Towering peaks capped with glaciers and ice fields, rushing rivers and waterfalls, emerald-colored lakes, meadows filled with wildflowers, and old growth trees – that’s Mount Rainier National Park. Established in 1899, before the National Park Service was even in existence, this is the 4th oldest National Park in the country. Each region of the park offers something different.
Arrive at the main entrance to the park from the southwest. Stop at the Longmire historic district to learn more about early life in the mountains. This is the most developed area of the park. There is a walking tour, museum, and trails, as well as the historic National Park Lodge.
We camped at Cougar Rock Campground and did the hike to Carter Falls. It is not a long hike, but lovely. You cross the rushing Nisqually River, fed by Nisqually Glacier, and walk through old growth forest to beautiful waterfalls.
If you want a longer hike, the Wonderland Trail starts here. It is 90 miles long and goes through every region of the park! If you choose to drive rather than walk the entire park, as you continue on, be sure to stop at Ricksecker Point for an amazing view of the mountain. At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is Washington’s tallest peak.
Continue from there to Paradise along winding mountain roads with scenic vistas. Be sure to keep your camera handy!
At Paradise, you will find the main Visitor Center and a lodge. There is no camping. From here there are many hikes, some up to the snowfields. We saw several hikers with skis on their backs. You do have to check conditions with the ranger before heading out on any of the high trails. Even in midsummer there can be snow and ice.
Our favorite thing in Paradise was the marmots, playing in the fields and sunning themselves alongside the road on the rocks. You will also see deer everywhere.
Continuing east from Paradise, you will come across Reflection Lake and Louise Lake. On a clear, calm day, you will see Mt Rainier’s reflection on the water. The ranger recommended the hike around the lakes. It was a good choice and a nice way to see these lovely alpine lakes.
From the lakes, we drove to the south east entrance to the park. This road is only open seasonally and once you drive it you will see why! The drive along Stevens Ridge is amazing! The road is carved out of the mountain, on the side of sheer cliffs. In many places you can look out the car window and it is straight down. Absolutely gorgeous.
We stayed at the Ohanapecosh Campground. There are many trails to explore in that region. We did the hike to Silver Falls, and to the Grove of the Patriarchs to see the 1000 year old trees – huge old Douglas Firs and Red Cedars. It was fun to cross the river on the swinging bridge – recommended to do this one person at a time!
The last region we visited was Sunrise. This is the highest elevation that roads will take you to; open seasonally. It is another long and winding road with amazing overlooks. On a clear day, you can see Mount Adams – a gorgeous snowcapped mountain off in the distance. From Sunrise, you also have a clear view of the northern slopes of Mt Rainier and the largest glaciers in the park.
This area is known for wildflowers. We did the Silver Forest Trail and the meadows were full of color. Avalanche and Glacier lilies.
We especially liked the Pasqueflower Seedhead – a crazy looking furry flower that we had never seen anywhere else.
There is also an amazing viewpoint for Emmon’s Glacier and the glacier fed lake. Just one more perfect photo spot!
There are lots of other hikes from Sunrise. There is also a campground near there. Here again, you need to check on the snow conditions. We had called in June to try to reserve a campsite and the campground was still closed due to snow!
From Sunrise to Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park is stunning in all of it’s facets!
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.