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One Unforgettable Day in Mount Rainier National Park

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Mount Rainier National Park is one of three National Parks located in the state of Washington. All of the National Parks in Washington are distinctly different. North Cascades is reminiscent of Glacier National Park. While Olympic National Park is large and has many diverse ecosystems it’s mind blowing. 

Visiting all three to compare and contrast is what we did during a long road trip across much of the Northwestern part of the United States. The last of the three we visited was Mount Rainier. Let’s review the details of Mount Rainier National Park based on our visit to this park in July!

blue skies, green evergreen trees and a snowy mount rainier mountain in the national park in July

About Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is a very important mountain within the US! Mount Rainier is actually an active volcano. Not only that, but Mount Rainier sits at 14,410 feet making it the highest volcanic peak located in the lower 48 states of the United States. Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the state of Washington but also within the Cascade mountain range. 

Second to Alaska, Mount Rainier has the largest alpine glacial system. (This is located in the summit crater.)

Getting There

Mount Rainier National Park is located in Washington state within the west-central part. It’s a reasonable distance from many major cities making it an easy road trip destination to add to exploring a nearby city. Nearby cities include Tacoma, Seattle, and Yakima Washington as well as Portland, Oregon.

Before planning your route and setting out for the day, be sure to check the road status updates from the National Park Service as road closures do frequently happen. Depending on the reason for the closure, sometimes you can access the roads that are closed by non-motorized means such as bicycles. (But this isn’t guaranteed.) Let’s review some of the common routes to Mount Rainier National Park from nearby cities.

Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park

From Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park it is around 90 miles to drive. Depending on traffic, it should take just under two hours to drive there. (This also depends on where in Seattle you’re coming from.)

Since SEA-TAC airport is in southern Seattle, it’s actually a little bit closer to Mount Rainier. This will make spending one day in Mount Rainier National Park much easier. Navigating to the Longmire entrance and staying at the Paradise Inn would be my recommendation for exploring Mt. Rainier National Park from Seattle. 

But, you can also visit for just a day. A Seattle to Mt. Rainier day trip is very common. I’ll review more about Paradise Inn later on!

Portland to Mount Rainier National Park

From Portland Oregon to Mount Rainier National Park it is around 135 miles to drive. Depending on traffic, it should take about two and a half hours to drive there. (This also depends on where in Portland you’re coming from.)

Olympic (Port Angeles) to Mount Rainier National Park– Olympic Itinerary & Port Angeles

Port Angeles, WA is located on the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. Port Angeles is about 160 miles from the Longmire part of the park/Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. 

The drive from Port Angeles to Mount Rainier will take you through Tacoma, WA. Tacoma is the largest city within a close distance to Mount Rainier National Park. If you’re driving through, it’s a great pit stop to get anything you may need for a day (or more) of exploring Mount Rainier. 

Tacoma to Mount Rainier

Tacoma, WA to the Longmire entrance of Mount Rainier National Park is about 60 miles. It will take an hour and a half to make the drive. 

If you’re truly spending only 1 day in Mount Rainier National Park, Tacoma would be the closest major city. You could even stay there depending on what your plans are within the park. Just be sure to account for a possible longer drive back if you’re going throughout the park to many different areas. 

Winthrop, WA/North Cascades to Mount Rainier

Winthrop, WA (near North Cascades National Park) to Mount Rainier is a significant drive. The shortest distance entering the park on the east side is from Winthrop to (southeast entrance) at about 267 miles. This route will take just under 5 hours to drive. It would be best to drive the day prior, stay at Paradise Inn, and explore Mount Rainier early the next day, or stay a few days to explore the other areas of the park.

view of Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park Tips

Each National Park across the United States has something different and unique to offer. Mount Rainier National Park is actually a volcano! Some general National Park tips apply to most parks but here are some specific tips for Mount Rainier National Park.

