Exploring the Pacific Northwest is unique because hardly anything is really remote. If you step outside nearly any hotel there will be something within 20 minutes that will blow your mind with its beauty.
The real problem is figuring out where to stay and what sites to hit (and/or miss…).
This was the problem that we faced this past summer when we wanted to spend some time exploring Mount Rainier and ended up spending about a week in Mount Rainier National Park.
Where is the best place to stay when visiting the park, and (maybe more importantly) which cities are the closest to Mount Rainier?
Well, here are the options that we came up with and the reasons that we did (or didn’t) ultimately stay there).
4 Best Towns & Cities By Mount Rainier National Park
I will say that this list is slightly lopsided because we were entering the park from the South (which most people do).
Because of this, we left off iconic towns like Carbonado which, technically, is one of the closest towns to Rainier (as the crow flies) but really isn’t very useful if you’re planning on spending time in the park.
Here are the ones that did make the cut:
Ashford, WA (8 minutes from the park)
Location & Accessibility
Ashford, WA is located in the foothills of Mount Rainier National Park. It’s accessible by car from Seattle and Tacoma via State Route 706 or from Yakima via US-12.
The majority of visitors to Mount Rainier end up staying in Ashford. It is home to the iconic Paradise Inn which is one of the “Great Lodges of the West.“
Ashford also offers a variety of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy such as hiking, biking, fishing, and camping.
In addition to Rainier, there are also several unique attractions including the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge where you can observe bald eagles and other wildlife; Packwood Lake where you can kayak or canoe; and Alder Lake for swimming and boating.
Visitors looking for lodging have plenty of options in Ashford with hotels like Paradise Inn which offer comfortable rooms at (mostly) reasonable prices. For those who prefer a more rustic experience, there are several campgrounds nearby including Ohanapecosh Campground which has sites available year-round as well as cabins that can be rented out during peak season months.
Ashford, WA is a great place to visit for its accessibility and unique attractions. Just a short drive away lies Elbe, WA with more outdoor activities and local eateries that are sure to make your trip memorable.
Elbe, WA (18 minutes from the park)
Location & Accessibility
Elbe, WA is a small town located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State (and just west of Ashford). It’s easily accessible by car or train from Seattle and Tacoma, making it an ideal destination for travelers looking to explore the Pacific Northwest.
Elbe offers plenty of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy but, honestly, not much else. With a population of fewer than 50 people, Elbe is mostly just a stopping point on the way to somewhere else. However, it’s cute and quant and would be a great place to retire in Washington if you want to do so with a view of Mount Rainier.
In Elbe, you have access to just about all the same activities you would in Ashford including hiking and biking trails, nearby lakes where you can go fishing, and rock climbing or zip-lining tours.
Packwood, WA (20 minutes from the park)
Packwood, WA is located in the Cascade Mountains of Lewis County and is easily accessible from Seattle or Portland. It’s a small town with a population of around 1,000 people but it has plenty to offer visitors looking for an outdoor adventure.
Location & Accessibility
Packwood is situated at the base of Mt Rainier National Park and provides easy access to some of Washington’s most beautiful scenery. The closest major airport is Sea-Tac International Airport which is about 2 hours away by car. There are also several smaller airports nearby that provide flights into Packwood as well as bus services from Seattle and Portland.
Despite its size, Packwood offers plenty of shopping and entertainment options.
In addition to all of the outdoor options there, you can spend some time indoors and explore the White Pass Country Museum or the Ohanapecosh Visitor’s Center.
If you’re staying in Packwood to visit Mount Rainier, there are several good options. I’ve stayed at and would recommend:
Enumclaw, WA (1 hr 24 minutes from the park)
Enumclaw, WA is a small city located in King County and is about 40 miles southeast of Seattle. It’s accessible by car or bus from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay with lots of amenities, this is your spot. You’ll be closer to Mount Rainier National Park than you would be in Seattle but you’ll have access to many more creature comforts than you would in Ashford or Packwood (and let’s not mention Elbe again).
Location & Accessibility
Enumclaw is easily accessible by Interstate 5, Highway 410, and State Route 164.
Nature lovers will find plenty to explore in Enumclaw with its many parks and trails such as Harts Lake Trailhead Park, Flaming Geyser State Park, and Kanaskat Palmer State Park.
Enumclaw is a great base if you want to spend a week or more exploring the entire region and not just Rainier.
There are also numerous hiking trails and attractions nearby including:
- Iron Horse Trail that runs through town for over 25 miles along an old railroad bed
- Silver Springs Regional Trail that winds through forests and meadows
- Franklin Falls trail that leads up to a beautiful waterfall
- Tolt Pipeline Trail with its cascading waterfalls
- Greenwater Lakeside Trail for bird-watching opportunities
- Ohanapecosh Hot Springs featuring natural hot springs pools perfect for soaking after a long hike.
When it comes time to refuel after all your outdoor adventures you can find some great local restaurants like The Old Station Café serving classic American fare or check out Pomegranate Bistro where you can get creative dishes made with locally sourced ingredients from the Pacific Northwest region.
For something sweet head on over to Sweet Spot Bakery where they offer freshly baked pastries such as scones, muffins, and cookies. If you’re looking for something more unique try out the Roadhouse BBQ Shack which serves up delicious slow-smoked barbecue dishes like pulled pork sandwiches and ribs.
FAQs in Relation to Cities Near Mount Rainier
Which Town Has The Best View Of Mount Rainier?
The best view of Mt Rainier can be found in the town of Ashford, Washington (as it’s the closest town).
Located at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, this small mountain community offers stunning views of the iconic peak from nearly every angle. The nearby Paradise Visitor Center is a great place to start your exploration and provides easy access to trails for hiking or biking around the area.
Can You See Mt Rainier From Seattle?
Weather permitting, Mount Rainier is visible from many places in Seattle. If the sky is clear, the best views can be found at Sewards Park on the shores of Lake Washington or Kerry Park in the Queen Anne neighborhood.
It’s also worth mentioning that Kerry Park has some of the best views of the Seattle skyline so you can kill two birds with one stone!
No matter which of these cities near Mount Rainier you choose to visit, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience!
Whether it’s the breathtaking views in Ashford, the unique history of Elbe, or the outdoor activities available in Packwood and Enumclaw, there’s something for everyone when exploring this beautiful part of the PNW.