Mount Rainier National Park is located in west-central Washington State. Mount Rainier stands in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest and is a 14,410 ft (4392 m) active volcano that last erupted in the 1890s. The mountain is also the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, drawing mountaineers from all over the world to its summit.
Due to the park’s approximate 13,000 ft (3962 m) elevation change, there are many different habitat zones within the park ranging from the low old-growth forest valleys to the high subalpine wildflower meadows. This diversity creates space for a great variety of flora and fauna. The park is steeped in history and visitors can explore old homesteads, hot springs, and historic park buildings. Before the early European explorers, the park has archeological evidence of over 9000 years of human use. The park currently maintains active relations with six indigenous tribes located in the area: the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, Muckleshoot, Yakama, and Cowlitz.
Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier National Park
From April through June temperatures warm, the snow begins to melt, roads reopen, and snowfall gives way to rain. The snowmelt and fresh rainfall fill the waterfalls making the spring months the best time to see them. It is advised to check the current status of roads, trails, campgrounds, and facilities at this time while planning your trip.
July and August are the warmest and driest months of the year and have high temperatures reaching above 70°F (20°C). Due to the park’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its high elevations, summer also commonly experiences cool, wet weather. Snow will remain at the high elevations well into July. Be prepared to deal with summer traffic congestion, especially on the weekends.
September through October can bring a lot of rain. The autumn foliage displays vibrant colors. Some roads and high elevation trails begin to close and snow may come as early as late October.
In November through March, rain gives way to snow and the park becomes a winter wonderland. The snow offers new activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding. Some roads close at night and reopen in the morning after plowing. Some facilities and sections of the park remain closed until the spring thaw. Temperatures can drop to 20°F (-7°C) in some parts of the park.
It’s always a good idea to start any National Parks trip with a stop at a visitor center where you can speak to park rangers, view exhibits, watch the park video on the areas natural and cultural history, join a ranger-led program, or pick up maps, books, brochures, and backcountry permits.
Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center – Paradise Road E. Open in summer, limited in winter.
Ohanapecosh Visitor Center – State Route 123. Open seasonally in the summer.
Sunrise Visitor Center – Sunrise Park Road. Open seasonally in the summer.
Carbon River Ranger Station – 35415 Fairfax Forest Reserve Road E. Open seasonally.
Longmire Museum – Hwy. 706, 10 miles (16 km) east of Ashford. Open year-round.
Getting To / Around Mount Rainier National Park
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) – 85 miles (137 km) from the Southwest Entrance.
Portland International Airport (PDX) – 131 miles (211 km) from the Southwest Entrance.
The Southwest Entrance or Nisqually Entrance is accessible by SR 706 year-round.
Seattle WA – Driving from Seattle is about 90 miles (145 km) and takes around 2 hours. I-5 S to SR 512 (exit 127). East on SR 512 to SR 7. South on SR 7 to SR 706 in Elbe. East on SR 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance.
Portland OR – Driving from Portland is 138 miles (222 km) and takes around 2 hours 20 minutes. North on I-5 to Hwy 12 (exit 68). East on Hwy 12 to SR 7 in Morton. North on SR 7 to SR 706 in Elbe. East on SR 706 to the Nisqually Entrance.
The Northwest Entrance to Carbon River is accessible by SR 165 through Wilkeson year-round weather permitting. Beyond the park entrance, vehicles are no longer permitted on Carbon River Road and visitors must continue on foot or bicycle.
Seattle WA – Driving from Seattle is 59.5 miles (96 km) and takes 1 hour 15 minutes. I-5 S and WA-167 S to WA-410 E in Pierce County. Take the WA-410 E exit. Follow WA-410 E, WA-165 S, and Carbon River Rd to arrive at Carbon River Ranger Station.
Portland OR – Driving from Portland is 175 miles (282 km) and takes 3 hours. I-5 N to WA-410 E in Pierce County. Take the WA-410 E exit. Follow WA-410 E, WA-165 S, and Carbon River Rd to arrive at Carbon River Ranger Station.
There is no public transportation offered within the park.
Things to Do and Main Attractions
Tour the Longmire Museum and learn about the early days of the park. This historic building was once the original park headquarters in 1916.
Take a scenic drive down the road to Sunrise. This drive is known for its spectacular viewpoints and is lined with an array of wildflowers in the early summer. The park does not have any designated biking trails but cyclists are allowed on all park roads as well. The fall months are an ideal time for biking in the park because there is less vehicle traffic on the roads, and cyclists can enjoy the changing colors of the autumn scenery. Cyclists can also attend the annual RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day) event, where hundreds of cyclists challenge themselves on a 154 mile (248 km) course with 10,000 ft (3048 m) of elevation gain.
