March 11, 2022
“Can you suggest a day trip
hike at Mt Rainier?”
This is definitely the top non-photography related question my clients ask me. Probably because I’m a self-proclaimed Mt Rainier expert haha. I’ve photographed over 30 sessions and elopements in Mt Rainier National Park. I’ve also summited Mt Rainier via the Disappointment Cleaver and circumnavigated it on the 93 mile Wonderland Trail. Cumulatively, I’ve spent months in the park.
After years of getting asked this question, I’m so stoked to finally share my favorite trails and itineraries with you in this Mt Rainier Day Trip Guide.
Which entrance should I use to access Mt Rainier National Park?
Mt Rainier has four entrances and they’re all quite far from each other. Because of the distance between each entrance, it’s best to choose just one entrance for your Mt Rainier day trip.
Undoubtedly my favorite entrance: The Nisqually Entrance
Here’s my go-to itinerary.
- Drive 1 hour and 45 minutes from Seattle to Whittaker’s Cafe in Ashford. Stop here for a bathroom break, espresso, and breakfast burrito. Plan to arrive here no later than 8am as this entrance gets very crowded.
- Hop back in your car and drive 30 more minutes to arrive at Mt Rainier’s Nisqually Entrance. Pay the $30 entrance fee. Or use your America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
- Drive an additional 30 minutes to Longmire. Check out the famous cross section of a 722 year old tree in front of the Longmire Museum. Drive past the employee housing to see the Longmire wooden suspension bridge.
- Onward and upward. Continue driving up the famous winding Paradise Valley Road. Viewpoint stops include Christine Falls, Ricksecker Point, Narada Falls, and Glacier Vista. These are all well marked and worth a quick stop.
- An optional additional viewpoint, make a turn onto Stevens Canyon Road and drive just a few minutes to Reflection Lakes. In my opinion, this quick detour is very worth it. You can also detour here on your way out of the park.
- Make a u-turn, drive back to Paradise Valley Rd, and head towards Paradise. Arrive at Paradise. This area has a visitor center, an inn for overnight stays, a gift shop, several bathrooms, and a water spicket to fill your water bottles.
- Don your hiking boots. Get ready for one of my all time favorite Mt Rainier hikes, the 5.5 mile round trip Skyline Loop Trail. Hike with an incredible view of Mt Rainier, surrounded by wildflower meadows, massive glaciers, waterfalls, and cute marmots.
- Arrive back to the Paradise parking lot and get ready for your trek back home. I personally always pack comfortable dry clothes to change into for the long drive home and I highly recommend it.
Additionally, my second favorite entrance: The White River Entrance
- Drive 1 hour and 20 minutes from Seattle to Wapiti Outdoors in Greenwater. Stop here for a bathroom break and coffee.
- Continue 25 minutes farther to the White River entrance. Pay the $30 entrance fee. Or use your America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
- Drive an additional 25 minutes up Sunrise Park Rd to arrive at the Sunrise parking lot and visitor center. There are bathrooms here.
- Sunrise has a massive network of trails. But my two favorites in this area are Fremont Lookout and Burroughs.
- Fremont is one of the most popular hikes in the entire park. It’s 5.5 miles roundtrip, has absolutely stunning views of Mt Rainier and the surrounding hills, and you can often spot a herd of mountain goats in the valley below the trail. Your turnaround point is a historic fire lookout with an incredible 360 degree vista.
- Burroughs Mountain is definitely my favorite hike in this area. Burroughs is more of a “choose your distance and view”. There are three burroughs, each bringing you closer to the awe-inspiring Winthrop Glacier. If you go all the way to the third Burroughs the hike is 9 miles roundtrip. I personally think the best view is at the second Burroughs though. This trail travels through a very unique tundra-like landscape, different from anything else in the park.
- If you’re on a bit of a time crunch, this Mt Rainier day trip is the quickest.
Perhaps the easiest and most popular: Chinook Pass
- From Seattle, Chinook Pass is a 2 hour drive. Take the same route as you would to get to the White River Entrance but instead of turning onto Sunrise Park Rd, continue 10 more minutes to Tipsoo Lake.
