paradise Inn looks like in the winter.

We stayed for a couple days at The Gateway Inn at Mt. Rainier,  right outside west park entrance. It was a great place to stay, but does mean driving in and out of the park every day.

While not inside the park, you can also stay in Ashford, which is really close to the west entrance. Another place to stay if you’d like to see elk, is Packwood – on the south side of the park, it will require a 40-minute drive into the park, but elk herd visits Packwood almost daily and seeing them from your hotel room is a treat. Also, if you stay in Packwood, be careful not to follow GPS for the shortest way to the park, you cannot enter the park there (it’s a road for rangers only), you have to drive around to the West entrance.

Weather

Mt. Rainier area creates its own weather pattern, so it’s very unpredictable and usually much cooler than lower elevations. In fact, one time we went there on July 5th and it was foggy and freezing cold, Paradise even got few inches of snow that afternoon. We were not prepared for that weather in July. When we saw the forecast on the way up, we decided to stop and pick up some warmer clothes. Let me tell you — they do not sell gloves in July. The only gloves we could find were oven mitts. We considered them :-). So, lesson learned — layer and bring warmer clothing if you’re heading up the mountain.

What to do in the Park

There are lots of fun things to do in the park, including multitude of nature hiking, waterfalls, mountain views, box canyons and wildlife viewing. Here are some of the best ones if you’re coming from Seattle side. There is another side of the mountain that includes Sunrise, but it’s further away and opens much later in the season.

Visit & Hike at Paradise

One of the most known places at Mount Rainier is Paradise. It sits at an elevation of 5,400 feet and is home to the Visitor Center for the park. Parking can be hard to come by so be prepared to wait. In July and August the area is covered with wild flowers, making it an amazing spot to see.

The photos below are from May 26th – Paradise is still covered in several feet of snow and looks like a winter wonderland.

These two photos were taken from almost the same spot one day apart.

This photo is from July 5th, when the area is green and full of wild flowers. However later that day, it snowed in Paradise. So you never know.

Myrtle Falls at Paradise.

Paradise is the starting point for many trails, including the 45-minute Nisqually Vista Trail loop. This trail has fantastic views of Mount Rainier on a clear day. You can also reach several areas by car, including the one-way Paradise Valley Road, which begins from the Paradise Inn and Reflection Lakes, located 3 miles east of Paradise on Stevens Canyon Road. On a clear day you may be able to see Mount Rainier’s reflection in the lake. However, the Lake stays frozen till late June usually.

Mountain view on a clear day while hiking Paradise.

Check out Christine Falls

On the road to Paradise you will also pass Christine Falls. It’s an easy walk to the falls from the parking area and definitely worth the stop. The highway bridge adds great character to the waterfall.

View of Christine Falls from the Lookout.

Check out Narada Falls

A second waterfall you’ll encounter while driving to Paradise is Narada Falls. This 176-foot waterfall is located one mile west of the turn off to Paradise. There is a large parking lot and the falls are visible from the parking area. You can also hike down and see the waterfall from the bottom. Be careful while hiking, the area is wet and slippery.

Enjoy the Drive

The drive through the entire park is amazing in itself. We’ve driven this road numerous times and we still find something new and different every time. Make sure you drive slow and pull over often. In the summer the entire road is lined with wildflowers, snow remnants and lush greenery. In late spring, there are lots of roadside waterfalls. There are also several spots where you can see Mt. Rainier peak. It’s just spectacular drive to enjoy.

Sometimes you don’t have to hike at all to get an amazing view, just pull over to the side of the road and watch Mother Nature in action.

Day Hikes in the Park

If you’re one of those hikers that brings the right hiking gear and can hike elevation gains like a champ – these are not for you :-). We’re casual hikers who just enjoy the scenery, love flat surface hiking, and curse the heck out of any inclines. If you’re like us, here are a few hikes that we liked the most.

Grove of the Patriots Trail Loop

Grove of the Patriots Trail Loop is an easy 1.5 miles roundtrip hike southeast of the Mount Rainier in Cayuse Pass/Steven’s Canyon. The entire route is gorgeous it took us a few hours because we stopped to take so many pictures.

