9 Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Mount Rainier National Park is home to Washington State’s most famous mountain and prominent peak in the Cascades: Mount Rainier. The active stratovolcano looms over the Puget Sound region at over 14,400 feet. It not only provides for some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, but by getting up close to it in the park, you’ll find a wealth of things to do.
Visit Mount Rainier National Park during the summer, especially from about mid-July to mid-August, and you’ll see the lush meadows burst into color. The meadows that surround Paradise are particularly stunning, drawing visitors from across the globe to marvel at the purple lupine, red paintbrush, pink penstemon and white avalanche lilies. The best way to view them is to walk the system of paved nature trails from the aptly-named Paradise area. The Nisqually Vista Trail is popular with families as a gentle trek that meanders around the mountainside, but for those who want more of a challenging adventure, and solitude, continue up the Skyline Trail and you’ll take in even more magnificent views.
Visiting Mount Rainier during the chilliest months of the year means experiencing a true winter wonderland with much of the landscape and local life peacefully at sleep under the blankets of deep snow, other than the white-tailed ptarmigan and snowshoe hare that occasionally leave tracks in the fresh powder. This is one of the world’s top spots for snow lovers, with an average of 640 inches annually – more than 1,035 inches fell during the winter of 1998/1999. At the Paradise snow play area, visitors can enjoy all of that powder by tubing and snowboarding, or taking a park ranger-led guided snowshoe walk, available on weekends from late December through March from the Paradise Visitor Center.
Mount Rainier Railroad lies just south of the park in the small town of Elbe. Here, passengers can embark on a steam train ride through the forest and across the glacially fed Upper Nisqually River to a museum situated in the town of Mineral. Its exhibits include a comprehensive collection of steam logging locomotives and the opportunity to discover the stories behind the pioneers of railroad logging camps in the early- to mid-20th-century. The excursion is available from May through October, though special holiday events other times of the year are often scheduled too.
One of the best ways to enjoy the park during the warmer months of the year is to sleep under the stars by camping at one of the half-dozen or so campgrounds hosted here. White River Campground is especially ideal, set within the park’s northeastern section, offering the ideal gateway into the backcountry. Campers enjoy spectacular vistas, and access to a myriad of outstanding trails as well as being close to the amenities at Sunrise, Mount Rainier’s highest visitor center. It hosts over 100 campsites with picnic tables, fire platforms, and access to flush toilets, open from late June through late September.
The Tipsoo Lake area is a favorite with photographers and artists, who enjoy the opportunity to capture the dramatic mountain in the tranquil waters. It mirrors Rainier, and also offers more jaw-dropping views from an easy loop trail that’s considered one of the top hikes in the park. Tipsoo may be at its best at sunset, but be sure to arrive at least an hour ahead of the official sunset time as the elevation of the mountain results in the sun fading long before it fully sets.
The Longmire Museum is an historic attraction in itself, here for over a century. Named for James Longmire, who first arrived in 1883 and established the Longmire Medicinal Springs as well as the Longmire Springs Hotel shortly after, it provides information on the area, including park rangers who can advise you as to the best trails to explore, as well as local history. The museum also features a gift shop and picnic tables, while multiple trails can be hiked nearby.
The Sunrise area is situated at 6,400 feet in elevation, providing visitors with awe-inspiring views of the mountain and other volcanoes in the Cascades, like Mount Adams, as well as 360-degree vistas of the surrounding valleys. This is the highest spot that can be reached by your vehicle, and it also offers two short but popular treks, the Sunrise Nature Trail and Sunrise Rim Trail. The 1.5-mile loop Sunrise Nature Trail meanders from the Sunrise picnic area, passing through meadows with spectacular Mount Rainier and Cascade views along the way. The 1-mile Sunrise Rim Trail will bring you stunning views of Emmons Glacier from two overlooks.
Crystal Mountain sits just six miles from the northeast entrance of the park and is best known for its outstanding alpine skiing, but if offers many other ways to enjoy the great outdoors throughout the year. You can ride the Mt. Rainier Gondola, whisking by the evergreens while soaking up a bird’s eye view of the surrounding snow-covered mountain peaks. It travels nearly 2,500 vertical feet to the summit, with your reward even more impressive views of Rainier and the Cascades. It also hosts the Summit House for dining, the state’s highest elevation restaurant. The eatery is open all year, and in the summer months, you can experience a dramatic sunset dinner or the highly-rated Sunday brunch.
If you like waterfalls, you’ll love this park. All of that snow melt results in many stunning cascades, including Christine Falls, with the lower falls framed by a historic, arching bridge. The falls drop 69 feet in total, with the lush greenery that surrounds its setting making for gorgeous photos. Silver Falls is a must-visit as well, you’ll hear the roar well before you see the water. While it’s especially powerful in the winter, it gushes all year long, even in the drier summer months. To get there, you’ll need to take the easy, 3-mile Silver Falls loop trail from Ohanapecosh Campground. From the viewpoint near the top, you’ll be able to take in the waterfall in all of its glory.