20 Cool Things To Do at Mt. Rainier National Park: Hikes, Wildlife, Waterfalls!

things to do at mt rainier

Looking for things to do at Mt. Rainier National Park? You’ve come to the right place! As a Seattle resident, I’m fortunate to be able to visit Mount Rainier a few times a year. It has some of the most incredible hiking trails, scenic mountain views, gorgeous waterfalls, and massive glaciers in America.

Standing 14,411 feet tall, Rainier is the most imposing mountain the Pacific Northwest. You can even see Mount Rainier all the way from Seattle. Established in 1899, Mount Rainier NP was the fifth national park in America. More than 2 million people visit each year!

We’ll break down our list of 20 things to do at Mt. Rainier into four main sections: Walking Trails, Challenging Hikes, Waterfalls and Lakes, and Miscellaneous Points of Interest. Plus, we’ve got extensive info on the wildlife and wildflowers of the park.

rainier view skyline

We have a ton of ideas for your Mount Rainier itinerary. Read on for a complete guide to visiting Rainier.

goats skyline trail

Mountain goats seen from the Skyline Trail.

 

6 Quick Things To Know Before Visiting Mt. Rainier

1. There is snow on many of the trails until late July.

Only a small portion of the park is open outside of the summer months. And even then, the snow on many of the trails doesn’t melt until late July. So August is the ideal time to visit for the best access to all of the park’s activities and features/highlights.

rainier snow trails

NOTE: There are no guarantees that you’ll actually be able to see the top of Mt. Rainier. Cloudy conditions persist throughout most of the year. The days are mostly clear in summer, but clouds can roll in at any time.

2. There are two main sections of the park: Paradise and Sunrise.

These are the most popular visitor centers, and they have the most hikes and scenic views. There are a couple other sections of the park, but if you only have a day or two, stick with the Paradise and Sunrise areas.

rainier map

3. Parking is difficult on weekends.

I strongly encourage folks to visit on a weekday! This park gets very busy on summer weekends. If you do have to come on a Saturday or Sunday, arrive around 9 am to guarantee yourself a parking spot at Paradise or Sunrise. When parking lots fill, you’ll either have to park at an overflow lot and walk a very long way, or you won’t be allowed to park at all until someone leaves. See the NPS page on Rainier congestion.

rainier parking

4. Bring warm clothes and sunscreen!

Summer temperatures are nice (70s F), but if you’re hiking any of the high-elevation trails (such as the ever-popular Skyline Trail), bring multiple layers. A long-sleeve shirt is a must, and I highly recommend a knit hat – even in August! The winds at the top can be very strong.

mountain view

PRO TIP: Sunscreen is absolutely essential. Some of the worst burns I’ve ever gotten have been at Rainier. Even people who don’t normally burn find that they burn at Rainier because there’s so much sun exposure. Load up the sunscreen everywhere, even places like the ears, the sides of your neck, and the backs of your knees. They will all be exposed to lots of sun while you are hiking uphill!

5. Book your lodging early.

The park has three main campgrounds (and a few other wilderness camps), many of which are reservable. You can also find two awesome historic lodges: The Paradise Inn and National Park Inn at Longmire. Both are quite expensive.

national park inn longmire

As for lodging outside the park, I recommend the hotels in the Packwood area, such as the Packwood Lodge and Mountain View Lodge. These are the closest cheap hotels you’ll find to the actual park grounds. The Ashford area also has a few decent options, like Nisqually Lodge.

mount rainier lodging

6. Rainier is an active volcano.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano. Its most recent minor eruption was in 1894, and there was another before that some time between 1820 and 1854. It’s considered one of the more dangerous volcanoes in the world. But Yellowstone is an active volcano too, and that doesn’t stop people from visiting! So I wouldn’t let that fact keep you from planning a visit.

john muir rainier quote

Easy Walking Trails in Rainer National Park

Let’s run down some short walking trails that visitors of all ages can enjoy.

1. Twin Firs Trail (Longmire Area)

(0.4 mile loop, 20 minutes, △95 feet elevation gain)

twin firs trail

This is a very short walking trail into thick forest with a few massive trees you can stand next to for some cool Instagram photos.