Walking and Hiking
There are a variety of walking and hiking trails for all abilities. In Longmire, visitors can take an easy self-guided Historic District Walking Tour and view the traditional National Park Service architecture. Intermediate trails include Narada Falls Trail which takes you past three waterfalls, as well as Eagle Peak Trail, a steep climb through the old-growth culminating in views of Mount Rainier, Nisqually Glacier, and the Tatoosh Range. For the more ambitious hiker, The Wonderland Trail is a 93 mile (150 km) long multi-day hike that fully encircles Mount Rainier. This is a challenging but rewarding trail that takes you through the low forests and valleys and into the high alpine.
Every year, thousands of climbers are drawn to Mount Rainier in order to summit the 14,410 ft (4392 m) active volcano. Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States making this a challenging mountain that requires climbers to be extremely well prepared.
The park allows non-motorized boating on some of the lakes including Mowich Lake, the largest and deepest lake in the park. Fishing is allowed in some of the park’s lakes and rivers following the proper regulations. The park strives to protect the native and endangered fish populations while still allowing visitors to enjoy recreational fishing.
Due to the park’s approximate 13,000 ft (3962 m) elevation change, there are many different habitat zones within the park creating space for a diversity of life. More commonly seen animals include ravens, gray jays, deer, black bears, coyotes, garter snakes, elk, and mountain goats. Less commonly seen animals include mountain lions, lynx, foxes, the threatened northern spotted owl, and the recently reintroduced Washington fisher.
Winter in Mount Rainier brings a lot of snow allowing for activities such as snowshoeing, sledding, cross-country skiing, winter camping, and snowboarding.
Ranger-led programs are a free way to learn more about your parks from the experts. Attend a snowshoe walk to learn about the park’s winter ecology, view the night sky, or take part in a guided walk, talk, or campfire program.
Where to Stay in Mount Rainier National Park
There are two Inns open within the park, National Park Inn and Paradise Inn, all other lodging accommodations can be found outside of the park in the surrounding communities.
National Park Inn is located in the Longmire Historic District and is open year-round. The lack of television, or internet makes it easy to sit back and enjoy your tranquil surroundings. The Inn hosts afternoon tea, has a full-service dining room, a guest library, and a general store.
Paradise Inn is a historic building that was built in 1916. Paradise Inn opens from about mid-May through early October. Staying true to its roots, the Inn does not have access to telephones, internet, or televisions in the rooms. The Inn also has a gift shop, post office, cafe, and dining room.
Camping in Mount Rainier National Park
Cougar Rock Campground is located close to the historic Longmire district in the southwest section of the park. Cougar Rock is open from late May until late September. This large campground has sites separated from each other by green spaces and large, towering trees. Ranger-led presentations take place each night in the amphitheater and nearby hiking trails lead to waterfalls, old-growth forests, and the Nisqually River.
Ohanapecosh Campground is located in the southeast section of the park and is open from late May until late September. The campground sits on the banks of the Ohanapecosh River in an old-growth forest. Ranger-led presentations are held at the amphitheater each night of the summer and nearby trails will take visitors across a suspension bridge that leads to an old-growth island in the middle of the river, as well as natural hot springs, and waterfalls.
White River Campground is located in the northeast section of the park and is open from late June until late September. This scenic campground has private sites and hosts ranger-led programs around the campfire a few nights a week. White River is in a more remote area of the park and is also the highest elevation campground. White River works well as a base camp for those heading into the backcountry for hiking or climbing trips.
Things to Remember While Visiting Mount Rainier
- Follow ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.
- Public wifi is available in the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise.
- Cellphone service is unreliable in the park.
- Gas stations are located in surrounding communities.
- Avoid summer traffic congestion by visiting on weekdays, arriving early in the day, and carpooling to the park if possible. Parking is not permitted along the road edges.
- There are a few restaurants and general stores in the park, but it is recommended to buy food and supplies before arriving.
- Pets are only allowed in parking lots, campgrounds, and no more than 25 feet from paved roads for their safety and the safety of park wildlife.
- Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Raingear and layered clothing are essential.
- Respect wildlife from a distance: don’t feed or approach them or let them approach you.
- Human food has a serious impact on wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife, keep camps free of all traces of food, store food in an animal-proof food locker, and place all garbage in an animal-proof trash can.
Now that you have checked out Mount Rainier National Park, let’s check out some other amazing places to travel.