Silver Falls Loop Trail

The Silver Falls Loop is an easy 3 miles roundtrip with a 600 ft elevation gain. The falls is located southeast of the Mount Rainier in Cayuse Pass/Steven’s Canyon. The hike starts at the northeast end of campground Loop B, next to campsite B-2, on a riverbank, right above the Ohanapecosh River.

View of Silver Falls from the hiking platform.

Rampart Ridge Trail

Rampart Ridge Trail is a 4.5 mile loop trail begins at Longmire. It’s listed as a moderate hike. For us Texan girls it was anything but, the 1,200 elevation gain in less than a mile was brutal. The view from the top was good but not good enough in my opinion for the amount of work it took to get there. Most of the trail is very wooded blocking any views.

View from the lookout point on Rampart Ridge Trail.

The area that’s exposed to Mt Rainier views has wildflowers, so you can get some nice shots with flowers and mountain in the background.

Mt. Rainier view from the trail with wildflowers.

Box Canyon Trail Loop

The loop is a short .3 mile trail that crosses Box Canyon and offer great views of the water rushing through the canyon. This is an easy flat hike with beautiful views of the canyon, wooded area path and great views of rock formations.

For more information on these hikes and many more go to the Washington Trails Association website. Do you have any favorite hikes in Mount Rainier? Please share in the comments, we would love to hear from you.

Summary

The first time we visited Mt. Rainier, we only scheduled a one day trip from Seattle. We loved it so much that the second time we ended up staying at Mt. Rainier for four days. The area is definitely worth even more time. There is an abundance of things to see and do. We’ll be back to Washington’s Crown Jewel sometime soon.

Have you ever been to Mt. Rainier? What was your favorite part?

If you’d like to pin this story, here are some Pinterest images.

 

10 thoughts on “Mount Rainier National Park – Washington’s Crown Jewel

  1. I’m with you on Washington being a special place to visit. It’s so so pretty! I went to Seattle the first time and it was like “um, I think you’re making up that there is a mountain out there”. The second time I went it was “ohhhh…..that mountain is so beautiful towering south of Seattle that it almost looks photoshopped!” So I guess you can tell which visit it was clear on and which it wasn’t! I haven’t gotten the chance to visit the park though and I’m dying to. I am trying to visit all the National Parks and it is one that I can’t believe I’ve missed twice. Thanks for the heads up on needing to book lodging early for inside the park, good to know! I love that it’s cool there in summer as I love to escape the heat of the south! All of the waterfalls are beautiful, another draw! Your photos are beautiful!

  2. I’m such a beach/island person, but a recent trip to Vail, Colorado, expanded my horizons! Washington has always held an interest for me. I think your article just persuaded me to put it on the travel list. Thanks for all of the great tips as well!

    1. I used to always choose beach over mountains but now I love them both equally for different reasons 😍 😂 Colorado mountains are spectacular!

  3. Oh wow! Mount Rainer looks incredible! As a mountain girl at heart I love hiking and this belongs on my bucketlist! Would love to see the wild flowers and hike on Paradise. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love visiting Seattle and Washington State. I have yet to get to Mount Rainier Park. The Christine and Narada Falls look sensational. We’ve ad some unexpected weather in our travels too. I love the resourceful use of oven mitts.

  5. Snow in july? No wonder you guys thought about the oven mitts! I love the fact the weather changed so much between those two pictures you showed. The scenery looks incredible, even like a laptop wallpaper picture!

  6. This is the place I am going when I go to the US. It looks spectacular and the abundance of hiking trails is amazing! I wonder do people climb Mount Rainier? Your photos are spectacular and I would definitely stay for longer than a day as well 🙂

  7. I’ve never heard of Mt Rainier National Park, but it looks absolutely stunning! If I do ever make it out there, I’ll definitely love to explore all the beautful waterfalls; especially Cristine Falls. It’s also good to know that planning well in advance is crucial if you want to stay in the park.

  8. I was literally just here in August and loved it! I’m so sad I didn’t have enough time to do more hikes here though and would definitely love to be back to try the Silver Falls trail – and the many other beautiful ones you mentioned. Good thing Washington is only a few hours away from where I live and you’re already getting me excited for my next visit!

  9. I’m not much of a camping person so I will definitely book ahead at the Gateway Inn! I actually love cooler weather so spending a week here in the summer with mild temps would be a dream. Fingers crossed for a sunny day! I can see why it’s such a treat when it’s not covered in fog.

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