It’s the shining star in the Pacific Northwest. You could spend just a day in this national park or a whole week exploring its trails. Here’s your guide to the absolute best things to do in Mt Rainier!
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Just one visit to the park and you’ll fall in love. Visiting Mt Rainier National Park is perfect for families, couples for a friends’ getaway. It’s the perfect spot for sightseeing, hiking and at 14,411 feet, it’s the tallest peak in Washington.
Use this guide to plan your perfect trip to Mt Rainier. Of course there’s seeing the famous mountain, but this national park has so much more to offer!
What you need to know about Mt Rainier National Park
First, let’s go over some important info – how to get there, where to stay, etc.
Best time to visit Mt Rainier
The best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park is July through September. It’s actually one of the best places to visit in September in the USA. The summer and early fall when the road and trails are fully accessible will allow you to see the most of the park.
Summer in Mt Rainer is truly magical.
Wildflowers are abundantly blooming, the weather is the warmest all year yet not too hot for hiking. Unfortunately, that’s when everyone else is also wanting to visit this national park, so it’s the most crowded in the summertime.
During late August and September, the weather is still nice and the snow hasn’t typically started on the mountain yet. Early fall can be an ideal time to visit the national park because the crowds are less and the weather is still generally nice enough to hike and sightsee without issues.
Of course, visiting Mt Rainier in winter you’ll see the least amount of crowds and traffic. There are a few areas of the park open year-round, and its’ perfect for snowshoeing.
To fly into the area, the closest major airport is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, at about 95 miles away. I highly recommend to spend a day in Seattle before exploring the national park, if your timeline allows it!
Another alternative is Portland International Airport which is about 150 miles from the park. It will take you only about 30 minutes longer to drive from Portland. So if the cheaper flights are there, it might be worth it for you.
Pro tip: use Google flights for the best prices, rent a car with Discover Cars
You’ll need to rent a car to drive all through Mt Rainier NP. My favorite cheap car rental is Discover Cars. I typically save 10-30% and it’s a free service. They search the top car carriers to find the best deal. Search cheap cars here.
Getting to the list of what to do at Mt Rainier in just a sec…
Best places to stay near the park
The area immediately surrounding the park is pretty rural, with only a few small towns to choose from. Ashford is to the west of the park and Packwood is to the south. Here are a few spots to check out:
- Mountain Meadows Inn. Located just 6 miles from the park near Ashford, this convenient location is also eco-friendly, and rated as a travel sustainable property. My favorite part is that there are multiple sizes to choose from to be comfortable with your traveling group.
- Crest Trail Lodge. Located in Packwood, this property includes breakfast, which is a bonus for early mornings at the park. This is best for couples or groups of 2 travelers.
- Cowlitz River Lodge. This Packwood lodge is rustic but comfortable. Oh, and they have a hearty breakfast to start your day.
For more options, head to Booking.com. I love that it’s an affordable site with both hotels and privately owned vacation properties, so you can get exactly what you need.
Map of Mt Rainier things to do
Here’s a map of the park and the things to do in Mt Rainier.
Tips for visiting Mount Rainier National Park
Before we get to the list, here are a few tips to make the most of your time in the park:
- Parking lots fill up early, especially during peak season and weekends. Get to the park early, especially for popular hiking trails. And have a plan B in mind in case the lot is full.
- There are 5 regions in Mt Rainier NP. Paradise in the south, Longmire is southwest, Ohanapecosh is southeast, Sunrise in the northeast and Carbon River/Mowich Lake in the northwest. Not all areas of the park are connected to each other so you’ll likely be doing a lot of driving if you want to see them all!
- The weather can change in an instant on the mountain, even in the summertime. Be prepared with extra layers at all time.
What to pack for Mount Rainier
If you’re short on time and/or not planning to hike, your packing list will be shorter. But be prepared with enough food, clothing and essentials regardless of your vacation style.
- Bear spray. Black bears live in the PNW and Mount Rainier NP. If you’re flying, you’ll have to grab bear spray when you arrive. If you’re road tripping to the park, get it in advance of your trip and bring it with.
- Layers for every occasion. Well, almost every one! Depending on the season, you’ll want to pack accordingly. The weather changes quickly, especially in higher elevations throughout the park. Plan accordingly.
