Mt. Rainier is the iconic mountain seen from downtown Seattle, the largest mountain in Washington State.
Its large presence over Western Washington means that Seattleites simply call it “The Mountain.”
In fact, you’ll often hear them use the popular saying “The Mountain is out” – meaning that the skies are clear (a rare occurrence through the grey Northwest winters!) – and you can see Mt. Rainier looming over the landscape.
Although Mt. Rainier can be seen from Seattle, a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park is well worth the trip to truly take in the alpine wonderland.
There are plenty of things to keep you busy during your visit, but here are the 10 best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park, easily one of America’s most beautiful National Parks:
What to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
Enjoy the drive!
As with many National Parks, the roads through Mount Rainier National Park are lined with breathtaking views, but also wind along cliff-sides, making them nerve-wracking if you’re not into that (no worries, there are plenty of roadside barriers).
The abundance of pull-outs along the road offer many places to stop to take in the views. There are a few different roads that offer entry into the park, depending on which direction you come from.
If you want to take a nice long drive, drive towards Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park, where the road winds around trees and corners to give you stunning views.
If you enter the park from Seattle, you can drive from the Nisqually Entrance up to Paradise, and can continue on past to the Stevens Canyon Entrance, and up to Sunrise.
The Carbon River entrance is a side trip and you’ll have to leave the park and re-enter to access this area, but this also means there’ll be fewer people here too.
Hug some big trees
Stopping at the Grove of the Patriarchs is quite a treat, and one of my personal favorite things to do in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Here you’ll find huge cedar trees along an easy path through the woods. Although you may be in the park to see the mountain, take advantage of your trip into the Cascades to explore the forest landscapes.
On this walk you’ll be immersed in old-growth forest, full of lots of green and huge trees. Isn’t it crazy how old these trees are? There is a short hiking loop that will take you through trees older than the state of Washington.
My favorite way to enjoy the trees is to sit on one of the park benches and look up at the canopy. If your neck gets too sore, another option is to lie on the ground (off to the side of the path, of course!) and gaze up at these massive giants from the perspective of the forest floor.
This path is a flat and accessible loop, allowing you to experience the wonder of old-growth northwest forests without a long hike.
Spend a night at Mowich Lake Campground
Camping within the park gives you the luxury of falling asleep and waking up to an alpine glow on the mountain.
Sunset on the mountain is always a beautiful sight, and on a nice summer evening, you’ll be immersed in the light pinks and oranges surrounding the snow-capped mountain during golden hour, the best time for pictures.
There are several campsites within the park that allow advance reservations and offer more amenities, but if you’re up for a more rugged and spontaneous adventure, head out on the gravel road to Mowich Lake Campground.
Here, campsites are available first-come first-serve, so be sure to arrive early during summer, especially on the weekend, but if you manage to get one, you are afforded with unparalleled access to the beautiful Mowich Lake and a base camp for the surrounding adventures – including Tolmie Peak, Spray Falls and Spray Park hikes.
Be sure to bring enough water for your group or a filter for lake water, as there is no potable water at this campsite.
Bask in the fields of flowers at Spray Park
Spray Park in mid-summer is a wonderful place, with meadows full of multi-colored wildflowers blanketing the hills in front of Mt. Rainier.
Access to this trail is from the Mowich Lake trailhead on a gravel road, but if you make it to the trailhead you’ll be rewarded with a less-crowded hike than others in the park.
Two miles into the hike you can take a short detour to Spray Falls and then continue up the switchbacks to find meadows and a view of Rainier.
A good place to end this hike is at the viewpoint at Mist Park. From this endpoint, you can return the way you came for a total distance of 8 miles.
Climb to the top of an old fire lookout
Fire lookouts dotted the mountainous landscape of the Western U.S. before cell towers and satellites took off, allowing summer employees to live in the lookouts (small, one-room cabins) keeping watch for fires, and alert authorities when they spotted a fire.
No longer in use for this fire watching, these locations offer spectacular viewpoints, and many of these lookouts are preserved for visitors. There are several hikes within MRNP featuring old fire lookouts, but the most accessible hike is at Mt Fremont.
If you make it to the top of this 5.6 mile hike, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view of Mount Rainier and the shimmering Frozen Lake below, and a piece of history (the lookout).
The hike begins at Sunrise, then wanders past Frozen Lake, and up the final stretch to the lookout. Frozen Lake is a wonderful stopping point if you’d prefer a shorter hike (3 miles), and is surrounded by alpine meadows. Just make sure you stay on the trail to avoid trampling the plants!
Soak up the mist from Narada Falls
Named from the Hindu word ‘Narada’, meaning uncontaminated, Narada Falls is an energetic waterfall that does not require a long hike to view.
The waterfall is located just off the park road between Longmire and Paradise. In fact, you can look down on the waterfall from the parking lot.
If this leaves you wanting more, there is a short trail that leads you down to a lower viewpoint, where you can stand in the mist.
Make sure to watch your step on the way down though, since the mist dampens the path and it can get slippery.
Spot mountain climbers from the visitor center
The Henry M. Jackson visitor center in the Paradise area of the National Park offers spectacular views of the mountain.
The visitor center looks over the popular climbing route to the summit and makes use of this viewpoint by offering telescopes for park visitors hoping to spot a climber making their way up or down the mountain.
Although the route to the summit is challenging and inaccessible to most park visitors, it is inspiring to gaze up at the route and imagine the perils and adventures of a summit trip.
At the visitor center, browse the information on the displays to learn about the formation of this volcano and the history of the region.
You can also chat with the friendly park rangers who love answering visitor questions, and browse the gift shop for souvenirs to bring home from your adventure.
Visit the Longmire historic district
The Longmire area of the park has several hiking trails, a replica of a homestead on the park from the 1890s, and hot springs.
Longmire is named after James Longmire, whose homestead and hot springs resort was the park’s headquarters when it was established in 1899.
The park headquarters are no longer located at Longmire, but the 1916 park headquarters here now feature a museum with the early history of the national park.
In this location is also the National Park Inn and the Longmire Wilderness Center.
Watch marmots along the Skyline Trail
Marmots are a large, cute ground squirrel that live among the rocks and dirt in high alpine environments.
Although they live in many places in the park, a good place to find these cute creatures is along the Skyline Trail, a trail that goes from Paradise up the steps with the John Muir quote and onward.
If you don’t manage to see one, you may see their burrows along the dirt or hear their whistles across the meadows.
The Skyline Trail is the main hiking route from Paradise and can be done as a 5.5 mile loop or made shorter, depending on how you’re feeling.
Picnic at Tipsoo Lake
Tipsoo Lake has a picnic area close to the parking area where you can eat with a view of the lake, creeks, flowers, and mountains.
After your picnic, you can continue to sit and enjoy the views or you can take advantage of the short and flat trail that meanders around the lake.
On this trail you can continue to enjoy the sparkling blue lake, views of Mt Rainier, and fun small wooden bridges over the little creeks that criss-cross the meadow.
Although there are plenty of hiking options at Mt Rainier National Park, the lake around Tipsoo Lake is a great stroll if you’re looking for a short and flat, but rewarding walk, and a great location for a picnic.
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Abby Conner loves rugged mountain peaks, old-growth forests, and ferns. She spends as much time as she can outside hiking, camping, climbing, and identifying native plants. Abby firmly believes the West Coast is the Best Coast of the U.S. and denies she could place any of the states east of the Mississippi on a map. After moving around the Western U.S., she is glad to be back in Seattle. Follow her adventures at her blog Cedar Peaks & Trees and on Instagram.