  • Before going to the park, always check the road status update from NPS (National Park Service) as there is the possibility of last-minute road closures.
  • Always practice Leave No Trace Principles in the park!
  • Have an America the Beautiful/National Parks pass if you plan to visit numerous parks throughout a year’s time. If you’re a veteran or military member you qualify to receive a free lifetime pass!
  • Strategically plan your day and what you plan to see
  • Give wildlife space! There were so many marmots along the trails. Don’t get too close to them.
  • Look up the weather forecast each day and be prepared!
  • Go to the visitor centers, (Sunrise Visitor Center, Longmire Museum, Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise, and Ohanapecosh) they will have updates on trail conditions posted
  • Pack snacks, water, and plenty of supplies
  • Bring a pair of comfortable, waterproof, and breathable hiking boots
  • Bring extra socks, rain gear, and layers in case you run into inclement weather during the day
  • If hiking, be sure to hike to your ability, be realistic, and don’t overdo it! Most trail maps and alltrails.com will give you the expected elevation gain for a hike
  • Parking is very limited, so be there early!
  • There is still a lot of snow in July, so be prepared with hiking poles & spikes! 
  • August is the best time of year to see wildflowers
  • Stay at Paradise Inn
    • It will guarantee you parking and hitting popular trails and attractions early! (or later whichever you prefer!)
  • Consider visiting midweek if you’re planning to go during peak season (in the summer)
Trail conditions map in Mt. Rainier National Park

When is the best time for one day in Mt. Rainier National Park?

Much of Mount Rainier National Park is only open or accessible seasonally. So when deciding when to go, it’s very important to consider areas of the park that may not be operational at that time. The best bet is to go in summer, but that’s also going to be the busiest time. 

Midweek will be less busy compared to the weekend during the peak summer season. If you want to see the wildflowers of Mount Rainier National Park, be sure to plan your visit in August as that’s peak wildflower season. 

Summer in Mount Rainier

Summer is the obvious season to visit when the weather is the best, the days are longer giving you ample time to explore. Most of the roads within the park are open from May to October making accessibility not an issue.

Additionally, visiting in the summer you may have the opportunity to view beautiful alpine scenes filled with wildflowers. (August is the best month for this.)

Keep in mind, this is the most congested time of year so it may take longer to get around in the park and parking is very limited in many areas.

Spring in Mount Rainier

Spring can be a finicky season to visit Mount Rainier National Park. It may seem like winter on one day but the next be very unseasonably warm (but also extremely muddy!) Be sure to check the specific trails you want to hike to ensure they’re open.

The waterfalls as more and more snow melts will be full of water and truly a sight to see! Spring is a great time to view waterfalls and some even refer to it as “waterfall season”. 

Fall in Mount Rainier

If you’re into leaf peeping and seeing the gorgeous fall colors, visiting Mount Rainier in the fall should definitely be on your radar! Typically colors will reach their peak in early October (although it depends on the specific year.) 

Winter in Mount Rainier

Snow can occur as early as October in Mount Rainier National Park. Once the snow falls in the park, it presents many challenges for accessibility and hiking. There are many areas of the park that are closed during the winter. 

If you choose to visit in winter, be prepared and have a plan! It’s even more important to be prepared in winter than at any other time in the park. But, with the cold weather and snow, you can expect much more solitude and less congestion to deal with.

Entrances to Mt. Rainier NP

There are five different access points or entrances into Mount Rainier National Park when you visit. Based on where you stay and what you have planned to do within the park will determine which entrance makes the most sense for you. 

woman standing under the arch for the Mount Rainier National Park entrance

While Mount Rainier is open year round, not all roads or entrances are accessible, especially during the winter!

Southwest entrance 

The southwest entrance, otherwise known as the Nisqually entrance (near Longmire) remains open year round. Only in situations of extreme weather will this entrance to Mount Rainier be closed. 

When visiting in July, we went early and were leaving the park at 3 PM. The line of cars was 3 miles long! 

Northwest entrance

The Carbon River Northwest entrance is also open year-round. Vehicle access here is only allowed at the park entrance. From there, it is only permitted as pedestrian and bicycling traffic. 

East entrances

There are three different entrances on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park. Southeast, Northeast & the East/Chinook Pass. If you’re traveling from east of the Cascades you will cross through the Chinook entrance arch on your way into Mount Rainier for a day. 

The east entrances are very dependent on weather conditions. It’s really important to check the road status information when making your plans to head to Mount Rainier.

Areas of Mount Rainier National Park

There are five different areas of Mount Rainier National Park. 

They include:

  • Longmire 
  • Paradise 
  • Ohanapecosh 
  • Sunrise 
  • Carbon River and Mowich 

From the Northeast corner to the southeast, the areas go in the following order: Sunrise, Carbon River and Mowich, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, and Longmire. 

Let’s review some of the key elements of every part of Mount Rainier National Park so you can prioritize how to spend one day there!

Longmire (Southwest)

This area is located almost 7 miles from the Nisqually entrance. The historic museum and former park office is located here. Checking out the historic part of the park is definitely worth spending time here!

