Very few national parks contain snow-capped peaks, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, old-growth forests, and lush rainforests all in one place, but Mount Rainier National Park is an exception. On top of its diverse ecosystems, the park is also home to the highest peak in the Lower 48- Mount Rainier.
Towering above neighboring mountains at about 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the star of the Cascade Range. Along with being one of the US’s most glaciated peaks, it’s also an active volcano. A true natural wonder, Mount Rainier deserves a spot on all nature enthusiasts’ bucket lists!
In this guide, we’ve compiled everything you need to know to prepare for the ultimate Mount Rainier camper van trip. Start packing your bags- Mount Rainier National Park is waiting for you!
Getting to Mount Rainier National Park: Distance and Estimated Travel Time
The quickest way to get to Mount Rainier National Park is from the Seattle Escape Camper Vans hub. The exact time and distance of the drive will depend on which park area you visit. Usually, it takes about two hours to get here from Seattle, which makes Mount Rainier the perfect place for a weekend trip!
The Nisqually Entrance (on the SW side of the park) is closest to Seattle. It’s open year-round and leads to the popular Paradise section of the park. This drive is approximately 73.6 miles one-way and takes about 1 hour and 34 minutes.
Additionally, you can also start your Mount Rainier adventure from the Portland Escape Camper Vans location. From Portland, the drive to the Nisqually Entrance is approximately 136 miles one-way and takes about 2 hours and 18 minutes.
Why Rent a Camper Van for a Trip to Mount Rainier National Park?
There’s no better way to explore all that Mount Rainier National Park has to offer than in a camper van! Thanks to the unparalleled flexibility and convenience that comes with our camper vans, you can comfortably tour Mount Rainier at your own pace.
More Compact: Parking is limited in Mount Rainier National Park, and parking spots are especially hard to come by in the peak summer months. With a camper van, you’ll be able to fit into parking spots more easily than RVs, making parking much less of a hassle.
Easier to Maneuver: The roads around Mount Rainier are extremely windy, and it can be very nerve-wracking to navigate them in an RV. With our user-friendly camper vans, you’ll feel more comfortable driving along park roads. You’ll also be able to get off the beaten path and drive places RVs can’t.
Flexible Camping: Since our camper vans don’t require any electrical or sewer hookups, you can camp more freely than you’d be able to in an RV. Tent sites and remote dispersed camping areas are both great options for camper vans. However, these spots are not available to RVs.
Designed for Adventurers: Created with adventure seekers in mind, our vehicles are thoughtfully designed and equipped with everything you need for an unforgettable road trip. With a camper van, you can spend more time enjoying nature and less time trying to pitch a tent!
Which Camper Van is Best for a Trip to Mount Rainier National Park?
Renting a camper van from Escape Camper Vans allows you to select a vehicle that best suits your travel needs, group size, and destination. From both the Seattle and Portland pickup locations, you can choose between the Mavericks, Mesa, and Del Mar van models.
Each of these models includes a queen-sized bed, kitchenette, and solar panels. They can all sleep up to five people (with an optional rooftop sleeper). The Mavericks is our most budget-friendly model, and it’s best for couples and small groups. The Mesa and Del Mar models offer more space and comfort, which makes them ideal for larger groups.
Check out our selection of vans to find the perfect vehicle for your trip to Mount Rainier!
Preparing for a Trip to Mount Rainier National Park
Home to 147 miles of roads and over 260 miles of trails, Mount Rainier National Park has a lot to offer. In order to maximize your time here, a bit of preparation is necessary before embarking on your adventure. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready to hop into your camper van and hit the road in no time!
Mount Rainier National Park Entrance Passes
All visitors must have an entrance pass to enter Mount Rainier National Park. There are a few options for purchasing this pass. Here’s a quick guide to help you select the best pass based on your travel plans.
Standard Entrance Pass: This pass is valid for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase and costs $30 for a private vehicle, including a camper van.
Annual Entrance Pass: For those planning to visit Mount Rainier National Park multiple times within a year, this pass is the way to go. It costs $55 and is valid for a year from the date of purchase.
The standard and annual entrance passes can be purchased online or in person at select entrances and visitor centers. For more information on where each pass can be purchased, visit Mount Rainier’s Fees & Passes page.
The America the Beautiful Pass: This federal pass provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, making it a great choice for anyone visiting multiple national parks in a year. The annual pass costs $80 and can be purchased online. To find out where you can purchase this pass in person, check out the National Park Service’s website. Escape Camper Vans also offers the National Park pass. It can be purchased when picking up your vans and will be yours to keep and valid for the next 12 months.
All overnight stays in the backcountry also require a permit. Additional information about this permit can be found here.
Hiking Guide Services
Hiking Mount Rainier with a guide is not mandatory, and many people have summited the mountain by themselves. However, hiring a guide can be beneficial, especially if it’s your first major climb or if you don’t have technical climbing skills yet.
Rain Gear: In true Pacific Northwest (PNW) fashion, Mount Rainier experiences lots of rainfall, especially in the spring, fall, and winter. Therefore, waterproof clothes and shoes are must-haves.
