Mount Rainier Visitor’s Guide

When the sky is clear and you look to the south, Washington’s highest mountain dominates the sky covered in snow and 26 major glaciers. Mt. Rainier is the highest mountain in the Cascade Range and tops out at 14,411 feet – taller than even the legendary K2! This active volcano and its surrounding national park make for the perfect day trip from Seattle. Mount Rainier National Park is roughly 49 miles from Seattle depending on which park entrance you chose – you can’t go wrong though, there is lots to do and see all around the park.

Indians of the Northwest called Mount Rainier “Tahoma” or “Tacoma”. The modern name, Mount Rainier, was given to the volcanic peak in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy. He named it in honor of his
friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.

Mt. Rainier is an active volcano, but it also has the most glaciers of any one peak in the entire continental United States. Six rivers begin from Mount Rainier and that’s just the start of the amazing things you’ll see on this mountain.

Mt Rainier - Things to do Mt Rainier - Hiking Mt Rainier - Driving Tours
Mt Rainier - Accommodation Mt Rainier - Campgrounds Mt Rainier - Gateway Communities

Carbon Glacier sits at just 3,500 feet, making it easy to access and explore. It’s nearly 700 feet thick and is the lowest glacier in the lower 48 states of the US. This is just one of many day hikes that will provide some amazing views in the park. The trail in Grand Park is breathtaking. Some trails, such as the Wonderland Trail, require advanced reservations. Fees may apply, but not generally for day hikes.

If you prefer peace and quiet during your encounter with nature, then consider spending a morning enjoying Green Lake. There aren’t many fishing spots on Mount Rainier, but that also means you won’t need to get a fishing license. Visitors are encouraged to use barbless hooks to prevent injuries to the native fish.

When to Visit Mt. Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park offers a wide range of activities all year round. The scenery also changes, making it worth to visit the same area of the park several times a year. The natural beauty of the area makes Mount Rainier a popular hiking destination, with families, amateurs as well as the more advanced and fit that will appreciate strenuous hikes such as Carbon Glacier, Laughingwater Creek or Camp Muir Trails.

Lower elevation trails are open in the early months of spring. The Palisades Trail in Chinook Pass opens in April. In early May, flowers start to blossom on Packwood Lake Trail. During the summer, the whole Mount Rainier National Park is open and waiting to be explored.

Mt Rainier - Restaurants Mt Rainier - Spa Mt Rainier - Festivals
Mt Rainier - Lakes Mt Rainier - Waterfalls Mt Rainier - Lookouts

As you approach the summit of Mount Rainier, you’ll find some beautiful splashes of color throughout the year along to icy edges of the mountain’s glaciers. If you arrive somewhere near the peak blooming season, which is typically mid- to late-July, then you will have an unbelievable experience. Frost can hit as soon as the first week of August for the sub-alpine wildflowers, however, so your viewing window can be brief.

In winter, Mount Rainier National Park is the perfect place to go snowshoeing. The landscape of the alpine trees encased in snow and ice is simply breathtaking. Your kids will certainly have a blast racing down the slopes at Paradise’s Snow Play Area. Cross country or Nordic ski are available at the White Pass, while the cozy rooms with stone fireplaces at the Paradise Inn are a pure delight during the cold winter days.

So, what is the best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park? It’s really up to you!

Mount Rainier Tours from Seattle

Mt Rainier Day Trip  Mt Rainier Day Tour  Small-Group Tour with Lunch Private Mt Rainier Day Tour

On this full-day tour of Washington state’s Mt Rainier, you’ll visit the majestic 14,411-foot (4,392-m) volcano and learn about the area from your informative guide. You’ll also explore local treasures like lakes and waterfalls en route from Seattle to Mt Rainier. Nature lovers won’t want to miss this!

Of all the mountains that surround Seattle, Mt Rainier stands the boldest. Appreciate the beauty of Mt Rainier on this full-day tour from Seattle. On clear days, you can see the mountain from downtown, but to grasp its full grandeur and magnificence, you must see it up close!

Admire close-up views of Mt Rainier’s snow capped peak, one of Seattle’s most iconic sights, on this full-day nature tour. See glaciers, waterfalls and wildlife in Mt Rainier National Park with a naturalist guide, and get a vivid sense of the mountain’s beauty while walking or snowshoeing.

On this private tour, take a scenic drive through the old-growth evergreen forests of America’s 5th-oldest national park, affording views of sparkling lakes, flower meadows and massive glaciers. Stop along the way to view wildlife and take photos and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy amidst the scenery.
Book Tour Book Tour Book Tour Book Tour

Mt. Rainier Park’s Main Areas and Entrances

There are five main areas in Mount Rainier National Park: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon. The level of development is very different. While in some areas you will find only basic facilities such as a camping and picnic area, in others you can find more comfortable accommodation, even a hotel, restaurants, and visitor information centers. Depending on your needs, you can pick the best one for you, set your campground there and explore the park.