Paradise (South)

Paradise is one of the best hiking areas in Mount Rainier National Park. It is one of the more populated areas of the park due to the density of the day hikes. The most popular Inn is also located in this part of the park.

Ohanapecosh (Southeast)

The town of Packwood is the closest to this Southeastern area of Mount Rainier National Park. Access isn’t available year round. But when you are able to venture into this part of the park you will be encompassed by the old-growth forest all around you as well as the Ohanapecosh River.

Sunrise (Northeast)

The road to the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier gets snowed in frequently. There is only a small window of the year when you can access Mount Rainier National Park via Sunrise.

Carbon River and Mowich (Northwest)

This area of Mount Rainier National Park earned its namesake due to the fact that there were coal deposits found here. Be sure to bring your raincoat, as this area of the National Park receives a lot of rainfall and has the climate of a temperate rainforest. This part of the park frequently has changing weather conditions.

How to spend one day in Mount Rainier: An itinerary

Here’s a national park itinerary outlining what to do in Mt. Rainier in one day:

Enter via the southeast entrance to Mount Rainier

Be sure to stop and snap some pics at the signs! The first stop once you’re in Mount Rainier National Park is Reflection Lakes.

Head to Reflection Lakes

Reflection Lakes get their name due to the fact that when the weather is clear, you can see Mount Rainier’s reflection on the lakes. 

Make your way to Inspiration Point

You definitely want to make a stop at Inspiration Point. This is known as one of the best roadside stops with a view of Mount Rainier. Be sure to include this in your list of what to do in one day at Mount Rainier! It gets crowded and if you want specific angles or photos you may be waiting a bit, but be patient and courteous to others while doing so. 

Check out some of the photos we took below! 

Day Hiking

The Lakes Trailhead is located right past the visitor center for Narada Falls. We had a bit of a blunder trying to find this, but it’s right past the visitor center! 

Myrtle Falls is an absolute must! This is a beautiful dramatic waterfall with Mt. Rainier in the background. This is a short accessible hike so it’s always jam-packed with people. We did this in the afternoon which is probably the worst time ever! Plan smarter than us by going earlier or later for fewer people!

Comet Falls is an under 4-miles round trip out and back hike near the Paradise area of Mount Rainier. 

Naches Peak Loop trail, If you start clockwise, you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Rainier.

We tried to visit Panarama Point via the SkyLine Trail Loop. But even in July it was really hard to follow the trail because there was so much snow! Even if yu’re visiting in the summer season it’s important to check trail conditions even when day hiking.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park while spending one day there in July

Longmire Museum

The Longmire Museum is a historic must stop in Mount Rainier. This was the original park headquarters and was built in 1916 by John Longmire. This museum is open daily year round. If you’re interested in the history of this iconic National Park this definitely deserves a spot in your one day itinerary in Mount Rainier!

Day Hiking in Mount Rainier National Park

Not everyone is visiting Mount Rainier to trek to the summit. There are many great day hiking options in each area of the park. In the Paradise area of the park, many of the trails are very accessible and run into each other.

While spending more time in the park will allow you to see much more, you can easily fit some day hikes in while exploring!

Where to stay near Mount Rainier National Park

In Mount Rainier

The closest place to stay is actually within Mount Rainier National Park. Paradise Inn is located near some of the main destinations within the park where there is very limited parking. But, by staying here you’re guaranteed parking! They have dedicated spots for hotel guests.

The view of paradise inn from the hiking trail in Mount Rainier National Park

There are also several campgrounds located within Mount Rainier National Park. Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, and White River Campgrounds. Cougar Rock is located right on the Nisqually River and near the entrance to the park. Ohanapecosh campground is by Ohanapecosh Visitor Center off of 123 and 11 miles from Packwood. While White River Campground is 10 miles south of Sunrise near the White River.

Tacoma

Although a bit of a drive, Tacoma makes a day trip with an hour and a half drive to Mount Ranier. From Tacoma, you can even decide to go up to Seattle or explore the Olympic peninsula and Olympic National Park.

Seattle

If you’re only going to the National Park for a day, Seattle is a little bit longer of a drive compared to Tacoma, but it can be done! It’s about a 5-hour drive so it will make for a long day with a majority of it driving. I’d say to break it up and spend one overnight in the park though!

Other areas to stay 

Ashford

Mountain Meadows Inn

Full cabin only 5 miles from Mount Rainier!

Paradise Village Hotel & Restaurant

Paradise Village Hotel has a private wood burning hot tub on site! You can book this separate than your stay and even if you don’t stay there you can enjoy this!

