Mount Rainier is a classic climbing destination, but you don't have to be a mountaineer to appreciate its breathtaking beauty. This national park, whose entry points are located within a two- or three-hour drive of Seattle, features plenty of hikes that are both wondrous and family-friendly. It's all about taking in the sights, so prepare to lace up your hiking shoes and be awed.
Facts and figures
- Mount Rainier National Park covers about 236,000 acres.
- The park has over 260 miles of maintained trails.
- Between 1 and 2 million people visit each year on average.
- Mount Rainier reaches 14,410 feet above sea level. It's the fifth-highest peak in the continental U.S. and an active volcano.
- Just over 10,000 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier in 2015; 4,888 of them reached the summit.
Native tribes used the area surrounding the mountain they called Takhoma as far back as 9,000 years ago. European explorers began to arrive in the Pacific Northwest in the latter half of the 18th century; in 1792, British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver named the peak after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. By the 1890s, a variety of groups, including scientists, environmentalists and local businesses, began to lobby to conserve the land. Mount Rainier became the nation's fifth national park in 1899.
Things to see and do
The park is generally broken into five districts: Longmire and Paradise to the southwest, Ohanapecosh in the southeast, Sunrise in the northeast and Carbon River/Mowich to the northwest. The first two tend to be the busiest.
Open year-round, Longmire's visitor center and the Longmire Museum offer a glimpse into the park's early days. Trail of the Shadows, a .7-mile loop, features an early homestead cabin replica and the Longmire hot springs. A short walk from a pullout along the road is an utterly charming view of the Christine Falls via a small stone bridge.
For snow lovers, nearby Paradise in the southwestern section of the park is the place to go in winter. This incredibly snowy region has a play area for sledding and tubing, and rangers lead regular snowshoe walks. (Be sure to check for road closures, and note that cars must carry tire chains.) In warm months, Paradise offers stunning views and meadows of wildflowers. From the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, drive to the aptly named Inspiration Point for views of Mount Rainier, and to nearby Reflection Lakes for a prime photo opp of the peak mirrored in the waters. Good day hikes in this area include the Bench & Snow Lakes Trail, which will take you past two lakes over about two hours of hiking; and the Nisqually Vista Trail, a 1.2-mile loop offering views of the Nisqually Glacier.
As the highest elevation in the park reachable by car, Sunrise is another must. On clear days in summer, you'll be able to take in sweeping views of Rainier and the surrounding valleys from Sunrise Point. There's also an easy half-mile walk around Tipsoo Lake, while the longer Naches Peak Loop Trail is bursting with wildflowers in summer and berries in fall.
At Ohanapecosh, you'll find soothing old-growth forests and possibly drier, sunnier weather than on the western side of the park. On the 1.3-mile Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, loop along the Ohanapecosh River and through thousand-year-old fir and cedar trees. At Carbon River, you'll find fewer crowds and a unique inland rain forest to explore via the short Carbon River Forest Nature Trail.
The park has two inns and three car-accessible campgrounds: Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh and White River. While some sites are first-come, first-served, others require (or recommend) reservations in peak season, so check the website before you go.
Best time to go
July and August are the sunniest, and also the busiest, months at the park, and September is busy as well. But the park can be enjoyable any time of year, as long as you come prepared for rain and cool temperatures. Some areas of the park, including Sunrise and Ohanapecosh, close in the fall and do not reopen until summer, and other areas sometimes close temporarily in severe weather, so check status before you go.