Longmire Paradise Sunrise Ohanapecosh Carbon River

Longmire

Trail of the ShadowsHiking Trails in Longmire Area

Taking its name after the famous American explorer and settler, James Longmire, this area of Mount Rainier National Park used to be home to the park’s first visitor center and entrance station. Nowadays a national historic district, Longmire began welcoming visitors back in the 1880s, when James Longmire opened a small mineral spring resort here and built a trail to Ashfoard.

The access to Longmire is done via the Nisqually River Southwest entrance on SR 706 and the road is open all year round. Here you can visit the Longmire Museum displaying various exhibits that will help you understand what the park looked like back in the settler’s time. Although the old resort is no longer standing, you can still see a cabin built by Longmire’s son in 1888, the 1911 Hiker’s Center currently functioning as a general store, and the community center, which is now home to the park’s library.

Backpackers and climbers can get their permits at Wilderness Center, open from May to October, or at the museum when the center is closed.

Those looking for accommodation can try the National Park Inn. Those looking for a car camping ground should know this kind of facility is not available at Longmire, but the Cougar Rock Campground is located only 2 miles away. It is opened from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Weekends and high season can be rather busy, so it is advised to book your place in advance.

Paradise

Paradise Inn SunriseHiking Trails in Paradise Area

An eloquent name for an area of extreme natural beauty, Paradise is located on the South-Western corner of the park, and benefits from all year round access. The name of the area comes from an implicit description of the place made by Martha, James Longmire’s daughter-in-law. She reportedly dropped the exclamation “Oh, what a paradise!” when she first visited the region.

This is the busiest area of the park, its scenic hiking trails being popular with Seattle locals and tourists as well. You can start by visiting the new energy efficient building of Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, which takes its name after one of the longest serving and most influential senators of the state of Washington. The center is home to interesting exhibitions focusing on mountain climbing and geology. On-site you will also find a cafeteria, a souvenirs and book shop. Not that the center is open daily only from May to October, while during winter months it opens on weekends only.

The access to Paradise is done via the same Nisqually River Southwest entrance on SR 706. The road connecting Longmire to Paradise is open all year round, but closes during the nights starting November 1st for the snow to be removed. Starting mid-June and until Labor Day, there is also a weekend shuttle from Ashford to Paradise, stopping at Longmire and the Cougar Rock Campground.

Backpackers and climbers can get a permit at the Paradise Climbing Information Center, located next to Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center.

Those looking for accommodation and dining options, can try the Paradise Inn – a historic structure dating from 1916 and operating from mid-May to early-October. It is recommended to book your room in advance if you want to be sure you can enjoy a stay in the rustic rooms with big stone fireplaces.

Sunrise

wonderland trail mount rainierHiking Trails in Sunrise Area

Being the highest point of the Mount Rainier National Park you can drive to (6,400 feet), Sunrise is covered by snow a big part of the year, being accessible only from late June or early July until mid-September or early days of October, depending on weather conditions.

The access to Sunrise is done via the White River Entrance located just off SR 410, on the opposite site of Crystal Mountain. The Sunrise Visitors Center is 14 miles away from the park entrance, and the drive offers many scenic views. Early birds will be fully rewarded as the show of the sun rising over the mountains is something to behold.

At the Sunrise Visitors Center, you can enjoy interesting exhibitions focusing on the area’s geology as well as on its history. You can also use one of the telescopes mounted here if you want to get some close-up views at the surrounding peaks and glaciers.

There are no accommodation option at Sunrise, and if you plan on spending the night at Mount Rainier, you have to drive to White River Campground, located 12 miles away from Sunrise. There used to be a campground on site, but it was turned into a picnicking area. Another option is the campground near Shadow Lake, but you have to take into consideration its small size.

Ohanapecosh

OhanapecoshHiking Trails in Ohanapecosh Area

Located in the southeast edge of the Mount Rainier National Park, Ohanapecosh takes its name after Indian habitation site located along the river.

The Ohanpecosh area of the park is a lot less developed than the others, with no accommodation and dining options on-site. There is, however, a good visitors center here, where you can get maps, books and trails information.

The access to this area of the park is done via Stevens Canyon Entrance, on SR 123, right off Highway 12. Less elevated than the other areas, Ohanapecosh is usually open longer than Sunrise, Paradise or Longmire, generally starting late May and until early October.

Carbon River

Mowich LakeHiking Trails in Carbon River Area

Standing on the northwestern edge of the park, Carbon River receives a fair amount of rainfall throughout the year, resembling in climate and landscape to a temperate rainforest. You will be able to access this area of the park only on foot or by bike. Cars can now get only as far as the Carbon River Ranger Station via State Route 165.

Another scenic area, Mowich Lake stands in a glacial basin, being the largest and deepest lake in the whole park. Access to vehicles is allowed up to the lake, but only during the summer months (mid-July until mid-October). The road is, however, unpaved in its most part.