Best Hiking Trails in Mount Rainier National Park
The summit of this iconic stratovolcano beckons intrepid mountaineers worldwide, and is the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range. But with its glaciers, meadows, summer wildflowers and over 260 miles of maintained trails, you could spend weeks exploring Mount Rainier National Park and still only see a fraction of what it has to offer. The trails meander through old-growth forest, river valleys, sub-alpine areas and up rugged trails to alpine lakes and beyond, to its 14,410 foot peak.
Mount Rainier has five main areas to explore: Paradise, Sunrise, Longmire, Ohanapecosh, and Carbon River/Mowich Lake. Paradise is the most visited part of the park with easy access to nearby trails, as well as being open year-round. If you have to choose only one hike, the Panorama Point Loop via Skyline Trail is a Mount Rainier classic, especially at the height of the summer bloom. For the intrepid, the hike up to Camp Muir gives you a sense of what summiting Mount Rainier might take, and an appreciation for the grueling climb beyond. It's also the highest point in the park you can hike without a climbing permit. Check out the Summerland Trail in the Sunrise area, or the Burroughs Mountain Loop, which offers spectacular views. Those with children might prefer the shorter Naches Peak Loop Trail.
Before starting, check the road status here, as unexpected road closures can happen at any time due to snow, flooding, rock falls or other causes. The Mount Rainier National Park Service does a nice job of updating their Facebook page with relevant information, which can be found here.
Mount Rainier has both day-use and overnight parking available, with additional parking areas located near points of interest such as Grove of the Patriarchs Trail and trailheads between Longmire and Paradise (all of which can be difficult to find parking during summer months). Signage to the different parts of the park and various parking lots are generally well-marked and easy to follow. The park itself has a few main entrances, including the Nisqually Entrance near Longmire and Paradise, the White River Entrance near Sunrise, the less frequented Carbon River Entrance which includes Mowich Lake, and the entrance via the town of Packwood near the Tatoosh Wilderness and through the Ohanapecosh area, which connects to both Paradise/Longmire to the west and Sunrise to the north.
Paradise and Longmire
The road to Paradise from Longmire is plowed year-round, and is the most visited area in Mount Rainier National Park. It can be difficult to find parking at Paradise on winter weekends and during the summer, so carpool whenever possible. The road between the Nisqually Entrance, Longmire and Paradise takes you past various trailheads and eventually to two parking lots: The Upper Paradise lot at 5,400 feet in elevation is intended for short visits, while the Lower Paradise lot is intended for stays longer than two hours. Please note that parking is not permitted on the sides of the road. Due to congestion at Paradise, consider using the free weekend Paradise Shuttle instead, which runs from the town of Ashford at the western edge of the park and through the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire and Paradise during the summer weekends, stopping at points of interest like Narada Falls along the route.
Sunrise is the second most visited area of Mount Rainier and also becomes congested. Sunrise Park Rd. takes you directly to the large parking lot, with the Visitor Center at the far end of the parking area.
Carbon River and Mowich Lake
The Carbon River road was washed out in 2006, and is only open to vehicles up to the park boundary. On your way there, you'll pass the newly constructed Carbon River Ranger Station with a few parking spots available (no overnight parking). Continue on another 2.5 miles past the ranger station to the boundary with the park and a large parking area that is rarely filled to capacity.
Mowich Lake is accessed via State Route WA-165 a few miles away, with a campground and parking available near trailheads and the lake itself.
Ohanapecosh day use parking is located off of State Route WA-123 and is usually accessible from late May to early November, depending on weather. Follow signs to the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, campground or day use parking lot.
When to Go
Except during inclement weather when roads may close, Paradise, Longmire and Carbon River are open year-round. Sunrise, Ohanapecosh and the road to Mowich Lake are only open during the summer and early fall, generally between June or July and October. Don't forget to check road closure information.
Mid-July and August are your best bet to see Mount Rainier's famous wildflower display, which draws people from around the world. Get up to date wildflower information, here. But during summer weekends the wait to get into the park can be long, so follow these tips to avoid congestion.
Paradise is a popular destination for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months, but the park hours change based on the season. Check their hours of operation here before you head up.
An entrance fee is required to enter Mount Rainier National Park. Check out prices and options, here.
Wilderness permits are required for all camping in the Mount Rainier wilderness, and you can find more information, submit a reservation request form, and plan your visit, here. Before setting out, get updated trail and backcountry conditions. Still need help? Call or stop by one of the park's ranger stations to learn more.
Combine a wilderness permit with a climbing permit if you have plans to climb above 10,000 feet or walk on glaciers.
Pets are not allowed on any trails except for the Pacific Crest Trail, though they are permitted in parking areas, campgrounds, and on paved roads. They must be on a leash no longer than six feet in length at all times, or in a crate with you present. And of course, owners are required to pick up after their pets. Check out this page for more details.