Standing as an icon just south of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area is one of Washington State’s most popular tourist attractions — the majestic outdoor playground known as Mount Rainier. Check out those picture-postcards of Seattle and it’s a good bet many of them will include the mountain as a backdrop.
Mount Rainier National Park is just a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle and Puget Sound residents put the mountain high on their list of scenic getaways. But the mountain also attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from other parts of the country, all drawn to the beauty of this incredible landscape.
The mountain is 14,000 feet high and experienced climbers find the mountain irresistible. But you don’t have to be a mountain climber to enjoy the trails that snake through the old-growth forest taking you to panoramic vistas where you can view the Cascade Range as well as the distant lowlands.
The mountain is a wonder of Nature — an active volcano that spawns six major rivers. When you visit the mountain, you are greeted with wildflower meadows and ancient forests. It’s no wonder that more than a million visitors each year explore Mount Rainier, making it one of Washington’s most popular tourist attractions.
They flock to places like Paradise and Sunrise where they find ample visitor facilities and often visitors will plan on spending their vacation camping in the mountain wilderness. If you’re looking for that cabin in the woods experience, there are numerous rentals available near Ashford, which is on the way to Mount Rainier.
Starting Points (That You Can Drive To)
Paradise is located at the 5400-foot level, and is the place where many people begin their exploration of Mount Rainier National Park. It’s there that you’ll find the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center which is actually the main visitor center for the park. This place will give you a quick and easy overview of the park and all that it has to offer.
At the visitor center, you can view a film about the park and then you can explore various exhibits and even do a little shopping for souvenirs. The cafeteria serves lunch.
Paradise is known as a great place to view wildflowers in the summer and then it’s transformed in winter to a winter sports haven with snowshoeing, tubing and cross-country skiing. The Paradise Inn is located there and is open from mid-May to early October. It’s a great place to enjoy an overnight in the wilderness.
Sunrise is located at an elevation of 6,400 feet — about half the height of the mountain. From Sunrise, there are amazing panoramic views of the scenery near Mount Rainier National Park. This is as high as you can go on the mountain in your car. The ability to drive up to an extensive trail system at Sunrise makes this the second most popular visitor destination at the park.
The nice thing about the trail system there is that you don’t have to be a hard-core hiker to really get out and enjoy the scenery. Some of the trails really are quite short.
For example, the Sunrise Nature Trail is only 1.5 miles long and takes you on a self-guided loop tour through meadows and along various vista points. The Sunrise Rim Trail is just one mile long and leads to two overlooks of the Emmons Glacier.
3 Best Rainier Trail Options (Best Bang For Your Buck)
1. Grove of the Patriarchs
The Grove of the Patriarchs trail is located west of the Stevens Canyon Entrance to the park. This one-mile trail actually takes you to an island and you’ll enjoy lots of old-growth forest and even a swinging suspension bridge for all you Indiana Jones fans. This trail is on the drier and sunnier east side of the park.
2. Silver Falls
Another popular trail is the three-mile roundtrip Silver Falls trail, and this is the one for you hikers who enjoy a relatively flat hiking experience. Silver Falls is especially popular with families and the reward at the end of this trail is an incredible view of Silver Falls.
3. Skyline Trail
Now for those who want a little longer hiking experience, the Skyline Trail is 5.5 miles long and you can easily find it at Paradise where the trailhead is near the Jackson Visitor Center. The trail climbs two miles to Panorama Point, which is where you’ll experience some of the best Mount Rainier views.
Tips For Visiting Rainier
The National Park Service wants everyone to have an enjoyable visit to Mount Rainier National Park, but they know there can be problems in the summer with congestion. A lot of people visit the park each year — well over a million — and with limited parking and facilities, things can get hectic.
So the park service offers a few suggestions. First, on weekends, the Paradise and Sunrise parking lots are filled by late morning. There is overflow parking, but it makes a long walk to restrooms and other facilities. So the park service says to plan on arriving early morning or late afternoon on weekends. Or plan to visit the park on weekdays. During the busiest times, the park service suggests you spend some time in the nearby gateway communities away from the congestion in the park. Communities like Ashford have numerous accommodations and some restaurants. Often you’ll find unique stores or little out of the way bakeries that are a fun outing for the entire family.
For more information on Mount Rainier National Park, its facilities and its policies, please visit www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm or phone 509-569-2211.