Extra Layers: The temperature here drops quickly in the evening and as you gain elevation on hikes, so an extra fleece is always a good idea.
Seasonal Gear: If you’re planning to participate in any seasonal activities, don’t forget your gear! In the winter, pack a warm coat, gloves, hats, scarves, and snow pants if needed. If you’re planning to hike, bring a daypack, hiking boots, and a water bottle. Depending on the hike you select, you may need hiking equipment such as trekking poles.
Sun Protection: Stay protected from the sun, especially at higher elevations, by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
Snow Chains: From November 1- May 1, all vehicles are required to carry tire chains to follow the park’s winter safety precautions. If you’re visiting during this time, make sure to add the optional snow chains to your rental with Escape Camper Vans.
Food & Water: There are a few restaurants and cafes located within Mount Rainier National Park. However, stocking up on food and water at the start of the trip is the most convenient option. With your camper van’s well-equipped kitchen and the optional kitchen kit, you’ll be able to enjoy meals on the go while exploring the park.
There are three drive-in campgrounds within Mount Rainier National Park, and they are all open from late spring to early fall. Because there is a limited number of campsites in the park, spots book up very quickly. Keep reading to learn more about the park’s campgrounds and their reservation policies.
Renting a camper van gives you the freedom and flexibility to enjoy dispersed camping, or camping for free on federal and BLM land. To find dispersed camping spots near Mount Rainier, download these apps.
Phones & Chargers: A fully-charged phone is one of the most important road trip tools, so make sure to bring portable chargers and a car charger. An aux cord is also a good idea if you want to listen to your favorite podcast or road trip playlist during the drive.
Maps: Cellular service is limited in some parts of the park, so you’ll want to download the Google Maps route for offline viewing before beginning your trip. We always recommend that you bring a printed map as well.
Getting Around Mount Rainier National Park
Since Mount Rainier National Park is divided into five developed sections, it’s important to familiarize yourself with each section’s offerings and the park’s layout before your trip. Based on the areas you’d like to visit and the activities you’d like to do, you can plan your route and choose which of the four park entrances is best for your trip.
Here’s a quick guide to the park sections and their corresponding entrances.
Paradise: The most visited section, Paradise is located on the south side of the park. This area is known for its breathtaking views, wildflower meadows, and access to both trails and park facilities. It’s also the park’s epicenter for winter activities like snowshoeing, sledding, and cross-country skiing.
Sunrise: Situated on the northeast side of the park, Sunrise offers exceptional views of Mount Rainier and Emmons Glacier. It’s home to the highest part of the park that can be reached by vehicle, which sits at 6,400 feet of elevation. It also provides access to an incredible trail system, making it the second most visited section of Mount Rainier National Park.
Ohanapecosh: A visit to the southeast section of the park, Ohanapecosh, is a true immersion into nature. Between its old-growth forests, serene hot springs, and the Ohanapecosh River, there’s tons to explore here. Plus, you can escape the huge crowds that Paradise and Sunrise attract.
Longmire: Home to the park’s original headquarters, Longmire is the park’s historic district. It features important facilities including the Longmire Museum and the Wilderness Information Center. Sitting right next to Paradise on the southwest side of the park, Longmire is another hot spot for winter activities.
Carbon River: For a more remote experience, visit Carbon River, which is located in the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. This park section contains rainforests, the Carbon Glacier, and Mowich Lake, the biggest natural lake in the park.
Nisqually Entrance (Southwest Entrance): The Nisqually Entrance provides access to Longmire and Paradise. It’s open year-round and is the most commonly used entrance. That being said, there’s often a wait to enter the park through this entrance, especially during the summer. Arrive early to avoid traffic near this entrance.
White River Entrance (Northeast Entrance): The White River Entrance provides access to Sunrise and the White River Campground. It closes for the season around mid-October and reopens at the end of spring.
Stevens Canyon Entrance (Southeast Entrance): The Stevens Canyon Entrance provides access to Stevens Canyon and the Ohanapecosh section of the park. It’s typically open from late May until early October.
Carbon River Entrance (Northwest Entrance): The Carbon River Entrance provides access to the Carbon River and Mowich Lake areas. This entrance is open year-round, but vehicle access is permitted only to the entrance. Beyond the entrance point, Carbon River Road is only open to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Sights and Activities in Mount Rainier National Park
As you can probably tell by now, Mount Rainier National Park is huge. There are five park areas to visit, hundreds of miles of trails, and so many incredible sights to be seen here. Therefore, narrowing down the best things to do in the park is no easy feat.
That being said, we’ve picked a variety of hikes and sights around the park for you to add to your itinerary. Here are just a few activities you won’t want to miss during your visit to Mount Rainier!
Located in the Paradise section of the park, the Skyline Trail is one of Mount Rainier’s most renowned trails. Lined with wildflowers in the summer, this trail provides surreal views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier. This 5.5-mile hike takes around 4.5 hours to complete, and the trailhead begins near the Jackson Visitor Center.