2. Trail of the Shadows (Longmire Area)

(0.7 mile loop, 30 minutes, △40 feet)

The Trail of the Shadows has informational boards about the history of the historic Longmire area and a view of the old natural sulphur springs.

3. Sunrise Nature Trail (Sunrise Area)

(1.5 mile loop, 45 minutes, △300 feet)

The Sunrise Nature Trail is a good walk for folks who don’t want to try one of the many strenuous hikes in the Sunrise area. You’ll see wildflowers and great views of Rainier and the Cascade Mountains.

4. Grove of the Patriarchs (Ohanapecosh Area)

(1.2 miles out & back, 45 minutes, △45 feet)

grove of the patriarchs

Add Grove of the Patriarchs to your Mount Rainier itinerary!

 

READ NEXT
Discovering Cayo Jutias, the Remote Starfish Beach in Cuba

Grove of the Patriarchs is a modest riverside trail. The main appeal is the chance to touch some 1000-year-old trees. There’s also a fun suspension bridge to cross near the end.

5. Kautz Creek Trail (first mile)

(2 miles out & back, 1 hour, △0 feet)

The Kautz Creek Trail is located west of the Longmire Area. The full trail is several miles long, but if you only do the first mile, you’ll have an easy stroll on level ground. You’ll reach Kautz Bridge, which is the turnaround point.

The Best Challenging Rainier Hikes

Here are the top hikes in Rainier for experienced hikers or those in good physical shape. Remember that much of Rainier is in the 6000-7000 feet elevation range, which means breathing will be more difficult if you’re coming from sea level.

hiking trails sign

Snow can linger on trails into August. So before planning any hike, check the NPS hiking page, which is updated regularly with information about which trails are doable in the current conditions.

PRO TIP: I highly recommend printing out the trail maps or grabbing a copy at the visitor center (some of the trailheads also have printed maps available.) Rainier is unusual in that numerous hiking trails all intersect with each other, and sometimes the signage is confusing, which means it’s very easy to get off course and end up on the wrong trail. Alternately, pick up the Rainier Hiking Guide here on Amazon.

6. Skyline Trail, via Panorama Point (Paradise Area)

(5.5 mile loop, 4.5 hours, △1700 feet)

skyline trail hike

The most popular hike in the Paradise Area is the Skyline Trail. If you’re not a regular hiker, this one will be strenuous. It’s 1700 feet elevation gain in just over two miles, one way. A lot of families with kids start out on this trail; most don’t complete the whole thing.

When you make it to Panorama Point, don’t stop there. Continue up to the next ridge for the best views on this side of the park. On a clear day, you can see the peaks of Mount Adams, St. Helens, and Hood in the distance.

skyline trail pose

This is a great place to relax and eat lunch, in full view of the peak of Rainier and nearly a dozen glaciers. The photos here are truly stunning!

7. Pinnacle Peak (Paradise Area)

(3 miles out & back, 2.5 hours, △1150 feet)

The Pinnacle Peak Saddle Trail starts at Reflection Lakes and heads south, so it takes you in the opposite direction of most of the Paradise Area hikes. That means it’s less crowded than many other hikes. The hike is rocky and steep near the end, but it provides nice distant views of Rainier.

8. Mount Fremont Lookout Tower (Sunrise Area)

(5.6 miles out & back, 3 hours, △900 feet)

Mount Fremont Lookout is the most popular hike in the Sunrise area, so be prepared to share the trail with dozens of others. The reward is an awesome view of the peak and the surrounding valleys from the lookout tower.

fremont lookout

A lot of hikers start around 4 am and do this as a sunrise hike. But it’s also great as a morning or sunset hike. Be prepared for fierce winds!

