Mt. Rainier Majesty

Wildflowers and views near Seattle


by Jennifer Burns Bright

Photo Courtesy: Gia Battaglia

Soaring above the Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier is one of the tallest peaks in the contiguous United States. Born from the volcanic energy of the Cascades Range, it measures 14,410-feet high. At Mt. Rainier National Park, established in 1899, visitors can see it up close. In a natural wonderland of more than 236,000 acres of old-growth forests, subalpine meadows and alpine cliffs, the massive mountain takes up a third of that acreage. Even amid mountain ranges that surround the park, Mt. Rainier wows when favorable winds blow clouds away from its peak.

Along its trails and roads, rushing rivers from some of the mountain’s 25 named glaciers bring life to the ecosystems and sustain wildlife that call this place home. It’s no wonder one of its ancient names is Tahoma—meaning “mother of waters” in the language of the Puyallup tribe. It holds a deep spiritual connection to tribes whose ancestral lands are nearby. Enjoy a long weekend at this special place.

See and Do

Photo Courtesy Janelle Walker

Most visitors from Oregon and Washington enter the park at the southwest Nisqually entrance and soon approach Longmire, the first area settled in the park, now a National Historic Landmark District.

At 5,400 feet, on the south slope of the park lies the popular Paradise recreation area. Along with a network of hiking trails, it hosts a visitor center and the park’s largest historic lodge.

The northeast part of the park offers high-elevation trails, with a campground and visitor center at Sunrise. Take in 360-degree views of the eastern side of the mountain and other peaks of the Cascade Range at Sunrise Point.

The quiet northwest quadrant’s temperate rainforest is accessed by the Carbon River entrance. What it lacks in amenities, it makes up for in backcountry hiking along the glacial Carbon River and the park’s largest lake, Mowich Lake, which opens each July.

In the southeast, visitors discover Ohanapecosh Campground and a visitor center just a few miles from the Stevens Canyon entrance. At the lowest elevation in the park, this area has less snow accumulation and a huge diversity of plants and trees.

Hiking and Other Park Activities

Photo Courtesy Janelle Walker

Hikers of any skill level will find the perfect amble among the 240 miles of the park’s maintained trails. Popular routes include portions of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which circles Mt. Rainier, and the Skyline Trail that heads up the south side of the mountain from the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise through subalpine wildflowers found at their peak in July and August.

On the southeast side, take the 3-mile loop of the Silver Falls Trail to overlook the Ohanapecosh River and wander among forested landscape with 500-year-old trees and a rushing waterfall. The popular Grove of the Patriarchs trail is currently closed for restoration, he southern portion of the 26.2-mile Eastside Trail offers a hike with views of similarly ancient trees..

History buffs will love the Longmire Historic District self-guided walking tour, showcasing the massive logs and glacial boulders that give the architectural style of the buildings a distinct sense of place. The Trail of the Shadows is a family-friendly 0.7-mile loop, featuring an interpretive walk with a historic cabin, beaver pond and old-growth trees. Near Longmire, take the Wonderland Trail to Carter Falls, Rampart Ridge and Eagle Peak and spend the day wandering.

For exhibits about the park, guided walks, natural history talks and other ranger programs, stop by the visitor centers at Sunrise, Paradise and Ohanapecosh.

Take in the incredibly varied and dramatic geology of this mountainous region. On Stevens Canyon Road, stop to see the vantage points from accessible viewpoints at Box Canyon and Backbone Ridge, or take a quick walk to Reflection Lakes to see Mt. Rainier reflected in the water.

Bikes and e-bikes aren’t permitted on trails or off-trail areas, but several roads allow cyclists to enjoy the scenery. Westside Road, which runs roughly north to south near the Nisqually entrance, offers 13 miles of gravel with an elevation gain of 1,120 feet.

Lodging and Food & Drink

Photo courtesy: Morgan Grether

Campgrounds at Cougar Rock in the southwest and Ohanapecosh in the southeast section of the park are open to reservations for car and RV camping, generally from late May to early October. Reserve well ahead of your visit on Arrive early to secure a spot at the first-come, first-served White River Campground in the northeast.

For less rustic digs, book a room at one of the park’s two historic lodges. The impressive Paradise Inn, with 121 guest rooms, is located within walking distance to trails and the Paradise Visitor Center. Either check in or simply take a peek at the stunning architecture inside the massive lobby. The National Park Inn has 25 guest rooms in Longmire village, along with a restaurant and general store.

In the park, enjoy coffee and sandwiches at the on-site takeout spot, the Tatoosh Café at Paradise Inn. A new breakfast spot and bakery, Santo Milagro in Packwood, serves Mexican specialties such as huevos rancheros, plus omelets and housemade pastries. In Ashford, the popular Wildberry Restaurant serves Tibetan momos and curries. At the base of Mt. Rainier, find Eatonville and the Mill Haus Cider Co. for hard cider and music events.

Know Before You Go

Photo Courtesy Eric Kilby

In May, most of the park will be covered in snow and several main roads are closed. Roads and campgrounds begin to open in late May, but Stevens Canyon Road will be closed until June. Higher-elevation trails may not melt until July. In July and August, it’s best to visit on weekdays and arrive early in the morning; you’ll find parking difficult in popular areas.

A new timed-entry permit program will affect all travel from late May to September in 2024. Permits are required for the Paradise and Sunrise corridors–two major thoroughfares in popular areas in the park—from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn all about it at

The National Park Service app provides interactive maps, park amenities, accessibility options and more. Because most of the park lacks cellular service, download all necessary information before departure.