Paradise village, cannibal hot tub with fire near Mt. Rainier National Park

Storm King Hotel

Packwood

Cowlitz River Lodge

Packwood Ski & Vacation Getaway

Crest Trail Lodge

Mountain view cabin with hot tub

Beyond one day: Climbing Mt. Rainier

It’s not possible if you only have one day in Mount Rainier National Park to climb Mt. Rainier. This will take 2-3 days so if that’s on your bucket list, be sure to allow the appropriate amount of time. 

Over half of the people who attempt to summit Mt. Rainier do not make it to the top! So, actually completing the hike is an accomplishment!

Is one day in Mount Rainier enough?

If you are a hardcore outdoor adventure enthusiast and want to summit Mount Rainier, one day is not enough. However, if you want to experience the park take in the sights, and do a few day hikes one to two days in Mount Rainier is sufficient to do so. If you’re short on time, even driving through Mount Rainier National Park is worth it.

But, staying at Paradise Inn overnight and exploring over a few days would be a perfect weekend!

View of Mount Rainier from the bridge by Myrtle Falls

FAQs for Mount Rainier in One Day:

How long does it take to climb Mt. Rainier?

It typically takes three to four days to climb Mt. Rainier. This depends on what route you choose to take and also your skill level. It can be dangerous to climb to the summit so it’s important to have the correct equipment. Many people will arrange a guided summit through an experienced mountaineering company.

How difficult is it to climb Mount Rainier?

Mount Rainier is one of the more demanding climbs in the western United States. Do not take the decision to climb Mt. Rainier lightly. Especially if you haven’t hiked mountains with glaciers previously, do not do so alone! Consider an experienced guide to accompany you to help you safely reach the summit.

How much does it cost to climb Mt. Rainier?

It will depend on the company you choose to go through for a guide as to the total cost. But in 2023, expect it to cost upwards of $2,000 or more. Cost can vary significantly depending on the number of people, what services are offered, and if you’re renting or using any of the company’s gear.

Mt. Rainier Volcano type?

Mount Rainier is a stratovolcano. Stratovolcanoes have steep sides and are more cone-shaped. It is an episodically active composite volcano. The most recent eruption was over 1,000 years ago. Mount Rainier sits on an area where oceanic and continental plates meet. This causes small earthquakes somewhat frequently. (Around 20 a year.)

Can you hike Mount Rainier in one day?

No, it’s not possible to hike to the summit of Mount Rainier in one day. You will need three to four days depending on what route you choose. It is a very dangerous hike as much of it is glacier. Many people who attempt do not make it to the top.

How much time do you need at Mount Rainier?

If you’re just exploring the park and not planning on hiking to the summit, then 2 to 3 days in Mount Rainier will give you a chance to fully explore. If you only have one day, you can see a lot of the highlights and do some shorter day hikes as well.

Which side of Mt. Rainier is better?

The Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park is the most popular. Especially if you’re spending 1 day in Mount Rainier it’s the most bang for your buck. You can take several day hikes with stunning views of the epic Mt. Rainier itself! Depending on the time of year you can see fall colors or beautiful wildflowers as well.

How many days at Mount Rainier?

You want to spend at least one day in Mount Rainier National Park. This will allow you time to explore and do some day hikes but not summit the mountain. If you have a long hike wish list 2 days would be great! Staying in the park would be a great way to get going early.

What is the best entrance to Mount Rainier?

The most popular entrance due to the proximity to Longmire and Paradise areas within the park is the Nisqually entrance. It is one of the most convenient as there are many state highways leading into the park on the southwest side of Mount Rainier National Park. It’s also popular since it’s open year round.

Can you drive to the top of Mt. Rainier?

No. You can only drive to the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier National Park. This area sits at over 6,000 feet in elevation. This is where Paradise Inn sits and you can only reach the top of Mt. Rainier by hiking to the summit. Keep in mind, it typically takes 3-4 days to reach the summit.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park while spending one day there in July

Conclusion: One Day in Mount Rainier National Park

You can spend one amazing day in Mount Rainier or multiple days if you’re planning on climbing the mountain itself. That hike is not for the faint of heart, though, and there are plenty of amazing day hikes throughout the National Park! 

For the best experience, stay in the park at Paradise Inn overnight to have access to many hikes right outside your door. Midweek is best if you want less congestion and people during summer but other parts of the year are just as beautiful but have different considerations for weather and access within the park. 

I hope this helped to plan your trip to Mount Rainier for your Washington travel adventures!

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