Exploring Mount Rainier National Park

The 369-square-mile wild Washington wonderland displays year-round wonders.
Washington State Vacation
Washington State Vacation

From the Ohanapecosh’s old-growth forest to Mount Rainier’s frosty splendor, the park dazzles nearly 2 million visitors each year. No matter the season, visitors will find a wealth of activities and attractions inside its boundaries.

Mount Rainier National Park Basics

Mount Rainier National Park’s five developed segments consist of Longmire, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, Paradise, and Carbon and Mowich—each of which supplies a different experience.

Longmire is the park’s national historic district, while Paradise has meadows teeming with wildflowers in the summer and activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Meanwhile, Carbon and Mowich offer a temperate rainforest, Sunrise has a superior trail system and Ohanapecosh boasts fascinating ancient forests.

The majority of the park’s 147 miles of motorways are open from late May to early October (be sure to check current road conditions), and the Longmire and Paradise areas are open year-round. 

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier's 35-square-mile snow cone dominates western Washington’s skyline, and the volcano’s 14,411-foot summit remains the most glaciated and prominent peak in the contiguous United States.

Intrepid adventurers can attempt Rainier’s icy summit on their own or recruit an adventure guide like RMI Expeditions. However, those averse to heights can enjoy Rainier’s alpine history inside the yurt and three huts of the Mount Tahoma Trails Association, North America’s largest no-fee hut-to-hut system featuring about 50 miles of trails for cross-country skiing.

Chinook Scenic Byway

The Chinook Scenic Byway, an 87-mile route starting at city of Enumclaw, delivers stunning views of the park’s northern borders. Traveling through Mount Rainier National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the byway takes visitors 5,430 feet up Chinook Pass to the city of Naches.

Along the way, you’ll capture views of Mount Rainier, dense forests, lush subalpine meadows, river canyons and several lakes, streams and waterfalls. Learn more about Washington’s scenic byways >>

The Nisqually Entrance

The Nisqually Entrance, two hours southeast of Seattle, is Mount Rainier National Park’s most popular access point. Here, visitors can learn about the park’s early days inside the small Longmire Museum located within the historic Longmire District, or stretch their legs on the nearby Trail of the Shadows, a level pathway through the forest.

Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley possesses the park’s main visitor center and the rough-hewn Paradise Inn, built in 1916. Stop by the visitor center for several interpretive exhibits, a short film about the active volcanic history and trail updates from park rangers.

Day Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park

More than 260 miles of maintained trails weave through Mount Rainier National Park. Day-hike standouts include the 3.5-mile Naches Peak Loop, which overlaps with the storied Pacific Crest Trail. Another favorite is the route to Panorama Point from Paradise.

Each summer, the mountains’ snowfields eventually give way to a smorgasbord of wildflowers such as blue lupines and red paintbrushes. View listings for biking, hiking and backpacking in Washington >>

Reflection Lake

Take home a little of the mountain’s majesty with a classic photo op at Reflection Lake. Accessible by car, the lake is framed with wildflowers in the summer and reflects fall colors in the autumn.

One of the most photographed views in Mount Rainier National Park, the crystal-clear pond mirrors Rainier’s beauty best in the stillness of morning. If you have time and energy, hike the nearby Pinnacle Saddle/Plummer Peak trail.

Berry Picking in Mount Rainier National Park

August and September are prime berry-picking times at Mount Rainier National Park, where visitors can snack on huckleberries, blackberries and thimbleberries. Find an abundance of huckleberries at Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds and along the Noble Knob Trail. A limit of 2 quarts of berries per person per day is enforced in the park.

Additionally, mushroom lovers are in luck. Late summer until the first frost is the best time for mushroom picking, and common varieties found include chanterelles, matsutake, pig’s ear and hen-of-the-woods. The hike between Narada Falls and Longmire is a popular place to find edible fungi.

—Patricia Kaowthumong

Photo Credit: Jeff Cavin