9. 2nd Burroughs Mountain & Sunrise Rim Trail (Sunrise Area)

(6 mile loop, 4 hours, △1200 feet)

burroughs mountain

1st Burroughs Mountain is 4.8 miles roundtrip with 900 feet elevation gain. But once you get to 1st Burroughs, I promise you won’t want to stop there. You will definitely continue on another half-mile to 2nd Burroughs, which is a slightly higher peak with the best views of the glaciers on the northern side of the park. Take the Sunrise Rim Trail to loop back.

rainier up close

It’s possible to combine this one with another nearby hike. I did both Mount Fremont Lookout and 2nd Burroughs on the same day, but it was exhausting.

10. Wonderland Trail

(93 mile loop, △22,000 feet elevation gain)

The Wonderland Trail is the ultimate hiking adventure for Pacific Northwest trekkers. This loop trail circles the entire mountain, covering 93 miles, going up and down several peaks!

wonderland trail

Obviously, most park visitors aren’t going to hike the entire thing, because it takes at least 5-10 days and requires advance permits and food caching. But you can hike short sections of the trail to get a taste of it. You’ll find trailheads for the Wonderland Trail at Longmire, Box Canyon, Reflection Lakes, and White River.

Must-See Waterfalls & Lakes in Rainier National Park

11. Narada Falls

narada falls

The most noteworthy waterfall in the park is Narada Falls, which drops 168 feet over a sheer cliff. You can drive right to the falls and walk down a short trail to the viewing platform. The falls freeze in the winter, and they can remain frozen into May.

12. Myrtle Falls

myrtle falls rainier

Seeing Myrtle Falls is one of the coolest things to do at Mt. Rainier!

 

Myrtle Falls is located about a half-mile from the start of the Skyline Trail. It’s about a 35-minute walk round-trip from the Jackson Visitor Center to the falls. Even if you’re not planning on hiking the Skyline Trail, make the short walk to see the falls.

13. Reflection Lakes

reflection lakes

The shimmering postcard images of Rainier and its watery reflection are often taken at Reflection Lakes. You can’t get a cooler shot of the peak than this! The parking lot here is very small, so you’ll be lucky to find a spot during the day. Arrive around 8 am on a clear summer morning for the best views and the most available parking!

READ NEXT
Hiking the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

14. Tipsoo Lake

tipsoo lake

Tipsoo Lake isn’t the most scenic lake in the park, but it is a nice place to stretch out and have lunch. You can sit on the beachy shore or at the picnic tables nearby. This is the main point of interest on the far eastern side of the park on Mather Memorial Parkway.

15. Silver Falls

silver falls

You can reach Silver Falls via moderately long hiking trails from Stevens Canyon Road and Ohanapecosh Campground, but the quickest way to visit the falls is to find the small pullout on the side of Route 123, just south of Stevens Canyon Road. Walk 0.3 miles down a steep path, and you’ll arrive at the falls viewing area. These falls are among my favorite in the park, and they are much less crowded than many others!

Miscellaneous Points of Interest and Things To Do at Mt. Rainier

16. Stop at the Visitor Centers

jackson visitor center paradise

Mount Rainier National Park has visitor centers at Paradise, Sunrise, Ohanapecosh, and Carbon River. There’s also a Wilderness Information Center at Longmire. The centers have bathrooms and rangers, who can provide maps, stamp your National Parks Passport, and answer questions.

17. Visit Longmire Museum

Created in 1928, the Longmire Museum now serves as a de facto visitor center. The facility offers information and exhibits, including some exhibits dating back to the building’s opening.

18. Explore Carbon River and Mowich Lake

Way in the northwest corner of Rainier National Park are the Carbon River and Mowich Lake areas. These are typically overlooked by park visitors. You can only drive to the Carbon River entrance. At that point, you’ll need to hike or bike the Carbon River Trail. Carbon River gets a ton of rainfall, so the environment is that of a temperate rainforest.

You can drive to Mowich Lake, but it’s a long, bumpy gravel road. Both areas offer the potential to see wildlife, since there are far fewer humans around.

19. Stop at the Box Canyon Pullout

box canyon pullout

Box Canyon is a small pullout where you can peer down 180 feet into a narrow canyon with rushing water. It’s worth the stop for a few photos. The Wonderland Trail intersects here, so you can also hike part of that trail to get off the beaten path.

