Rainier National Park Guide

If I’m being honest, Mount Rainier National Park was a spot I felt we needed to visit more to “check the box” of national parks in Washington than out of any natural curiosity. I thought “eh it’s a mountain.” Boy was my mind blown. This national park is huge and diverse, and every bit as hype-able as the internet claims. Wildflowers and mountains as far as you can see, waterfalls around every bend in the road, a rich and dense forest with towering cedars and lush ferns- the real question is, “what is Mount Rainier missing?”

Table of Contents:

Best day hikes in Mt Rainier National Park

Best trails in Paradise:

The Skyline Trail-

This is THE trail to do if you find yourself in Washington and near Mount Rainier National Park, but be warned it is only open for the entire loop from around the end of July through September and even in those months there may be snow on the trail.

The wildflowers in mid August along the route are out of this world and the glacier views are also something to see. It’s moderate and could be considered difficult trail for some so use caution but if up for a little challenge, this is the trail to do. See my guide here for more details.

Distance: 5.5-6.5 mile loop
Elevation: 1,680 feet (moderate- hard)
Time: 3-4 hours

Myrtle Falls-

If you aren’t feeling up for the entire skyline trail, Myrtle falls is a short and sweet (paved) little adventure along part of the Skyline Trail. It offers nice views on clear days of the mountain and of course a really beautiful waterfall.

Distance: 0.8 miles RT
Elevation: 160 feet (easy)
Time: 30 minutes

Directions: From the Paradise Visitor Center, go up the Muir quoted stairs and turn right on the paved trail. It will lead up on a moderate incline past the Paradise lodge. Continue straight on the trail until you reach the bridge and then there is a steep side trail that goes to an over look below the falls. The bridge is the top of the falls.

Glacier Vista Trail-

Another alternative for shorter hikes for those with less time but still wanting to see glaciers is the Skyline trail to Glacier Vista. (I would combine this trail with Myrtle Falls since they start in the same location) This trail gives you some of the best views of Mount Rainier up close without doing the entire Skyline Trail.

Distance: 2- 2.5 miles RT
Elevation: 885 feet (moderate)
Time: 1-2 hours

Directions: From the Paradise Visitor Center, go up the Muir quoted stairs and follow the paved trail straight (staying left) following the Skyline trail signs. This trail will very steeply gain elevation but is paved so easier footing. After a bit of climbing, you will come to signed intersections. Continue along the Skyline Trail after it rejoins with the Alta Vista trails (they come in on the right) and the Dead Horse Creek Trail which will merge on the left.

Shortly after the Dead Horse Creek trail merges, there will be another trail on the left that leads to the Glacier Vista or you can continue climbing along the Skyline trail when the Glacier Vista point comes obviously into view and a short trail descends down to it. Once you reach the overlook, enjoy the thunderous sound and sight of Wilson Falls before returning back down the same Skyline trail. 

Best trails for families

Grove of the Patriarchs –

Besides Myrtle Falls, this is probably the best trail in the park for families but it is a little bit of a drive from Paradise. The trail is short and relatively level making it an easy jaunt for all. Also shortly into the trail you get to cross a fun suspension bridge and then past the bridge you are surrounded by beautiful towering Cedars not unlike the Redwoods. I highly recommend this trail even on cloudy/ rainy days since views of Mount Rainier aren’t paramount in enjoying it.

Distance: 1.2 miles RT
Elevation: 45 feet (flat/easy)
Time: 30 min- 1 hour

Carter Falls –

One of the least visited trails in the summer, Carter Falls is along a portion of the famous 93 mile Wonderland trail that encircles Mount Rainier. This trail is another great one for cloudy days where Mount Rainier is obscured and leads to a secret beautiful waterfall. It steadily climbs uphill but is never steep making it a great option for families.

Distance: 3 miles RT
Elevation: 500 feet (easy)
Time: 1-2 hours

Trails to take with your furry friends

High Rock Lookout-

This trail is actually outside of Mount Rainier National Park avoiding the park fees (but incurring the national forest fees so a pass is still helpful to avoid $5 at the parking). This is one of the best trails outside the park with beautiful views of mountain and surrounding cascades and offering a chance to view a cool historic lookout. This trail isn’t easy but it is on the shorter side. Beware in August the entire trail closes for maintenance for several weeks so check your dates before visiting.

Distance: 3.1 miles RT
Elevation: 1,318 feet (moderate)
Time: 2-3 hours

Visit here for more info and recent updates on hiking this trail.

Summit Lake Trail –

The last trail on my list and another trail outside the national park, this one is very popular for backpackers (and those who are travelling with furry companions) It again offers great views of Mount Rainier with reflections in the lake if you are lucky. It isn’t close to Ashford or Paradise so a bit out of the way but another great area to visit if you have time.

Distance: 5.7 miles RT
Elevation: 1,443 feet (moderate)
Time: 3-4 hours

Visit here for more info and recent updates on hiking this trail.

