Looming large over the Pacific Northwest, Mount Rainier deserves both our attention and affection. Adorning our license plates, beer cans, clothing and the Seattle skyline, the mountain is the iconic image of our region—it’s everywhere you look in the Evergreen State. It’s America’s most-visible national park, seen from miles away in all directions.
Located a short, two-hour drive from Seattle, Mount Rainier is a must-see summer destination into the wilds of Washington, and it’s close enough to town to grant access to some truly spectacular day hikes. The park offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, stunning views, impressive waterfalls, and pure wilderness bliss in six unique regions, giving you a lifetime of options.
This quick, introductory guide should give you an idea of the different regions of Rainier and the hikes within them, so hikers and explorers of all ages and abilities can discover the perfect trek for a day of adventuring. As always, make sure to read up on hiking safety before you head out.
The Paradise region sees the largest amount of Mount Rainier visitors throughout the year. It’s also one of the few regions in the park open year-round, making it a great place to hike in the summer and snowshoe in the winter. With a lodge, a visitor center, and miles of hiking trails, Paradise is a great place to start exploring Mount Rainier.
Easy hike: The Nisqually Vista Trail is a one-mile, paved, easy-to-walk trail from the Paradise Visitor Center. Here, you’ll find an amazing view of the mountain, wildflowers in the summer, and glimpses of the Nisqually glacier.
Moderate hike: At five and a half miles round trip and 1,400 feet of elevation gain, the Skyline Trail Loop is a great way to explore the alpine of Rainier. Enjoy unrivaled views of the mountain, wildlife sightings, and maybe some snow patches—even in the summer.
Advanced hike: Those looking for a true adventure should head up to Camp Muir. This eight-mile round trip hike gains 4,640 feet, reaching a height of 10,080 feet. Camp Muir is only for capable hikers with hours of experience route-finding and traveling on snow. The basecamp is the farthest hikers can go without a climbing permit, and has two century-old historic buildings—a guide hut and a public shelter—erected in honor of mountaineer John Muir, who camped at the site in 1888.
The Longmire area was the first site of Mount Rainier National Park’s headquarters. Today, there is a lodge, a restaurant and a museum, making this a great stop for all in the spring, summer, and fall months. You’ll enjoy the forests of the region here, as well as the Nisqually River and while you won’t find sweeping views of the mountain from every corner of this area, a few trails will deliver.
Easy hike: The Trail of the Shadows is less than a mile, but makes for a great leg shakeout after the drive into the park. You’ll get to know the forests of the region and enjoy some cool sights.
Moderate hike: Those hoping for a view of Rainier need to hit the Rampart Ridge trail. At four and a half miles in length and 1,300 feet in elevation gain, this hike will give you a fun and unique view of the mountain after hiking up through the forest.
Advanced hike: The trek up to Eagle Peak is more than seven miles miles round trip and gains roughly 3,000 feet, but the views are amazing on a sunny day. Keep in mind that the route to the true top is a scramble, with sections that are seriously exposed and a fall could be deadly. Use good judgement here.
It’s down a rough, long dirt road, but those who make the drive will discover that the Mowich area is an underrated gem in Mount Rainier National Park. Open only from July to October, the region is located in a glacial basin, surrounded by stellar views and delicate meadows filled with wildflowers, marmots and mountain goats. Mowich is for those who love wilderness and remoteness, as there are no real amenities here.
Easy hike: While there are no short and easy trails at Mowich Lake, those looking for an easy day can take their time and explore around the lake.
Moderate hike: At about seven and a half miles round trip, the trek up to Tolmie Peak past Eunice Lake is a perfect day hike for views and big rewards. You’ll reach a lookout tower after passing a deep blue lake and weaving through a pretty forest.
Advanced hike: The best hike out of Mowich is the trail leading to Spray Park and Seattle Park. With fields of wildflowers, sweeping views of the mountain and incredible waterfalls and cascades, this eight-mile round trip trail is worth every foot—more than 4,000 of them—of elevation gain.
After a serious washout of the road in 2006, the Carbon River area has seen a dramatic decrease in visitors. Yet despite the lack of access, amenities, and infrastructure, the region is a great place for some easy hiking and exploring, far from the crowds at Sunrise and Paradise.
Reached during the spring, summer and fall, the remaining road of Carbon River is one of the few places where both bicycle and pedestrian traffic are allowed, giving you a chance to bike to some cool hikes.
Easy hike: Few know that Rainier has a rainforest trail, but if you go to the Carbon, you can explore it along the Rainforest Nature Trail. At just a half mile in length, this simple hike is truly beautiful.
Moderate hike: To reach Chenuis Falls, you’ll have to hike eight miles round trip, but don’t worry. Along this trail through huge trees, you only gain 500 feet of elevation, making it easy enough for most hikers. The falls are stunning and are best seen as the snows are melting quickly in the early summer months.
Advanced hike: The Carbon Glacier Trail is a long, mostly flat trail, gaining only 1,000 feet over the 21.4-mile round trip distance. Hiking here gives you amazing views of the mountain, lets you cross a suspension bridge, and has you walking on a glacier.
Found in the southeast corner of the park, Ohanapecosh is a less-trafficked area of the park. It’s closed during the winter, but this region is a great place to cool off on a hot day, find an awesome waterfall, and even climb a peak for a breathtaking view of the mountain. Ohanapecosh is also a great place to go if the weather is less than ideal at Paradise and Sunrise.
Easy hike: The Grove of the Patriarchs is a can’t-miss hike. At just a mile and a half round trip, this simple trail leads you over a suspension bridge and into one of the oldest forests in the Washington Cascades.
Moderate hike: For even more Ohanapecosh awesomeness, the hike to Silver Falls is an absolute classic. At three miles round trip and with just 600 feet of elevation gain, this hike will reward you with a fantastic forest trail and a stunning waterfall.
Advanced hike: Shriner Peak is yet another lookout tower in Mount Rainier National Park. At eight and a half miles round trip and 3,500 feet of elevation gain, this steep hike will make you work for the views. Once at the top, enjoy some wildflowers and truly awesome mountain views.
Few places in the world are as stunning as the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park. High above the White River, with close-up views of the mountain and its glaciers, Sunrise is the perfect summer hiking spot on a sunny day. Usually open from July to October, Sunrise is where you go for wildflowers, amazing panoramic views, and ridgeline hiking.
Easy hike: The Sunrise Nature Trail is a perfect hike for those looking for good views without putting in serious miles in elevation. Over just a mile and a half of trail, you’ll enjoy wildflowers and access to the ridgeline with a fantastic view of Mount Rainier and the Cascades.
Moderate hike: Located a short drive from Sunrise, the Naches Peak trail is another classic hike. Just over three miles in length and with 600 feet in elevation gain, the views of Rainier from here are iconic. In late July and early August, the wildflowers here are stunning.
Advanced hike: If you have time and energy, the Burroughs Mountain Trail is a must-hike. Along this nine-mile round trip trail, you’ll walk along windswept ridges with the glaciers of Mount Rainier right in your face. With wildflowers, mountain goats, and endless views, few hikes in North America are as perfect as this.