- Hiking backpack. If you’re planning on anything over a mile, this hiking backpack will hold all your water, snacks and gear. It’s especially helpful to have a backpack specifically made for hiking because it takes the weight off your back and shoulders (seriously like magic). This is my favorite hiking backpack, I can’t recommend it enough!
- Hiking shoes and socks. The trails in the park have a variety of terrain, and you want to keep yourself stable and provide the right amount of support. These are my favorite hiking shoes I wore to Mt Rainier (and lots of other national parks). And don’t forget hiking socks! Look for moisture wicking socks with no or thin seams to avoid blisters.
- Hiking poles. Some of these inclines are no joke. And unless you’ve had a lot of experience hiking in the Pacific Northwest, these hiking poles will save you. Seriously.
- Food and water. I can’t stress this enough, especially if you’re planning to hike. The park has limited services and you don’t want to be stuck in a bad situation.
Alright enough chatting already! Let’s get to the best things to do!
Best things to do Mt Rainier
This is it! The best sights and top spots to hike within the park. Eeek! I’m so excited for you to see it.
Note: each item below will include the area within the park, for easier planning purposes.
1. Drive the scenic south side
Region: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh
Best for: sightseeing
The park has great views of Mt Rainier. But the south drive from the Nisqually Enrance to the Stevens Canyon Entrance – or vice versa – is incredible! The 42-mile stretch of road will leave you speechless!
Both routes are beautiful, and because it’s not a loop, taking the scenic drive will require you to also take it back. Unless you’re staying in Packwood, then you could do a loop to your hotel or cabin.
From the Nisqually Entrance on the west side, the scenic road is called Paradise Rd E. Once you get past the Paradise area, the road turns into Stevens Canyon Road, which goes through to the Stevens Canyon Entrance.
It’s such an incredibly scenic area, and reminds me of the Trail Ridge Road, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado. Highly recommend!
2. Hike the Skyline Loop Trail (one of the most popular things to do in Mt Rainier)
Best for: seeing Mt Rainier up close
The Skyline Loop Trail is the most popular in the park. Which also means it’s the busiest! Located in the Paradise area of the park, this is the closest you can physically get to the mountain (aside from climbing it, which is actually an option from Skyline Trail, too).
If you decide to hike here, you’ll want to get to the trailhead by 8:00 am during peak travel days.
One of the reasons this trail is so popular is because there are so many options. You can do the full Skyline Loop Trail which is 5.5 miles and 1,788 feet elevation gain. It’s a spectacular day hike!
If you don’t want to do the entire Skyline Loop Trail, you can also do the Alta Vista Trail which is an offshoot of the full trail. It begins in the same spot but wanders through Paradise a little differently. It’s 1.8 miles and 616 feet elevation gain.
Visitors can stop off at the Jackson Visitor Center for restrooms and a quick snack before or after the hike.
3. See the gorgeous Reflection Lakes
Best for: sightseeing
Just to the east of the Jackson Visitor Center and still in the Paradise area is the gorgeous Reflection Lakes. Often times the reflection of Mt Rainier can be seen in the lakes.
There’s a decent sized parking area along the road. If you’re only doing a day trip to Mt Rainier or are just planning on sightseeing, this is a must stop!
This is one of the top things to do at Mt Rainier National Park. 💯
Pro tip: the best time for smooth water is early morning and closer to sunset, when the wind is calmest.
4. Chase waterfalls (one of my favorites on this list of things to do in Mt Rainier)
Region: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh
Best for: sightseeing
This is one of the most fun things to do in Mt Rainier National Park! Similar to the time I chased the best waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains like Grotto Falls, Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls and so many more. There are some that can be seen from the road and some you’ll need to hike to get to.
Whatever your travel style, these flowing waters are a beauty to see in real life!
Roadside waterfalls Mt Rainier
- Falls Creek
- Sunbeam Creek
- Christine Falls
- Narada Falls
Waterfall hikes Mt Rainier
- Silver Falls Loop
- Comet Falls
- Myrtle Falls (see #13 below)
5. Experience wildflowers or fall foliage
Region: all of them
Best for: anyone visiting the park
One of the most spectacular things about Mt Rainier National Park is it’s fragile ecosystem. Having just a short summer, the flora and fauna throughout the park really give it their all during the couple months they’re allowed to shine!
Of course every year is different, but on average the peak of wildflower season is the first week in August. And the peak of fall foliage is the last week in September.
During this time, crowds flock to the mountain to see the bright colors. And let me tell you – it’s gorgeous!