As the name suggests, Reflection Lakes offers incredible mirrored views of Mount Rainier. The lake can be viewed from its surrounding trails, including the Lakes Trail, Pinnacle Peak Trail, and the Wonderland Trail. Reflections Lakes is located along Stevens Canyon Road near Paradise.
As the largest waterfall accessible by car in the park, Narada Falls is an amazing quick stop in Paradise. From the lookout point, you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views of Narada Falls. You can also hike the steep 0.4-mile round-trip trail that leads to the bottom of the falls.
Christine Falls is also worth a visit, and it’s just a short drive away from Narada Falls in the Longmire section of the park. Park your camper van at one of the pullouts near Christine Falls and follow the short trail to the overlook below the stone bridge for an epic view.
Open year-round, Longmire is one of the best places to enjoy winter activities in Mount Rainier National Park. Along with snowshoeing, you can also enjoy winter hikes, cross-country skiing, and strolling through the area’s historic district. Afterward, warm up in the National Park Inn while enjoying a warm meal and hot chocolate by the fire.
Situated in the Sunrise area of the park, this trail is popular for its close-up views of Mount Rainier’s glaciated face. About 9.5 miles round-trip, this trail consists of three sections- First Burroughs, Second Burroughs, and Third Burroughs. You can complete all three sections of this challenging hike or trek to the first or second section and turn around.
A hot spot in the Carbon River section of the park, Mowich Lake is one of the park’s best summer destinations. Here, you can go fishing, embark on several hikes from the nearby trailhead, and relax on the shore. If you’re feeling brave, you can go for a swim in the lake’s crystal-clear water. But be warned- it’s super cold as the water comes from snowmelt.
An excellent family-friendly option in the Ohanapecosh area. This trail is an easy 1-mile hike that passes by warm mineral springs. If you’re staying at the Ohanapecosh Campground, this is a lovely trail to check out.
For more things to do during your trip to Mount Rainier National Park, check out this article!
Camping at Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is home to four campgrounds, three of which are accessible via camper van. Here’s everything you need to know to secure a spot at these campgrounds!
Where to Camp in Mount Rainier National Park
Cougar Rock Campground: Located in the southwest section of the park near Paradise, Cougar Rock has 179 campsites. These sites are available from late May until late September. Campsites are released for reservations on a 6-month rolling basis. We highly recommend that you book a spot early if you’re hoping to stay here.
Ohanapecosh Campground: With 188 campsites, Ohanapecosh is the largest campground within the park. The campground is located in the southeast section of the park and is surrounded by old-growth forest. Sites at Ohanapecosh are available from late May until early October. During peak season (from late June to early September), reservations are required and can be made up to six months in advance. Outside of peak season, sites are first-come, first-served.
White River Campground: Situated in the northeast section of Mount Rainier National Park, this campground is just 12 miles from the popular Sunrise area. White River is open from late June to late September and offers 88 campsites that are first-come, first-served only. This campground books up quickly each day, so you’ll want to arrive early in the morning to secure a spot here!
To minimize your impact on nature, it’s important to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. To do so, make sure to properly dispose of waste, pack all of your belongings into your camper van when leaving a campsite, and respect wildlife.
With alpine meadows, subalpine forests, and glacial ecosystems located throughout the park, a wide range of wildlife species can be found here.
The largest and most potentially dangerous animals found here include black bears and mountain lions. While these sightings are rare, it’s important to be aware of the park’s wildlife safety precautions and to properly store food.
Visitors are more likely to see animals such as deer, squirrels, mountain goats, pikas, birds, insects, and spiders while visiting the park. If you do encounter any of these creatures, do not feed or approach them.
When is the Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier National Park?
Mount Rainier National Park is open year-round and offers unique experiences during each season. However, some park roads and facilities close during the winter season, including park entrances, campgrounds, visitor centers, and picnic areas.
Here are a few more seasonal differences to consider before booking your trip to Mount Rainier National Park.
Spring: While early spring tends to be wet, cold, and quiet, the park starts to come alive again in late spring. Many of its facilities reopen for the season at this time. As temperatures rise and the snow melts, rivers and waterfalls flourish, making late spring a beautiful time to visit the park.
Summer: Between the warm, dry weather and the blooming wildflowers, summer is understandably the most popular time to visit Mount Rainier National Park. However, summertime also means park traffic, busy trails, and fully booked campgrounds. To avoid some of the crowds, try visiting the park mid-week.
Fall: The park quiets down in autumn but remains beautiful with its emerging fall foliage. Visiting in early fall will allow you to enjoy the park before its trails and facilities begin closing. In late fall, the weather becomes cooler, and there are greater chances of rain and snowfall.
Winter: A true winter wonderland, Mount Rainier offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy snow activities. This means you’ll need to bring winter gear, including snow chains for your camper van. Vehicle access is only available through the Nisqually Entrance in the winter.
Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for Your Trip to Mount Rainier National Park
Ready to marvel at majestic mountain views, journey through diverse ecosystems, and trek along some of the PNW’s most beautiful trails? With a camper van from Escape Camper Vans, you’ll be able to do all this and more while experiencing unmatched comfort and convenience!