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Plan a Trip to Iconic Mount Rainier National Park

Explore Paradise.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

Mount Rainier's famously glaciated profile rises 14,411 feet above sea level in western Washington, dominating the skyline of Seattle and drawing in adventurers from all over the world. 

While climbing the mountain itself can test your strength and endurance, there is also a verdant beauty to be found at the base of the peak, inside Mount Rainier National Park. From wildflowers to waterfalls to old-growth forests, the park offers a luscious landscape to explore and experience. 

Here's a primer on when to go, where to stay, and what to do at this iconic park.

When to Go

Photo by Michael Matti

Summer is the most popular time to visit Mount Rainier, when the weather is relatively warm (typical highs are in the 60s and 70s) and there is less chance of getting caught in the rain or snow. Be warned, though, that on this volcanic peak, precipitation is possible any day of the year! Fog is typical on summer afternoons, so its best to get your adventuring in early.

As you might have guessed, the warmer months are also when you'll see the most people. If solitude is more your style, then you'll have better luck in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. You'll almost certainly need to prepare for a bit of rain, but you'll have a lot less trouble finding a parking space at the trailheads.

In the winter, vehicular access to the park is limited to the Nisqually entrance. The Carbon River entrance is also open in winter, but once you reach the park boundary, travel is restricted to foot and bicycle traffic only.

Where to Stay

Photo courtesy of the Paradise Inn

Feel like you're going back in time with a stay at Paradise Inn. This historic hotel, built in 1916, is designated as one of the "Great Lodges of the West." Located right in the heart of Paradise, one of the most scenic areas in the park, the Paradise Inn offers incredible views of Mount Rainier. It is just steps away from the Skyline Trail, where those attempting the summit begin their long journey up to 14,411-feet. Shorter trails lead to waterfalls, scenic vistas, and alpine lakes.

The 121-room Paradise Inn is typically open from May through September. The beautiful lodge is quaint and comfortable, just like it was when it opened over 100 years ago. You won't find telephones, internet, or television in the rooms, but you will find a cozy spot to rest and relax after a day of exploring the park. 

The on-site dining room offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a delicious brunch on Sundays. The Tatoosh Cafe offers small bites and beverages from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily.

What to Do

Photo by Larissa Liu

The two most well-known adventures in Mount Rainier National Park—attempting the summit and backpacking on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail—might lead you to think that Rainier is on the more extreme scale of outdoor recreation. And while it's true that there are plenty of ways to test your meddle, there are options for more casual explorers, too.

Because Mount Rainier National Park is 97% designated wilderness, hiking is the way that most choose to experience the park. From trails through old-growth forests to paths through Rainier's subalpine meadows, you'll find more than glaciers here. 

Photo by Garrett Schmidt

Check out the amazing wildflowers along the 5.4-mile Panorama Point Trail, or tackle the 3.5-mile, family-friendly Dege Peak Trail from the Sunrise Visitor Center. The 1.4-mile Nisqually Vista Loop is beautiful winter or summer from Paradise.

For those who really want to push their limits, a summit attempt may be in order. The typical summiting season is from May through September. Three mountaineering outfitters—RMI Expeditions, Alpine Ascents International, and International Mountain Guides—are permitted to lead guided ascents (experienced, independent climbers can also apply for a permit). Trips are typically four or five days long and include a night on the mountain at Camp Muir, 10,188 feet above sea level, before an early morning summit attempt.

Backpacking is another great way to see the park and test your endurance. The Wonderland Trail, a bucket list backpack for many, requires a permit that is best reserved in advance. 

To learn more about traveling to Mount Rainier National Park, head to Rainier Guest Services.

Cover photo by Michael Matti

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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