Mount Rainier National Park is home to Washington State’s 14,410-foot-tall active stratovolcano — and the highest point in the Cascade Range. Mount Rainier is surrounded by valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, and old-growth forests. More than 25 glaciers flank the sides of the volcano, which is often shrouded in clouds, which dump enormous amounts of rain and snow. So, whether you’re coming to tackle the mountain on a challenging hike, eager to see Paradise’s wildflower meadows, or drive to Sunrise – there is something for every visitor. Even in winter, when portions of the park are closed, activities are available for outdoor adventurers, including skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.
2019 marks the 120th Anniversary of Mount Rainier National Park…and you can see the commemorative poster I’ve created at the bottom of this post!
My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m here to offer some suggestions! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, check out some of the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park!
The park has five developed areas — Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise and the Carbon River & Mowich — with three visitor centers, a museum, and several wilderness and climbing centers and ranger stations. There are three main drive-in campgrounds, and two inns that provide lodging within the park.
The original 1916 headquarters and museum are located here and offer information and exhibits that tell the story of the early days of the park. The Longmire Wilderness Information Center as well as the National Park Inn are located here, too. There are several hiking trails within Longmire, including the Trail of the Shadows, a short loop that begins near the museum, takes you on an easy walk past Longmire hot springs, through the surrounding forest and past a replica of one of the park’s earliest homesteads.
Paradise, located at 5,400 feet, is a great place to start your park visit. Here you’ll find the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center — the main visitor center for the park. It offers general information, exhibits, a park film, guided ranger programs, a gift store and cafeteria. The historic Paradise Inn — usually open from mid-May to early October — is located here. And, you’ll also find The Guide House, where climbers can obtain permits and hiking and backcountry camping information. In the summer, this area is perfect for wildflower viewing. In winter, it’s the place for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing.
Located 42 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance, Ohanapecosh is thought to mean “standing at the edge.” Situated among Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock, you can experience the beauty and complexity of an old-growth forest. The east side of the park is also somewhat drier and sunnier than the west side, making it a good destination when Paradise and Longmire are wet or foggy.
Sunrise is the highest spot in the park that can be reached by vehicle. And at 6,400 feet, you’ll have amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys. You also have views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, as well as other volcanoes in the Cascade Range. The spectacular views, coupled with a varied trail system, make Sunrise one of the more popular destinations in the park.
Carbon River & Mowich
The history of this quiet corner of the park goes back well beyond the mining and logging that took place here. The Carbon River, named for coal deposits found in the area receives consistently high amounts of rainfall so the climate and plant communities found here resemble that of a temperate rainforest. Mowich Lake is set in a glacial basin surrounded by fragile wildflower meadows, and is the largest and deepest lake in Mount Rainier National Park.
Hike to Waterfalls & Wildflowers
Mount Rainier National Park offers more than 260 miles of maintained trails that lead through peaceful old-growth forest, river valleys and high subalpine meadows. From these trails you can explore and experience the forests, lakes, and streams and view the fields of wildflowers and network of glaciers.
If you’re looking for easy and enjoyable trails that the whole family can experience together, here are some of my favorites.
Sunrise Nature Trail & Sunrise Rim Trail
At Sunrise, you can access two short hikes: the Sunrise Nature Trail and the Sunrise Rim Trail. The 1 ½-mile Sunrise Nature Trail starts from the Sunrise picnic area and is a self-guided loop that weaves through meadows with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. The 1-mile-long Sunrise Rim Trail leads to two overlooks of Emmons Glacier.
Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
Located west of the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the Ohanapecosh River, this 1-mile loop takes you to an island where 1,000-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees tower overhead. There’s also a swinging suspension bridge on this trail!
Silver Falls Trail
This 3-mile round-trip trail begins at the Ohanapecosh Campground and takes visitors to the spectacular Silver Falls. It is relatively flat and easy to hike, making it popular with families. The trail follows the river to the falls, crosses a bridge and then loops back to the campground.
This 5 ½-mile hike starts near the entrance to the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center and is marked by stone steps inscribed with a quote by John Muir that reads: “… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” Head clockwise and the trail climbs 2 miles to Panorama Point, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views.
Climb a Volcano!
Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. Each year thousands of people successfully climb this 14,410 foot active volcano. Will you be next?
To reach the summit, you’ll have to climb some 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles. You must be in good physical condition and well prepared! Proper physical conditioning can offset the effects of fatigue that lead to mistakes and injuries. Weather, snow, and route conditions can change rapidly, so before beginning a climb, obtain a current weather forecast.
Experience the Wildflowers
Mount Rainier’s renowned wildflowers bloom for a limited amount of time every year. The “peak” bloom for wildflowers is heavily dependent on weather and precipitation patterns, so accurate predictions are difficult. But in most years, many flowers will be blooming by mid-July, and by the first of August the meadows should be very impressive. Frost can occur by late August, but even after light frosts the meadows continue to be very beautiful, thanks to changing leaf colors and seed pod development that take the place of colorful blossoms.
At Mount Rainier, cyclists can enjoy bicycling that is both challenging and scenic. Bicycles are allowed on park roads but they are not permitted on any hiking trails and the park does not have any designated bike trails. September and early October are generally excellent times for cyclists to visit Mount Rainier. During these months, there are usually fewer vehicles on the roads and fall colors enhance the scenery.
Mount Rainier National Park isn’t known for its fishing, so don’t be disappointed if you fail to catch fish, or if the fish are small! Only experienced anglers do well and then only during limited times of the season. Rivers and streams are open from late-May or early-June through late-October, and most lakes are ice-free July through October.
I’ve created a poster for Mount Rainier National Park, featuring a view of the volcano from Reflection Lake.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!