5 Adventures around Mt. Rainier National Park
By Emily Butterfield
Mt. Rainier, a 14,411-foot mountain in the Cascade Range, is the tallest peak and largest glacial system in the lower 48 states. “The Mountain” – as locals refer to it – is only 1.5 hours from the Escape Campervans Seattle rental site. It’s considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the amount of lava and mudflow an eruption could produce. But seeing the volcanic peak tower above Washington’s Puget Sound region is a sign of a good-weather day in an often grey state.
The national forests and park that surround the mountain are an endless playground with diverse wildlife, old-growth forests, wildflower fields, glacier-fed rivers, and stunning vistas. From short walks amongst the evergreen trees to all-day explorations in the nation’s fifth national park, Mt. Rainier is definitely a trip for the ages (even for locals)! Here are five adventures to add to your Mt. Rainier itinerary.
1. Take a drive around the mountain
For just a few months in the summer, you can take a breathtaking drive encircling Mt. Rainier. This 150-mile drive (approximate, depending on stops) through varying terrain and winding mountain roads leads to each of the four national park entrances. Visit Rainier provides a detailed itinerary and map but the route includes waterfalls, expansive viewpoints, campgrounds, local restaurants and even a detour to an old fire lookout tower.
2. Learn about the park’s diverse wildlife
Invertebrates, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles all call Mt. Rainier home. It’s common to see (or hear) marmots and picas on rocky slopes, mountain goats high up in the alpine or black bears wandering the meadows. The park offers a variety of ranger-led programs for children and adults to learn more about the park, including wildlife and geology.
3. Sleep in a backcountry campsite
Thru-hikers can try to score multi-night camping permits along the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which circumferences Mt. Rainier. But for those short on time or who want a less thigh-burning adventure, an overnight in a backcountry campsite is still rewarding. You’ll want to plan far in advance as these wilderness permits are in high demand. But there are dozens of backcountry camps in the national park where you can soak in the views and stargaze. There’s also backpacking options just outside the park, in the national forest land. If you’re up early to watch the sunrise, you might catch a glimpse of climbers on their way to summit the mountain.
4. Snowshoe around paradise
Mt. Rainier National Park isn’t just a summertime destination. The southwest (Nisqually) entrance to the park is open year-round and leads to many wintertime activities in the Longmire and Paradise areas of the park. A popular option is to snowshoe to Reflection Lakes. There are several routes that lead to Reflection Lakes, the shortest starting from the Narada Falls trailhead. Along the way you’ll pass snow-blanked meadows and trees. Once you reach the lakes, open your thermos of cocoa and enjoy the views of Rainier and the Tatoosh Range.
5. Take a walk to a waterfall
Cloudy day with no mountain views? No problem! Take the opportunity to view some of the park’s gushing, glacier-fed waterfalls. Many falls can be seen right from the road, like Christine Falls. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly hike to a waterfall, check out Silver Falls Loop from the Ohanapecosh Visitors Center. For a more strenuous hike, take the trail to Van Trump Park and you can view 400-foot Kautz Creek Falls from Mildred Point.
Where to Camp
There are four campgrounds within the national park. They tend to fill up months in advance when the reservation window opens, so book early.
There are also numerous campgrounds in the national forests around the mountain that offer reservable and first-come-first-serve sites.
- White River / Sunrise, northeast entrance
- Stevens Canyon, southeast entrance
- Nisqually, southwest entrance
- Carbon River, northwest entrance