You’ll find fields of pink, purple and yellow wildflowers in the summer throughout the park. And in the fall, those fields turn to bright orange and reds – stunning!
The best places to see color throughout the park are near the Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise (the Skyline Trail is phenomenal for this) and the fields near the Sunrise Visitor Center.
6. See the oldest (and coolest) trees in the park
Best for: light hiking, young kids
In the southeast part of the park are some of the coolest sights you’ll see – trees! Which is a bit ironic considering just how many trees you’ll see while driving in and around the park. But these ones are the most special.
The Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is a show-stopper. It’s a lighter trail at just 1.1 miles and 52 feet in elevation gain. And getting there is a bit of an adventure, over a swinging bridge above a creek.
The best part is seeing the massive trees over 1,000 years old. It’s like walking through a fairytale forest! The closest thing I can relate it to is seeing the giants in Sequoia National Park.
One of the trail’s features are the Twin Douglas-firs. Kids and adults alike will have fun taking photos by these trees.
Just be sure to stay on the path and be respectful. Each step off the trail damages and compacts the dirt surrounding the trees.
Editor note: at the time of publication the trail is closed for maintenance. Due to flooding in late 2021, the bridge suffered major damage. Check this website for trail updates and reopening timelines.
Mt Rainier: things to do
Can you believe this list? We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the awesome things to do in Mt Rainier! Let’s keep going…
7. Hike the Tolmie Peak Lookout Trail (one of the best hikes on this list of things to do in Mt Rainier)
Region: Carbon River/Mowich Lake
Best for: awesome hiking views
One of the most remote areas of the park is the Carbon River/Mowich Lake in the northeast.
That’s because back in 2006 the Carbon River Road flooded and the park never reopened it for vehicles. Instead, bicycle and pedestrian traffic are allowed. So if you make it down to that area, you’ll see a lot of bikers taking advantage of the paved mountain roads.
However, you can still access Mowich Lake and the Tolmie Peak Lookout Trailhead. It’s accessible via a rough gravel road and is best used in the summer months when it’s dry. High clearance or 4×4 vehicles are highly recommended on this road.
Because of the remoteness and challeges getting there, the Tolmie Peak Lookout Trail is one of the best trails with the fewest hikers. Coming in at 5.6 miles and 1541 feet in elevation gain, it’s a good day hike too.
You’ll pass Eunice Lake and Mowich Lakes during the hike, which are simply beautiful PNW lakes. At the end of the up-and-back trail, you’ll see the Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout Tower. It’s worth the climb!
8. Get inspired at Inspiration Point
Best for: sightseeing
While driving from Ohanapecosh to Paradise on Stevens Canyon Road, you’ll turn the corner and get a breathtaking view of Mt Rainier. That’s Inspiration Point!
Take a moment to pull over (there’s just space for a couple cars at a time) and get inspired by the incredible views in front of you. There are so many places in the park with great views (many of them mentioned here), but this one will definitely sneak up on ya!
9. Hike to Bench and Snow Lakes
Best for: serene, alpine lakes
Overshadowed by the popular Skyline Loop Trail and nearby Reflection Lakes, the Bench and Snow Lake Trail are way less crowded and way more relaxing!
The beautiful lakes are on the eastern side of Paradise, with the trailhead being along the Stevens Canyon Road. The full trail is 2.5 miles round trip, with 700 feet in elevation gain.
This is personally one of my favorite hikes in the park! It reminds me of hiking Avalanche Lake Trail in Glacier National Park, actually. The lakes are gorgeous and it has fields of wildflowers and the ups-and-downs on the trail make it fun to hike.
This trail is also proof that you can see beautiful scenery without the mountain, as there are very few views of Mount Rainier on the trail.
Pro tip: the parking area is small for this trail. Either get there early or have a plan B and come back later.
10. Kayak on Snow Lake
Best for: serene, alpine lakes
There are only a few lakes in Mt Rainier National Park that allow non-motorized boating. So if you want to kayak or paddleboard a gorgeous lake within the park, you’ll have to plan ahead.
It’s one of the most unique things to do in Mt Rainier National Park, and worth it to explore the water in a way that most don’t get to do!
This will work well if you’re local to the area and driving. But bring your folding kayak to the lake and launch at Snow Lake! A lightweight kayak is about 20 pounds, which is doable for the 1.25 miles there and 1.25 miles back.