20. Watch For Wildflowers and Wildlife

rainier wildflowers

In the summer, Rainier blossoms with the purple, red, yellow, and pink of wildflowers. It’s a photographer’s dream seeing the snowy peak of Rainier in the distance with the colorful flowers in the foreground. Later in this article, we’ve got descriptions and photos of some of the most common wildflowers you can see at rainier.

And there’s so much wildlife at Rainier. The only question is where to find it! Keep your eyes peeled in the meadows, open valleys, and mountain ravines. Often, critters will be hiding out there. See below for an entire section on the best places to spot marmots, mountain goats, pikas, black bears, and more.

Where to See Wildlife at Mt. Rainier

Mount Rainier has some awesome wildlife. You’ll probably see marmots. You’ll definitely see squirrels – they’re habituated to humans and they will come up to you begging for food. Bears, mountain goats, and elk, on the other hand, are much more difficult to spot.

Wildlife is unpredictable and can be found anywhere, so there are never any guarantees. But here are some basic pointers to help you see wildlife while you’re in the park.

Where can you see marmots at Mt. Rainier?

where to see marmots rainier

Marmots are adorable! These rodents hibernate half the year, then come out when the weather warms. At Rainier, marmots are most commonly found in the subalpine meadows and alpine regions (above 4,500 feet elevation).

These creatures are unbothered by human presence and will continue munching on flowers even as trail hikers walk past them only a few feet away. They can be easy to miss as you walk, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you will see lots of marmots.

marmot flowers

Look for them in the flowery meadows or lying on exposed rocks. On my last trip to the park, I saw about a dozen marmots in the Sunrise area and another dozen in the Paradise Area on the Skyline Trail. The meadows on the Golden Gate Trail are a great place to see marmots. You can even see the holes of marmot dens right on that trail.

Where can you see mountain goats at Mt. Rainier?

Mountain goats are my favorite animal, because they’re so rare in the U.S. You only see mountain goats in a few high-elevation places, such as Glacier National Park in Montana.

rainier mountain goats

Goats tend to travel in groups. If you’re hiking Burroughs Mountain or Fremont Lookout in the Sunrise area, keep an eye peeled in the open valleys below. I saw a group of more than 40 mountain goats in that area, just hanging out and slowly meandering towards the forest.

mountain goats sunrise

In the Paradise area, goats can occasionally be seen right on the Skyline Trail. I saw three goats in a ravine just above Panorama Point. I was surprised to see them so close to the trail!

PRO TIP: Take a pair of binoculars (these Occur Compact Binoculars are cheap) and scan meadows and hillsides to look for goats. Remember that they sometimes lie down on snow and easily blend in with the white snow.

READ NEXT
Quirky Attraction: Icelandic Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft

Where can you see bears at Mt Rainier?

Rainier has no grizzly bears, but it has plenty of black bears. They are sometimes seen in the forests and meadows. Lakes and streams are also a good place to keep an eye out for bears. They will also go to higher elevation areas in search of food. Bears have been seen in the more forested Sunrise-area trails (Emmons Moraine, Glacier Basin, Sunrise Rim.)

Visitors rarely have to worry about bears as a threat. Bears usually go the other direction when encountering a person. Most trails are quite crowded in the summer, so you will rarely be alone for very long. That said, bears have been known to cross established trails, so always be aware of your surroundings.

Where can you see wolverines at Mt. Rainier?

Ha! Good luck with that one! Wolverines are some of the fiercest creatures in the wilderness, but they’re extraordinarily rare. Only 300-1000 exist in the lower 48 states. None were believed to be in Rainier until recently, when a sighting of a mother with two juveniles was the first confirmed sighting of a wolverine family in the park in more than 100 years.

wolverines at mount rainier

Wolverines at Mount Rainier! Photo by the NPS.

 

The NPS says that four wolverines were spotted in the park in recent years. In 2019, a mother denned just outside the park, while in 2020, a second mother denned inside the park.

For their protection, the National Parks Service did not reveal where in the park the wolverines were spotted. You can see from the footage that they were playing in a meadow and wooded area. They tend to stay far, far away from people.