- Park in the Tipsoo Lake Comfort Station parking lot. There are bathrooms here. Make sure you have a $5 Northwest Forest Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass to hang from your rearview mirror.
- Start your 3.2 mile Naches Peak Loop hike from the parking lot. This hike can be done clockwise or counterclockwise. I recommend clockwise to get the best views of Mt Rainier. Clockwise is also easier elevation wise.
- You’ll pass by several alpine lakes, endless wildflower meadows in the Summer or bright autumn colors in the Fall, and stunning mountain views.
- This hike is the easiest one on my list. For this reason, it’s probably going to be the busiest. I recommend sunrise or sunset on a weekday for this one.
- After your hike, consider having a picnic at the tables near the parking lot. You’ll have a view of Mt Rainier, Tipsoo Lake, and Naches Peak. Hard to beat that scenery!
Last but certainly not least: Stevens Canyon Entrance
- Drive 2 hours and 30 minutes from Seattle to Packwood. Make a stop at The Mountain Goat Coffee Shop for coffee, the BEST breakfast scone, and a bathroom break.
- Continue on 15 more minutes to a photo op stop with one of Mt Rainier’s historic wooden entrance signs.
- 5 more minutes and you’ll be at the Stevens Canyon Entrance. Pay the $30 entrance fee and continue on just one more minute to Grove of the Patriarchs.
- At the time of writing this, the trail is closed due to flood damage, but I’m crossing my fingers it’s open for the 2022 summer season. This trail is 1.5 miles round trip. This trail follows the Ohanapecosh River and eventually crosses a small suspension bridge over the river. On the other side of the bridge are some of the largest trees in the park. Some are nearly 40 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall.
- Make your way back to your car and continue up Stevens Canyon Rd. In 30 minutes, you’ll arrive at Reflection Lakes. Park here, take a moment to check out the lakes, and then get ready for your next hike.
- Cross Stevens Canyon Rd and begin your 2.5 mile round trip hike up Pinnacle Saddle Trail. This trail is a major leg burner, gaining 1000ft in a little over a mile. But it is truly my favorite view of the mountain in the entire park. I have a tattoo of Mt Rainier from the top of this trail haha I’m really not exaggerating this view.
- From Reflection Lakes, you have several options to get back to Seattle but your fastest route will be out the Nisqually Entrance. If you have some extra time, you can stop at Christine Falls, Ricksecker Point, and Narada Falls on your way out of the park.
In addition to the Mt Rainier day hikes above, here are some honorable mentions:
- Grand Park via Mt Eleanor
- Bench and Snow Lakes
- Tolmie Peak
- Summerland to Panhandle Gap
- Silver Falls Loop
- Spray Park
My last few tips to round out this guide:
- Mt Rainier National Park gets 2.5 million visitors per year. Around 1 million of those visitors are in August because of the famous wildflower meadows. If possible, plan your trip on a weekday and plan to arrive as early as possible to avoid crowds and to make sure you can find a parking spot.
- Visit in August or September when all of the roads are open and the snow has melted off the trails. But always make sure you check the road status here. And in the winter check Mt Rainier’s Twitter for daily road conditions and gate closures.
- Download any maps you may need ahead of time. There is extremely limited cell service in the park.
- Dress and pack appropriately. The weather can change quickly at the mountain. Make sure you’ve packed warm layers and rain gear.
- Carry The Ten Essentials.
- Please please please ALWAYS stay on the designated trails and practice Leave No Trace Principles. Let’s preserve the park for future generations and ensure we can continue to access it.
- Take moments throughout your trip to stop, be fully present, and take it all in. Mt Rainier is one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world and an absolute privilege to visit.
And that’s a wrap on my favorite itineraries for a Mt Rainier day trip. Don’t hesitate to reach out or comment below if you have any questions! I’m always happy to give advice and talk about Mt Rainier!
Looking for an elopement timeline? Browse this blog for a Mt Rainier Elopement timeline >