11. Check out Sunrise Point Lookout
Best for: sightseeing
On your way to the Sunrise Visitor Center along Sunrise Park Road, there is a beautiful lookout with incredible scenery. This is one of those overlooks where you can hop out and back in within a minute, or you could spend 30 minutes sitting and staring at this beautiful park.
At the lookout you’ll see the beautiful Palisades Lakes below. If you’re looking for a challenging day hike, the trail head for this 7.2 mile, 1633 feet elevation gain trail is right at the lookout.
Aptly named, this is one of the best spots to be during sunrise. I can see why!
12. Eat ice cream
Region: Paradise or Sunrise
Best for: a sweet treat
I know, I know. It’s probably the last thing you expected to see on a list of things to do Mt Rainier. But as someone who’s literally planned an entire vacation down the Pacific Coast Highway in California seeking the best ice cream spots, I pretty much look for ice cream everywhere.
Anyway, the Jackson Visitor Center and Sunrise Visitor Center have some food and drinks. They can sell out of any type of food item daily, especially during peak season. So while I cannot guarantee they’ll be in stock, I will say it’s a mighty delicious sweet treat when there are ice cream bars available!
13. Visit Myrtle Falls (one of the most popular things to do in Mount Rainier)
Best for: chasing waterfalls
The easiest hiking trail in the Paradise area, I’d consider this more of a walk. You can hike to Myrtle Falls via the Skyline Loop Trail.
With just 0.8 miles and elevation gain of only 150 feet, this one is fully accessible and great for strollers, too. Note there is a section of steps right at the overlook. But you can see scenic views without going down the steps, too.
It’s a paved path, but close-toes shoes are best here.
14. See a glacier
Best for: sightseeing
Fun fact: there are 25 glaciers within Mt Rainier National Park, which is more than any other mountain in the continental US! Which is ironic, considering it’s actually difficult to see glaciers in Glacier National Park.
One of the best overlooks to see glaciers in Mt Rainier is the Emmons Vista Overlook. Located just off the parking lot at Sunrise, you walk down a really short path to the overlook.
There’s two viewpoints really close to each other, both offering spectacular views of the mountain and the glacier.
More things to do in Mt Rainier
Well we’re over half way done with this mega list of things to do Mt Rainier. Hopefully you’ve added a few Mt Rainier attractions to your park itinerary. Here’s more of the park!
15. Check out Box Canyon (a popular attraction on this list of things to do in Mt Rainier)
Best for: sightseeing
This is one of those stops that you should definitely do if you’re driving through on Stevens Canyon Road. There’s a pretty decent sized parking lot with restrooms here, so it’s a convenient place to stretch your legs.
Just off the parking lot, on the south side of the road is a cool lookout. You can’t see all the way into the canyon from here, so I recommend taking the 0.3 mile loop to get a better look.
It’s a paved path that’s stroller and wheelchair friendly (turning back at the bridge as necessary).
Anyway, the reason this stop should be on your list is that there’s a mighty river that has carved an incredibly deep canyon into the rock. The river is only 13 feet wide at it’s widest point, but from the top of the canyon to the base where the river flows is 115 feet!
You can stand directly over the river and canyon on a bridge looking straight down. Just don’t drop anything!
16. Stay at Paradise Inn
Best for: relaxation with cool views
If you’re looking for a classic stay in Mt Rainier, then try the Paradise Inn. Built in 1916, it’s a historic property with basic accommodations. If you’re looking for lots of amenities, this isn’t the place for you.
However, if you want a peaceful spot to lay your head in the heart of the park, then this will do! Oh, and be sure to catch the stargazing at night. At this elevation and barely any night light pollution, it’s pretty amazing!
I’ll warn ya though – you’ll need to make reservations far in advance (like the season before). The Paradise Inn is closed during the winter months (typically October through mid-May), and reservations fill up far in advance.
17. Drive Chinook Pass and see Tipsoo Lake
Best for: sightseeing
If you’re staying north of the park – like in Enumclaw or Greenwater – you can take the scenic route to the far eastern part of the park, at Tipsoo Lake.
It’s a gorgeous drive through tall trees, and such a joy when the mountain peeks out! It’s actually one of my favorite things to do in Mt Rainier because it’s so scenic.
The Chinook Pass is a scenic drive in Washington State from Enumclaw to the town of Naches. The road goes through the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and of course, Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a 92-mile stretch of road that is simply beautiful.
