Visiting Mount Rainier National Park? Here are some things to do when visiting Mount Rainier National Park. Whether you are into hiking, scenic drives, photography, or camping, Mount Rainier is a great park to visit with a lot to do.
A few summers ago I traveled to Mount Rainier National Park on my way to northern Washington. I didn’t know much about the park and had low expectations for the visit. I couldn’t have been more wrong about this park. As a Colorado resident, I see a lot of tall mountains and peaks, but Mount Rainier is unique because of the sharp elevation changes.
A few tips for visiting Mount Rainier National Park
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Some things to keep in mind when you are in the park:
- Stock up on food and gas before you go into the park. Mount Rainier is a bit remote, and there are not a lot of stores in the area. There are some concessions at the visitor centers, but the food can be expensive and limiting (mostly burgers, soda, and candy). I had to drive out of the park 45 minutes one day to fill up on gas.
- Bring a rain jacket. It rained for at least 10 minutes almost every day. Keep your rain gear in the car because you never know when a storm might roll through.
- Be prepared for some elevation gain. If you live at sea level, take it slow the first day or two in the park. The Paradise Visitor Center sits at 5,420 feet, while most of the campgrounds in the park are less than 2,000 feet in elevation.
Mount Rainier is a hiker’s dream. The park has hiking trails for any level of hiker and walker. Below are some of our favorites. On our trip, we mostly hiked and drove around Mount Rainier in order to get good views and photos of the volcano. Even with three days in the park, we didn’t have enough time to see everything.
Christine Falls & Comet Falls
These were the first hikes we did in the park. Christine Falls is viewable from the road and is a great spot to stop and take some photos. There isn’t a ton of parking in the area, so try and go early (or later around dinner time). Parking spots open up quickly though, since most of the cars in the area are stopping for some quick photos. Christine Falls is just a stop and go photo spot, but I recommend stopping here if you drive by.
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, go for the hike to Comet Falls. The hike to Comet Falls is 2.1 miles each-way (4.2 miles round trip) and ends at a spectacular 320-foot waterfall.
The hike is listed as strenuous and climbs 900 feet to the falls. The trail can be wet, so wear good boots, bring a rain jacket, and trekking poles wouldn’t be a bad idea if you have them. If you go close to the falls, you’ll want your rain jacket because of the mist from the falls. Mount Rainier is known for random rainstorms as well, so make sure you have a rain jacket anywhere you go in the park.
Check out the reviews on AllTrails to see what conditions might look like before your trip (and to download a trail map).
Panorama Point Hike
This is one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. It is a challenging hike and climbs 1,700 feet for a great view of Mount Rainier. The total roundtrip mileage is just over 4 miles. The trail is often covered in snow, but if you’re up for one hard hike while at the park, this is the one to do.
Panorama Point starts at the Paradise Visitor Center at 5,420 feet. The first part of the trail is steep, but paved. If you aren’t up for hiking the whole trail, even venturing a little way along the trail is highly rewarding. Make sure to stick to the trail though. We saw a lot of people going off-trail, which disturbs the wildlife and vegetation. High elevation environments are delicate and it takes a lot of effort for wildflowers and plants to grow.
We visited Mount Rainier the week of Fourth of July and the entire trail was covered in snow. I highly recommend microspikes and trekking poles for this hike. Odds are there will be snow on this hike, even if it’s warm at the lower elevations of the park.
The views along the trail were spectacular. It was cloudy the day we hiked, so we couldn’t see the peak of Mount Rainier. The views of the massive glaciers and the surrounding peaks and volcanoes were worth it though.
The Panorama Point trail is also one of the starting points for climbers who are planning to summit Mount Rainier. As a novice climber, it was fun to see others starting on this epic hike. You’ll hike alongside the alpinists for their first 2 miles of their hike in an attempt to summit Mount Rainier. I say “attempt” because only 50% of the hikers who start on the hike actually summit Mount Rainier.
We hiked the trail as an out and back, but there is a loop option. The conditions were icy and slick the day we hiked, so we stuck to the out and back route.
Paradise Visitor Center
The visitor center at Paradise is the best in the park. The visitor center has great information if you want to learn more about the people and wildlife native to the land and the formation of the volcano. This is also the most crowded visitor area because of the spectacular views.
If you aren’t up for hiking Panorama Point, you should still make a stop at this visitor center and bring a picnic breakfast or dinner. This visitor center is busy at lunch because it is one of the few spots you can get food in the park. If you don’t need to pick up lunch, try going during one of the other times. The parking lot can fill up in the summer. If you don’t get to the lot early, be prepared to walk from one of the lower lots.
Grove of the Patriarchs
Check out the Grove of the Patriarchs if you are looking for a mellow nature walk. This 1.3 mile (round-trip) hike offers a close-up look at the old grove forest of 300-foot Douglas fir trees.
The hike is relatively flat and only has a 100-foot elevation gain. The path meanders along the Ohanapecosh River and has great lighting in the morning. This is close to the Ohanapecosh Campground, so if you are staying there, stop by on your way out or back to camp one day.
Getting a good view of Mount Rainier can be tricky. Mount Rainier seems to have its own set of clouds that circulate around the peak. During our visit, it was sunny, but the peak was almost always covered in a cloud.
Reflection Lakes offers a great view of Mount Rainier where the volcano reflects back into the lakes below. We stopped by Reflection Lakes almost every time we passed by. The lakes are 3 miles east of the Paradise Visitor Center on Canyon Stevens Road. The lakes are right along the road and you can park right along the lake. They are a great place to stop and eat your lunch or a snack.
There are several hikes around Reflection Lakes. The Pinnacle Peak trail is popular and supposed to have good views. We didn’t get to complete this one (we were toast from hiking Panorama Point), but it is on our list for next time. The elevation gain on the hike is just over 1,000 feet.
There is a loop hike you can do around the lakes, but I wasn’t able to find much information on it. There are several trails you can take around the lakes, totaling about 4 miles.
Faraway Rock is a good option if you don’t want the elevation gain of Pinnacle Peak. Faraway Rock only has an elevation gain of 300 feet over .75 miles.
Sunrise Visitor Center
We mostly explored the south side of the park. The last day of our visit, we went to the northeast corner of the park and the Sunrise Visitor Center. This part of the park seemed just as busy as the Longmire/Paradise area, but we were there on a holiday week, so it’s hard to say if it is always busy. Sunrise is the highest drivable point in the park, which is one of the reasons the views of Mount Rainier are so outstanding from here.
There are a lot of hiking opportunities in this section of the park. We did a short hike around the visitor center and looked up some hikes we could do next time. We were hoping to hike the Glacier Basin Trail, but we were still tired from our Panorama Trail hike at Paradise. This is definitely an area of the park we will explore more next time.
Resources on Visiting Mount Rainier
Overall we had a great trip and can’t wait to go back. There is a lot to do in the park and it wasn’t hard to escape the crowds. Have you been to Mount Rainier park before? What were your favorite hikes and parts of the park?
If you are looking for a place to stay while visiting Mount Rainier National Park, check out my campground review of Ohanapecosh Campground.