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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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