Best Hiking Trails in Mount Rainier National Park
While Mt. Rainier's glaciated slopes draw intrepid mountaineers from all over the world, the national park's meadows, summer wildflowers, and over 260 miles of maintained trails make it possible to explore for weeks without ever touching the summit. Here, on the slopes of the tallest mountain in the Cascades, you'll find trails that meander through old-growth forest, river valleys, and rugged sub-alpine terrain up to alpine lakes and beyond.
Before you get attached to a particular trail, check for road closures, as snow, flooding, rock fall, and other natural phenomenon often result in unexpected obstructions. The Mount Rainier National Park Service also 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 at various lots, with additional parking areas near points of interest like the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail and at the trailheads between Longmire and Paradise. Parking fills up fast during the summer busy season, though, so try to visit on a weekday or plan to arrive early.
Where to Go
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, thanks to easy trail access and the fact that it's 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, without pushing you into technical terrain. Camp Muir is the highest point in the park you can hike without a climbing permit. Other good options include 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.
- Paradise and Longmire
The road to Paradise from Longmire is plowed year-round, as this is the most visited area in Mount Rainier National Park. Enter via the Nisqually Entrance and drive past various trailheads and eventually to two parking lots: The Upper Paradise lot is intended for short visits, while the Lower Paradise lot is intended for stays longer than two hours. Parking is not permitted on the sides of the road. Due to congestion at Paradise, consider using the free weekend Paradise Shuttle, 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.
Sunrise is the second most visited area of Mount Rainier. Sunrise Park Road takes you directly to a large parking lot and the Visitor Center.
- Carbon River and Mowich Lake
The Carbon River road was washed out in 2006, and is now gets vehicles right up to the park boundary but no farther. 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 park boundary and a large, usually open parking area.
You can access Mowich Lake 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
Mid-July and August are your best bet to see Mount Rainier's famous wildflower display. Get up-to-date wildflower information, here.
Paradise is a popular destination for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months. Double-check the park's hours of operation before you go, as they change in winter based on the season.
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.
Wilderness permits are required for all camping in the Mount Rainier wilderness. Find more information, submit a reservation request form, and plan your visit, here.
Combine a wilderness permit with a climbing permit if you have plans to climb above 10,000 feet or walk on glaciers.
Like all national parks, there are some restrictions on pets. Dogs 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. Please pick up after your dog.