Mount Rainier National Park is one of the oldest parks in the system. It was the fifth park created all the way back in 1899. If you visit Mount Rainier, it is easy to see why this regal place was set aside for future visitors. This park quickly became one of our favorites for hikes, scenery, and animal viewing.
Mount Rainier is considered an active volcano, and it dominates the skyline on a clear day, even from as far away as Seattle. This park has three major areas that are worth a visit. It requires a minimum of two days to see the basics of the park and do the best hikes, so plan accordingly.
The main area to visit is the Sunrise area. This is right at the foot of Mount Rainier, and easily the most popular destination. In fact, if you don’t get to the gate by around 9 o’clock in the morning on a busy day, you’ll be stuck in a long line of traffic. Rangers assist with parking, and they double park nearly everywhere, but they still limit cars, so be early.
The Sunrise Area is the most popular part of the park because it gets you closest to the peak of Mount Rainier. It also has some really amazing hikes, where you are likely to spot squirrels, marmots, and even bears, as well as a variety of birds. The wildflowers were really spectacular in August, as were the views up the side of this massive volcano. The two hikes we hiked and highly recommend in this area are:
The Sunrise area has a huge parking lot, (but not nearly big enough), a Visitor Center, a very large gift shop, restrooms, and guides pointing in the direction of one of the many trails you can hike. Twice, on our busy trip, a volunteer guide pointed us in the correct direction.
Just a few miles from the White River Entrance junction for Sunrise is a beautiful spot to explore by Chinook Pass. Tipsoo Lake has a beautiful viewpoint that anyone can enjoy. There is also an easy trail around the lake. We walked around Tipsoo Lake and enjoyed the wildflowers (read about it on our Tipsoo Lake hike guide). We had planned to hike Naches Peak Loop, but it was rainy and cold and Mount Rainier was hiding in the clouds, so we decided to skip this trail. This was the most recommended trail we heard about, so if your family can handle the 3.3 mile loop, we have heard it’s worth it.
Another great area, Paradise, is located on the south side of the park. This area has a lot more room to move around, so the parking is a little easier, and the crowds aren’t so close. We still recommend arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid parking trouble. There are some amazing waterfalls in the Paradise area, and some are right along the road. Others can easily be hiked to, such as:
- Narada Falls (.1 mile hike)
- Myrtle Falls (1.0 mile hike)
- Christine Falls (roadside)
- Comet Falls (2.0 miles steep climb)
- Reflection Lakes (not a waterfall, but definitely worth a quick stop)
Of these, the two that are easiest and most important to visit are Myrtle Falls and Narada Falls. Each requires only a very short, easy hike. The Myrtle viewpoint perfectly frames Mount Rainier in the background, and Narada Falls is an up close and personal cascade that roars just off the road. Christine Falls is very picturesque with the bridge as a frame, so definitely stop here, too!
This area is located on the southeast side of the park. It is relatively quiet in this section, but that is partially because there is less to do. There is a nice campground and Visitor Center. A few of the really nice hikes in this area are Silver Falls and the surefire hit called Grove of the Patriarchs. We enjoyed both of these trails.
Though there are some peripheral areas, the last major area is Longmire. We didn’t spend much time in this area of the park because it was so rainy the day that we visited. We went into the gift shop and bought a few treats. The Longmire Museum was closed, but would be a great stop. There were three easy trails in this area that we had on our list:
- Trail of the Shadows: a historic cabin and mineral springs are on this 0.7 mile loop.
- Twin Firs Loop Trail: 0.4 mile walk through an old forest
- Carter Falls: 2.6 mile moderate hike to a waterfall
Mount Rainier National Park made our list of Top 10 National Parks alongside such amazing parks as Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Glacier, and Yellowstone. It is definitely worth the trip to see this amazing volcano!