Mount Rainier is Washington’s mighty icon and the highest volcanic peak in the contiguous United States. It’s also the highest mountain in Washington state and is so famous that its image is depicted on the license plate. The imposing mountain can be seen up to 300 miles away on a clear day and has become synonymous with Washington. One of the best things to do in Mount Rainier is to experience it with a hike through the national park. In this post, I'll discuss the 10 most incredible hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
With endless hiking trails to choose from, ranging in length and difficulty, all offering phenomenal views, Mount Rainier is a hiking wonderland. Appropriately, the trail encircling the park at 93 miles is named the Wonderland Trail. While most trials showcase the mountain, Mount Rainier is home to more than its mountains namesake. Trekking through the park, I encountered fields of wildflowers, roaring waterfalls, subalpine lakes, and roaming wildlife. Simply put, the hikes here are spectacular.
As I embarked on my first trip to Mt. Rainier this past summer, I was overwhelmed by the countless hiking options. There are over 150 waterfalls in the park alone! Not a bad problem to have, but that's why I created this list to help narrow it down. Since Mount Rainier NP is roughly 90 miles south of Seattle, visiting the National Park is perfect for a hiking day trip or as part of a Washington National Park vacation. No matter how long you stay or which hikes you choose, you’re sure to be inspired by Washington's most beautiful mountain.
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Things to Know Before Visiting Mount Rainier:
- Four entrances into Mount Rainier National Park are broken down into five sectioned areas. An entrance fee is required for any entrance you choose. As the park covers over 369 miles, understanding the different areas and where each hike is located is imperative. Some of Rainier’s most popular trails are more than a two-hour drive from each other.
- The White River entrance is in the northeast is the Sunrise area. The Carbon River entrance in the northwest, which includes Mowich Lake is the least visited section of the park. Stevens Canyon entrance in the southeast has the Ohanapecosh area. Finally, the Nisqually entrance in the southwest is home to both the Longmire and the ever-popular Paradise areas. A majority of the hikes in this list are within the Paradise section of the National Park.
- Mount Rainier NP receives approximately 2 million visitors each year, mostly in the summer season. Plan to arrive early or after 3 pm to escape the crowds. If possible, avoid visiting on major holidays and the weekend.
- Practice leave no trace. Don’t litter in the park. Leave what you find. Respect these lands so we can continue to enjoy them for years to come. Don’t approach the wildlife, this is their home, not yours. This also applies to the wildflowers. Yes, they’re beautiful, but only if you don’t step on them.
- Be prepared for extreme conditions. Before setting out on a hike check the National Park website for the latest information on the park. Trail conditions can change unexpectedly, and weather can drastically shift. The website will also provide construction and road closure updates. It's important to check beforehand as Mt. Rainier has terrible reception, and you might not receive a signal once you enter the park.
When to Hike Mount Rainier:
- Mount Rainier NP is open year-round, but a few areas do close for the long winter season. Including, the areas of Sunrise, White River, Ohanapecosh, and Stevens Canyon Road. Depending on weather conditions, they close anywhere from Mid-October to early November and don’t reopen until summer.
- The park experiences peak visitation during the summer months of late June through September. Though you’ll encounter larger crowds, this is an ideal time to visit. The weather in Mount Rainier during the summer is pleasant with less rainfall this time of year. Trails will likely be clear of snow and ice from late July until the first snowfall in Autumn. Additionally, the wildflowers bloom in the summer and cover the meadows with beautiful flora. In the early fall season expect to see fields of foliage with leaves in shades of orange, crimson, and gold.
- Speaking of snow, Mount Rainier receives record numbers of snowfall each year and is one of the snowiest places on Earth. Snowfall can start as early as late September and continue until well into the spring. Trails may still be snow packed in June and through July. When I visited in late July, the park was still covered in snow despite temperatures rising above 80 degrees Fahrenheit! This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t visit in the snowy months, indeed the park resembles a winter wonderland! Nevertheless, manage expectations while hiking in these conditions. Expect trail and road closures, understand the risks of hiking in the snow, and bring winter hiking gear. Especially, crampons and hiking poles.