Best Views in Mt Rainier NP:

While most of the truly outstanding views are from the trails listed above, not everyone has access to them so here’s my list of the most accessible and best views in the park!

  1. Nerada Falls – This is an easy stop along the drive from Ashford to Paradise, WA. It offers views of one of probably the most impressive roadside waterfalls. It’s a steep trail to the bottom of the falls but paved and still a nice stop at the top if you don’t feel like venturing down.
  2. Myrtle Falls- This one is a little more work (see information in Paradise trails above) than the other 3 listed but still on the doable paved path list and very worth the time!
  3. Reflection Lake – Another easy roadside stop, this time for awesome views of Mount Rainier is at Reflection Lake. The lake is only a short drive away from the Paradise Visitor center and great place to capture photos of the mountain without having to put hiking boots on.
  4. Paradise Visitor Center – Of course the visitor center offers great views of the mountain as well along with great views of the surrounding “skyline” of mountains in the distance. The arch
  5. Christine Falls Bridge- This is a small pullout about 2 miles past Cougar Rock Campground on your way to Paradise. There are a couple parking spots on either side of the bridge and it is definitely worth taking the short trail to view the falls under the bridge.

Best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park

I highly recommend visiting in Mid- August. It’s true it’s busier but it is worth it for the legions of wild flowers everywhere and to have more predictable weather (aka clearer views). Late July would also work (although the entire Skyline Trail may not be open by then) and into September is an ok shoulder season.

Park Fees:

The park has a $30 fee for week long access for a single vehicle. Entrance is free/include with the $80 America the Beautiful National Park Pass. (Worth it!)

Two Days in Mount Rainier National Park

Day 1 – Waterfalls and the Skyline Trail – Visit Nerada Falls- Visit the Paradise Visitor Center and hike the Skyline Trail or the 2 shorter/easier trails (plan for later afternoon/ early evening for less crowds and better lighting!)  – Definitely visit Myrtle Falls 
Day 2 – Hike Carter Falls – Visit Reflection Lake – Hike the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail- Enjoy the scenic drive of Steven’s Canyon Road 

* If you’re a hiking machine and really have 2 full, nice weather days to visit the park you could visit all the above places in a day and then still have a second day to do one of the other top trails in the area such as High Rock Lookout or the further away Summit Lake trail. 

Lodging near Mount Rainier NP:

There are a couple of great small towns around the park that are perfect for launching your travels into the park. Ashord, WA is perhaps the most accessible and with the most reasonable values. Staying in the National Park lodge at Paradise would be an absolute dream if you can afford it and get a reservation. Otherwise here are my top picks:

  1. Copper Creek Inn: The Copper Creek Restaurant is the center of it all with a beautiful historic feel (considering it the longest continually operating restaurant in the area since 1965). The property is so authentic and in a great spot within town. The lodging options include 9 cabins and several suites with almost all having access to a hot tub. We stayed in one of the small 1 room cabins that have reserve times to a shared hot tub and it was great! The restaurant also had excellent food. Highly recommend although note you have to book 2 nights at this property which maybe less convenient for quick stop overs. Prices starting around $137/ night
  2. Mountain Meadows Inn– Another nice option in Ashford at a great price is the Mountain Meadows Inn. Starting around $140 with breakfast and great amenities, I would book here if it is available for your trip but this place sells out quick.
  3. Alexander’s Lodge – Another historic option at a great price and an iconic establishment as you drive into the park. This property has stunning views and small walks and offers pet friendly yurt options as well. No hot tub at this one though (and I’m rather a fan of hot tubbing personally). Rooms start around $150

Campground options:

Camping is a super affordable way to visit any national park and experience the full abundance of nature in the area. Mt. Rainier NP is home to many a campground with most costing around $20/ night. The reservable sites go FAST so make sure to book as soon as you know your dates if you want to camp in the park. Visit here for more information on booking a campsite and to view the campground options within Mt Rainier NP.

***Cougar Rock is the campground most convenient for hiking in Paradise.

Where to eat near Paradise, Mount Rainier NP:

There are cheaper places to eat if you are staying in Elbe or don’t mind backtracking back to the main hwy but it is a bit of a trek from the National Park. I suggest picking up some groceries for breakfast/ lunch and eating on your own during the day and then trying the below restaurants for dinner.

  1. Copper Creek Restaurant: Mid to high range prices, delicious food, super cozy atmosphere. (They also have a fantastic brunch on weekends) 
  2. Wildberry Restaurant: Owned and operated by a former Mount Everest Sherpa, this restaurant is a gem! The decor is cool including the owner’s Everest climbing memorabilia and Nepalese flags. The outside eating area is fantastic and the food was great! They had traditional American food for the pickier eaters in your group and amazing Himalayan cuisine for those feeling more adventurous.