Don’t confuse wolverines with fishers, a housecat-sized member of the weasel family that was reintroduced to the park a few years ago.

Where can you see elk at Mt. Rainier?

elk rainier national park

Elk are impressive, especially the males with those massive horns. They can weigh more than 1000 pounds. Elk travel in groups and are found throughout the park. They can be seen in open fields and valleys, especially at lower elevations in the fall.

The females don’t have horns, so you might mistake them for deer. But elk have darker heads and are larger than deer.

Where can you see pikas at Mt. Rainier?

During my hikes, several people were misidentifying squirrels as pikas. Pikas are rare to see and are mainly found in rock and boulder fields. Personally, I’ve only seen a pika once, and that was in Alaska’s Denali National Park.

The NPS says that Pinnacle Peak is a good hike for potentially seeing pikas. They have a great map showing all the known locations of pikas in the park.

Other Animals at Rainier

golden mantle squirrel

Wildlife at Mt. Rainier: It looks like a chipmunk, but it’s a squirrel!

 

The chipmunk-looking animals that approach you for food are actually gold-mantled ground squirrels. They have the body stripe of a chipmunk, but no stripe on their faces. You will recognize them by their aggressive attempts to secure food from people.

Other animals that live in the park include the flying squirrel, bat, marten, weasel, skunk, gopher, beaver, mountain lion, bobcat, raccoon, porcupine, gopher, coyote, red fox, deer, and snowshoe hare.

Which Wildflowers Can You See at Mt. Rainier?

Viewing the wildflowers is one of the most relaxing things to do at Mt. Rainier. When you’re exhausted from all the elevation gain of your hikes, take a minute to pause and observe the shrubbery around you.

If you’re content to just see some pretty and colorful wildflowers during your Rainier visit, then you don’t need this section. But if you’d like to learn a little more about these flowers, read on! These are some of the most common wildflowers you will encounter during your park visit.

Aster

aster rainier wildflowers

This purple flower with the yellow center is commonly seen in the Paradise and Sunrise areas. You can get some cool pics if you can center the flower with the peak of Rainier in the background.

Western Pasque Flower

western pasque flower

These weird Lorax-looking plants, also known as western anenomes, are prominent throughout the meadows of Rainier. They actually bloom very early in the season, before most visitors arrive. Once summer hits, they morph into their unusual shape, with manes of white hair puffing up like a floral Muppet.

Broadleaf Lupine

lupine wildflower

The blue-ish leaves of the Broadleaf Lupine are prolific around the Paradise area. Marmots absolutely love eating their leaves. I watched multiple marmots pass by other wildflowers in order to devour stem after stem of the Lupine.

Scarlet Paintbrush

scarlet paintbrush

I love this bright orange-red flower. It’s found in areas above 5000 feet elevation. This plant isn’t as common at Rainier as many of the others. It grows to between 8-16 inches tall.

Broadleaf Arnica

broadleaf arnica

The yellow leaves of the Broadleaf Arnica are easy to pick out in the meadows. These can be found clustered together or growing alone. They look like tiny sunflowers and in fact are in the sunflower family.

Sitka Valerian

sitka valerian

I like the distinctive white flower Sitka Valerian. It can grow up to 4 feet tall and sometimes towers over the other wildflowers. It’s found in the subalpine regions and stands out with its cluster of white flowers.

READ NEXT
Boiled Buffalo Tongue and Backcountry Off-Roading on the Blackfeet reservation

For much more on the wildflowers of Rainier, see this great document (PDF) by the NPS.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Mount Rainier?

Obviously, due to its cold, snowy weather for 8-9 months of the year, Rainier is best visited during the summer months of July, August, and September, when the snow will be melted from most trails.

You will see some snow even if you visit during the hottest days of August. Some of the peaks and trails still have small patches of snow year-round.

rainier parking lot

If you visit Mount Rainier on a summer weekday, expect crowded parking lots.

 

June is sometimes okay to visit Mount Rainier, but even June can be a crapshoot – many trails are not fully open in June because the snow cover takes weeks to melt. Due to far smaller crowds, October can be a good time to visit if you get a nice day.