- Mt. Rainier might be famous for its snow, but Washington is famous for its endless rain and fog. The mountain is no exception to that either. Whether or not you’ll see the mountain depends on cloud conditions and weather. July and August are the sunniest months of the year. During these months there is a higher possibility of seeing the mountain.
The 10 Most Incredible Hikes in Mount Rainier
1. Skyline Trail Loop
The Skyline Trail is undoubtedly Mount Rainier National Park's most popular trail and the reason the Paradise area receives so many visitors every year. If there’s only time for one hike in Mount Rainier, make it the Skyline Trail, considering the extraordinary sites along the trail. This includes the Nisqually glacier, unparalleled views of Rainier and the surrounding mountains, and several waterfalls.
I want to preface this by stating that this loop is the hardest hike I’ve completed to date. While Skyline is one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, it's also strenuous for most moderate hikers. There are long sections of steep inclines and extremely uneven and at times narrow paths. But if you’re up for it, it’s worth it. It might be one of the hardest hikes I’ve completed, but it’s also one of my favorites.
From the large parking lot in Paradise, we started on the clockwise route, making our way to the glacier vista, with Rainier at our forefront the entire incline up. The true beauty is at panorama point, with sweeping views of Mount Rainier on one side and the Tatoosh Mountain Range with its array of jutting peaks on the other. On a clear day, you can glimpse Mount Adams, Mount St Helens, and Mt Hood behind the range. You’ll also pass Myrtle Falls on the way back. The spot is a stunning viewpoint of the 72 feet tall falls framed directly in line with the mountain, creating a gem of nature.
Tip: Though you can start in either direction, I suggest the clockwise route. This way you have views of the mountain the entire way up! There is also a shortcut via the Golden Gate Trail on the way back that shaves over a mile off the hike. This was a lifesaver for me!
Distance: 6.2 miles loop
Elevation: 1,788 feet
2. Mount Fremont Lookout Trail
The National Park’s second most popular trail, the Mount Fremont Lookout, offers unparalleled views of Rainier and the surrounding mountains. Mount Fremont Lookout is in the Sunrise area and is open from late June to early October. This also depends on weather conditions, so there’s only a limited window in the year to go on the hike.
From the Sunrise visitor center, it’s a steady moderate climb up to the lookout. You’ll pass through gorgeous meadows and rocky sections until reaching the frozen lake, which provides running water to the visitor center. Along the trail, there’s plenty of wildlife to spot, such as marmots and mountain goats. At this point, it’s a steep ascent to the fire tower, where you’re rewarded with some of the best views of Mount Rainier.
Unfortunately, due to the distance from our lodging, we weren't able to make the trek to Sunrise. This hike will be one that got away for me until I eventually return!
Tip: If staying in the Nisqually/Paradise area, then prepare to head out early, as the drive to and from Sunrise is approximately two and a half hours. I recommend staying overnight as the hike is best completed at sunrise or sunset.
Distance: 5.7 miles out and back
Elevation: 1,112 feet
3. Bench and Snow Lakes Trail
Bench and Snow Lakes Trail is a great hike for any level of hiker to reach two beautiful subalpine lakes. Best of all, this is not a busy trail, and it's a wonderful option to escape some of the crowds in the Paradise area.
Less than half a mile into the hike you’ll pass several fields booming with wildflowers in the months of July and August. The mountain is ever-present in the background and makes for a gorgeous shot of the fields with Rainier on the way back. Taking a short path on the Spur Trail, you’ll encounter Bench Lake first, a lovely lake with the mountain behind it. Afterward, you’ll soon arrive at Snow Lake, the better of the two lakes in my opinion, with almost emerald water surrounded by mountains.
Tip: In the height of summer, the bugs are aggressive on this trail. They swarmed me throughout the entire hike, and I realized how unprepared I’d been. Admittedly, once they were on my face, a panic attack ensued. I breathed through it but wish I had prepared for the bugs. To combat this, wear layers to cover your skin and bring a protective face net.
Distance: 2.2 miles out and back
Elevation: 446 feet
4. Narada Falls Trail
Narada Falls is one of the over 150 waterfalls in the National Park. In my opinion also one of the best! Standing at 168 foot high, located on the road from the Longmire to Paradise area, you’ll find an overlook of this magnificent waterfall a few steps from the parking lot. The overlook has a great view of the falls from the top down with plenty of space for visitors to enjoy the cascading water. There is a 2.5-mile trail that will take you to the base of the falls. The trail itself isn’t the most exciting and can be steep at times, but it’s worth the effort to see the waterfall from both perspectives.
Tip: Prepare to get wet here. Both the overlook and the trail bring you extremely close to the falls, and it’s impossible not to feel the spray. It was a wonderful relief on one of the rare warm Washington days during our visit and a peaceful break for my anxiety away from the crowds. However, it’s not something I’d want to experience on a cold day. On those days a waterproof jacket is your friend!
Distance: 2.4 miles out and back
Elevation: 862 feet
5. Christine and Comet Falls
Christine and Comet Falls trail leads to not one but two amazing falls and is easily one of the most popular trails in the park. In addition to enjoying the view of the falls, you will also see the historic stone Christine Falls bridge. If the trail is too much to add to your time at Mt. Rainier, or you’re like me and exhausted from all the hiking then you can simply relax at the overlook right off the road. The overlook provides a beautiful view below the bridge of the 60-foot Christine Falls. This is also where the trail begins to Comet Falls.
Starting at the overlook, you’ll traverse through a forest with a steady uphill climb until reaching Comet Falls. These falls stand at over 400 feet and boast a 320 feet water plunge. The distance from Christine to Comet Falls is roughly 2 miles. However, it’s a difficult trek back, so I recommend bringing hiking poles.
Tip: Christine Falls overlook is available year-round, but for the winter season drive carefully for the pull-off on the road. During this season, the trail to Comet Falls can be dangerous, and hikers should check the National Park website for updated trail conditions.
Distance: 3.2 miles out and back
Elevation: 1,279 feet
6. Nisqually Vista Trail
The Nisqually Vista Trail is an easy and short hike packed with incredible views. The trail is a perfect stroll to take after a more strenuous hike like Skyline, which I did on my first full day at Mount Rainier NP. The entire 1-mile trail is paved, making it suitable for children and families. Along the trail, you’ll pass meadows that burst with wildflowers in the summer and be delighted by endless views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier.
Distance: 1.1 miles loop
Elevation: 180 feet
Tip: There are a few steep sections on the trail, but otherwise it requires minimal effort and is both stroller and wheelchair friendly!
7. Tolmie Peak Trail
The Tolmie Peak Trail has a bit of everything: shimmering lakes, vast meadows, and panoramic views of the mountains. An intense but rewarding hike that ends at a fire lookout with an astonishing vista of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountain range. Best of all you’ll find fewer crowds on the trail, but it’s important to note that the parking lot fills quickly so arrive early.
As a bonus, you’ll get a taste of the famous wonderland trail, which is where this hike starts, passing by the beautiful Mowich Lake. After hitting a junction and steadily increasing in elevation, you’ll arrive at another not to be missed lake, Eunice Lake. From there make your way through some switchbacks and soon reach the fire lookout to enjoy the scenery.
Tip: To reach the trailhead, you’ll need to drive on a rough gravel road. Take your time and drive carefully. Note that this road closes for the winter season.
Distance: 5.6 miles out and back
Elevation: 1,541 feet
Where: Carbon River/ Mowich Lake
8. Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is a short and easy trail and one of the best in Mount Rainier National Park, where you’ll stroll through an ancient forest. Cute footbridges and gentle paths lead you to centuries-old giant trees.
Unfortunately, the trail was closed during our visit due to flooding. As of now, there is no official reopening date. However, the National Park Service has not labeled it as permanently closed. It’s best to check the park website for updates to see when it reopens (hopefully soon!)
Distance: 1.1 miles out and back
Elevation: 52 feet
9. Naches Peak Loop Trail
The Naches Peak Loop is a popular trail in the Sunrise area. It’s an easy hike with plenty of bang for your buck. Pass by scenic lakes and lovely meadows with incredible views of Mount Rainier. The loop is best completed in a clockwise direction, facing towards the mountain, offering better views throughout the hike.
Starting from the beautiful Tipsoo Lake, you’ll embark on a gradual incline, hiking through the famous Pacific Crest Trail for over a mile before hitting several switchbacks leading to a vista of Dewey Lake. Then traveling downhill, you’re provided with jaw-dropping views of the mountain surrounded by meadows until heading back to the trailhead.
Tip: There are multiple places to park to start the Naches Peak Loop. On Highway 410, there are two areas to park, in addition to, small lots at the southern and northern trailheads. The biggest lot is at the Tipsoo Lake Picnic area, but this lot fills quickly, so arrive early to grab a spot.
Distance: 3.3 miles loop
Elevation: 636 feet
10. Alta Vista Trail
Similar to the Nisqually Vista Trail, Alta Vista is an ideal hike for beginner hikers and families. Although the trail is steep in some areas, it’s a short and mostly paved path. The hike has dramatic views of the mountains and showcases Rainier and the meadows. Easily accessed from the main parking lot in Paradise and is combinable with other nearby trails, including the Skyline trail. Navigating the Alta Vista trail is not complicated, heading directly north on a gentle slope to amazing viewpoints before descending on the loop.
Distance: 1.6 miles loop
Elevation: 567 feet
Bonus: Wonderland Trail
This whopping 93-mile backcountry hike isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s as challenging as a hike can be. Hiking the Wonderland Trail is also an experience of a lifetime and remains on my bucket list. With great challenge comes great reward, this trail offers the best of Mt. Rainier, and these are sights only a few are privileged to see. The entire Wonderland Trail will take you anywhere from 10 - 14 days to complete. It also requires a permit granted through a lottery system. Check the national park website periodically to see when these are up for grabs (generally they’ve occurred in March.)
Distance: 93 miles loop
Elevation: 22,000 plus feet
What to Pack for Hiking in Mount Rainier:
- Bear spray: While I didn’t happen to spot any bears in the park, and you might not either, they do call Mount Rainier home. It’s always best to be safe than sorry and carry bear spray with you when hiking here.
- Waterproof jacket: Washington is no stranger to rain and snow, keep a waterproof jacket handy. You don’t want to be stuck on a trail soaked to the bone!
- Hiking boots: Sneakers might be ok on the easy-rated trails, but hiking boots are necessary for anything moderate and above. In fact, I used them on the easy trails as well.
- Hiking poles: If you plan on doing a hike that has steep sections, hiking poles are a lifesaver on your knees. Plus, they keep you steady on those gravely narrow paths.
- Bug spray and net for face: This applies to the summer season when most people visit. The bugs are relentless, especially by the lakes. I love having these wipes on me when I’m in a pinch on the trail and recommend having that face net to avoid the face swarm I experienced.
- Sunscreen: The trails at Mount Rainier are high-elevation and generally unshaded. No matter what time of year you visit, you should apply sunscreen. Even when the park is covered in snow, the reflection off the surface from the sun can burn you.
- Lots of water and snacks: Don’t underestimate the altitude of these hikes. However much water you think you need, double it. A hydration pack was an easy solution for me on the longer trails.
- Sunglasses & hat: Have all the sun protection you can!
- Insulated down jacket for winter or shoulder season: Even in September temperatures can be in the 40s during the day and drop to the 30s at night and early in the morning. I love this three-in-one jacket because if I get warm I can always remove a layer!
Those are the 10 most incredible hikes in Mount Rainier National Park! Mount Rainier is a beautiful destination to enjoy nature while adventuring on thrilling hikes. Perfect for a long National Park vacation or day trip. Let me know in the comments what Mount Rainier hike you’d love to do!
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