Driving from Enumclaw to the Tipsoo Lake is a fun drive, and a unique way to see Mt Rainier NP! There’s a fairly large parking lot at Tipsoo Lake, and one of the best hikes in Mt Rainier is located there, Naches Peak Loop.
If you’re up for it, I firmly believe it’s one of the best views in the park! Naches Peak Loop is 3.3 miles and 636 elevation gain.
The Chinook Pass is closed in the summer but simply gorgeous when open in the summer months.
18. Go camping
Region: Sunrise, Paradise, Mowich Lake, Ohanapecosh
Best for: being outdoors & easy access to hiking trails
If you’re looking to be submersed into nature, then try camping in Mount Rainier. There are 4 campgrounds in the park.
The Mowich Lake Campground is very primitive with little services and is for a small number of tent camping only.
The Cougar Rock (Paradise), Ohanapecosh and White River (Sunrise) Campgrounds are a little more advanced, with some RV spaces. Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh require reservations; White River and Mowich Lake is first come, first serve.
If you own an RV, there are not hookups, however Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh are the most spacious for RVs. Find out more details and register here.
19. Hike the Silver Forest Trail (one of my favorite things to do Mt Rainier with kids)
Best for: young families, those looking for an easy hike
One of the flattest trails in the park is the Silver Forest Trail in the Sunrise region. I might also be brave enough to say it’s one of the most beautiful hikes during the summertime, too.
It’s and up-and-back trail coming in at 1.9 miles with just 200 feet in elevation gain. And if you’re not feeling like hiking or are limited on time, you can turn back at just about any time and still get similar views.
The reason it’s one of my favorite hikes for families with young kids is because it’s not only easy, but it’s completely filled with wildflowers during the summer! Thousands of wildflowers bloom along the trail, and it’s so stunning to see in real life!
20. Get your Parks Passport stamped
Best for: those with parks passports
America’s National Parks Passport program is a fun way to collect stamps from each national park you go to. It’s fun for kids and adults alike.
After hiking the Skyline Loop Trail, I went to go grab ice cream at the Jackson Visitor Center (naturally). Once there, I saw a long line of people waiting to talk with the park ranger and get their passports stamped.
Learn more about this fun program here.
21. Drive through the Stevens Canyon Road tunnels
Best for: sightseeing
A favorite among young visitors in the park, the tunnels on Stevens Canyon Road are really beautiful. Unlike other areas of the park where trees surround the roadway as you drive, much of Stevens Canyon Road is wide open for viewing.
As you make your way from the Stevens Canyon Entrance to Paradise, you’ll drive through two tunnels carved out of the mountain. It’s one of the road trip highlights if you’re traveling with kids!
22. Pick out a souvenir
Region: Paradise, Sunrise
Best for: remembering the park
The visitor centers in Paradise and Sunrise have plenty of memorabilia (in addition to snacks) to remember your time in the national park. From apparel to mugs, books about the park and hats to protect your face and neck from the sun, you’ll find what you need at the visitor centers.
I personally loved the hand-crafted pots to use for my plants at home. They are gorgeous!
The Sunrise Visitor Center seems to get less traffic than the Paradise store, so you’ll likely have a greater selection of items, especially later in the day during peak season.
Best things to do in Mt Rainier
Whew what a list! This national park is a beautiful destination for hiking and sightseeing. Perfect for young and old, the views of Mount Rainier are bountiful!
Let’s recap this list in a more succinct manner…
Mt Rainier things to do
- Drive the scenic south side
- Hike the Skyline Loop Trail
- See the gorgeous reflection
- Chase waterfalls
- Experience wildflowers or fall foliage
- See the oldest (and coolest) trees in the park
- Hike the Tolmie Peak Lookout Trail
- Get inspired at Inspiration Point
- Hike to Bench and Snow Lakes
- Kayak on Snow Lake
- Check out Sunrise Point Lookout
- Eat ice cream
- Visit Myrtle Falls
- See a glacier
- Check out Box Canyon
- Stay at Paradise Inn
- Drive Chinook Pass and see Tipsoo Lake
- Go camping
- Hike the Silver Forest Trail
- Get your Parks Passport stamped
- Drive through the Stevens Canyon Road tunnels
- Pick out a souvenir
Related content you might like:
Bench and Snow Lake Trail: Underrated Mt Rainier Hike You Can’t Miss
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