What are some things to do at Mt. Rainier in the winter? The only road that is plowed is the main road to Paradise, so you can access the Longmire and Paradise areas. Visit the Longmire Museum, and explore the Paradise trails. Snowshoeing is popular during those months. In fact, there are often ranger-led snowshoe walks on weekends.

Check the current road and trail conditions at Rainier here on the NPS site:
https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/trails-and-backcountry-camp-conditions.htm

Seattle To Mount Rainier: Guided Tours and Day Trips

The Seattle to Mount Rainier day trip is totally doable if you start early. I’d recommend leaving the city before 7 am to get to the park between 9 and 10. The drive is 2-3 hours from Seattle to Mount Rainier depending on traffic and which side of the park you’re visiting.

There are a few guided tours from Seattle in case you don’t want to drive. Check the links below from our partners at Get Your Guide.

 


 

Frequently Asked Questions About Mt. Rainier National Park

What should I do if I only have a few hours in the park?

If you’re making a quick visit, stick to the Paradise area for your Mount Rainier itinerary. For the most basic Rainier experience, hike part of the Skyline Trail, drive to Narada Falls, and visit Reflection Lakes. Those three sights will give you a good sense of what the park is all about.

rainier welcome sign

Is there an entry fee at Mt. Rainier National Park?

Yes indeed, the charge is $30 per vehicle. That gets you access to the park for 7 consecutive days. Bicyclists or pedestrians are charged $15 for the same pass.

Do I need bug repellent?

Mosquitoes and bugs aren’t a problem in some parts of Rainier, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring. The early evening hours would be the main time you’d need bug spray. And possibly if you’re hiking one of the deep wooded trails, such as Grove of the Patriarchs or the walk to Silver Falls. Some of the lakes also have large mosquito populations.

scenic view

Are pets allowed on Rainier trails?

Nope! Pets are not permitted on any Mt. Rainier hiking trails. There are lots of other trails in Washington state where you can bring your dog; leave him home when you go to Rainier.

Is there wifi or cell service at Rainier?

The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise has public wifi, but it’s slow during busy times when lots of people are using it. Cell service is sporadic throughout the park. You may find that you don’t have a signal while hiking in a valley, but once you reach a peak or lookout, suddenly the service returns.

Do people climb to the summit of Mount Rainier?

They do! Typically in late June, the upper mountain officially opens for climbing. Lots of folks do make the multi-day, 9000-foot climb. It’s only for experienced climbers with the proper equipment, since climbers must traverse glaciers on their way up. Permits are required. You can go as part of a group tour.

If you hike Skyline Trail, you’ll probably see folks climbing way up on the glaciers. They often stay at Camp Muir, located at around 10,000 feet and covered in snow year-round.

climb rainier summit

Are there are any Rainier webcams?

Yes! At last count, there are no fewer than 11 webcams stationed at various places inside Rainier National Park. Here’s the full list: https://www.nps.gov/mora/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm (Want to do some more national park viewing from the comfort of your own couch? See our list of the best national park webcams.)

What is the elevation of Mount Rainier?

Rainier is 14,411 feet, making it the fifth-highest peak in the lower 48 states, behind only California’s Whitney and Colorado’s Elbert, Massive, and Harvard. Mount Rainier stands a whopping 13,210 feet above the surrounding terrain. That makes it the most topographically prominent mountain in the lower 48 states!

When was the last eruption of Mt. Rainier?

According to the park information at the Longmire Museum, the last minor eruption of Rainier was reported in 1894. Evidence shows there was another sometime between 1820 and 1854.

How dangerous is the Rainier volcano today?

It’s considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Nearby Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, so we’ve seen that eruptions still happen in modern times. Nobody really knows when Rainier’s next eruption will be. This map shows the communities that will be in danger in the case of a major eruption. Seattle should be ok, but Tahoma and Puyallup could be in danger.

Can you make Rainier part of a Washington road trip?

Of course! See this article on the best Washington state road trips. You can actually do Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks paired together as part of a road trip!

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

Author Archive Page

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *