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20 Unforgettable Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park

The glaciated peak of Mount Rainier can be spotted across western Washington on clear days. The white, textured mountain glimmers against blue skies over the Puget Sound and is as integral a part of the Seattle skyline as the Space Needle.

While a trip to Mount Rainier National park is a bit further afield from the city, it is one that is well worth the two-to-three-hour drive to experience a taste of the abundant ecosystems, flora, and fauna surrounding the mountain. 

I’ve always had a love affair with Mount Rainier.

Spotting the peak from the city, or on the drive back from Seattle to my dad’s home near Enumclaw is one of my favorite parts about returning home to Washington State. And no trip is complete without at least one visit to the park. 

Hiking at Mount Rainier has quickly become a tradition for my father and I each summer (and fall, should I be in town then) during my young adulthood. A couple of years back, however, I found a photo of my family and I at Mount Rainier National Park when we first lived in Washington during my early childhood.

My roots in the park went further back than I thought and to this day, it continues to be my favorite mountain of the many in the Pacific Northwest, and one of my absolute favorite places to explore. 

While I haven’t crossed them all off my list just yet, there are few hikes near Mount Rainier that I haven’t traversed. 

Looking for some of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park? This guide offers you a comprehensive breakdown of hikes by region of the park and difficulty. 

This list focuses on day hikes versus trails requiring overnight backpacking. While it isn’t exhaustive – there are a seemingly unlimited number of hikes inside the boundaries of the park – it does feature my favorite day-hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. 

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A Quick Mount Rainier Geography Overview

Before we get into the specific hikes to tackle at Mount Rainier, it’s worth pausing for a brief and incomplete geography overview to introduce you to the different regions of the park, which will end up helping you make sense of the list of Mount Rainier hikes below.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano and the highest peak in the Cascade Mountain range. Explore the sub-alpine meadows and forests surrounding the mountain within the vicinity of Mount Rainier National Park, which is located southeast of Seattle. 

Depending on which section of the park you choose to visit, the drive from Seattle ranges between two to three-and-a-half hours to reach trailheads. 

There are four main sections of Mount Rainier National Park that we’re going to focus on in this guide, all of which offer distinct habitats and hiking experiences, as well as spectacular views of the Mountain itself. 

To illustrate the distance between the various regions of Mount Rainier National Park, we’d suggest taking a look at this map from the NPS, which shows you the layout of the park.

Paradise: The Most Popular One

The most popular section of Mount Rainier National Park and the only one that is open-year-round, Paradise is situated in the southwestern corner of the park. The Nisqually entrance provides access to both the Longmire and the Paradise sections of Mount Rainier. 

The roads are paved, making the drives easy and the hiking trails accessible. Along the way, there are many stops for waterfall sightings, sometimes directly from the road and some that require a short walk to reach. 

The road eventually leads to Paradise Visitor Center, where one can learn about the history and topography of the Mountain, join guided walks, and access some of the most frequented hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. 

Sunrise: The Best Area for Hiking

Sunrise, situated in the northeastern part of the park, is the second most frequented area of Mount Rainier and is the section that I know the best. Thanks to my dad moving out near Enumclaw a number of years ago, we have tackled every one of the hikes in and around Sunrise multiple times over. 

Sunrise Visitor Center has some fantastic exhibits about the Mountain that are worth reading. The center is also the highest point in the park you can drive to. 

While there are fantastic hiking trails that can be accessed from the parking lot at the visitor center, there are trails aplenty along the road between the entrance and visitor center as well. 

The roads are all well-maintained within this section of Mount Rainier, though they close down after the first snowfall, typically in October or early November. Sunrise also has some of the best summer wildflower viewing opportunities, especially in late July and August. 

Ohanapecosh: The Forested Part

Tucked into the southeastern corner of the park at a lower elevation, Ohanapecosh boasts a distinct topography. .

Ohanapecosh is nestled among emerald, old-growth forests that extend along the river with the same name. This scenery is quite unique in comparison to the alpine forests and snowfields found at higher elevation regions of Mount Rainier National Park. 

While views of Mount Rainier may not be as prominent in Ohanapecosh, the area still offers some magical hikes among ancient, majestic trees, along a roaring river, and some waterfalls. 

Mowich Lake/Carbon River: The Hard-to-get-to Part

Carbon River and Mowich Lake are in the northwestern part of the park. Mowich Lake is a great camping and hangout spot with a few great hikes from it.

The downside? The 18-miles of washboard gravel road to reach Mowich Lake requires a high clearance vehicle and can be tough on any car. 

On the upside, Mowich Lake is accessible year-round and can be explored with snowshoes or on a snowy hike in winter. And during the rest of the year, Mowich Lake—the largest and deepest lake in Mount Rainier National Park—is accessible for swimming, paddling, and fishing. 

The Best Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park spans nearly 370 square miles. The park is expansive and varied with an intricate network of trails and terrain to explore.

This guide will organize the hikes by each of the four main regions of the park that we just covered (which is why we took a second to cover them before jumping in).  

Just a few things to keep in mind before you embark on your adventure:

  • Come prepared with gear for the appropriate season (including sturdy hiking shoes and layers)
  • Bring more water than you think you’ll consume
  • Tread carefully on the land and don’t veer off the path—the meadows are delicate
  • Don’t feed the wildlife—I’ve had chipmunks and birds in the park come up to me and try to steal my food;
  • Leave no trace

The Best Hikes at Paradise

Paradise is arguably the most popular part of Rainier, attracting visitors year-round to revel in the beauty of the park.

Paradise is in the southwestern corner of the park, is open throughout the year, and has some very short, minimal elevation gain hikes with incredible Rainier views and lush meadows, making it accessible to all levels. 

Waterfalls flow abundantly around Paradise, from small cascades off the sides of the road to impressive falls crashing down granite walls. 

The Nisqually Vista Trail 

  • Length: 1.1 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Dog-Friendly: No 
  • Trailhead Location

Nisqually Vista might be more of an easy stroll than a hike, but it certainly immerses you into some of the best Mount Rainier scenery. With minimal elevation gain, a paved trail, and a short distance, Nisqually Vista Trail offers the perfect taste of Rainier without necessitating hiking gear and while still being accessible for most people. 

It can be easily combined with another hike in Paradise if you’re looking to experience a few trails in the park. 

The hike departs from the far end of the lower parking lot at Paradise Visitor Center, marked by a sign. Climb up steps to reach a paved, asphalt path that will take you to the loop. 

While you can hike the loop in either direction, if you choose to start counterclockwise, you’ll leave the best views for last. Follow the loop in whichever direction you choose through verdant valleys, with a handful of viewpoints along the way. Stroll slowly to take in the sights and sounds of the park.

The Nisqually Glacier from the viewpoint

The most impressive view of Nisqually Glacier is just over half a mile in if you go counterclockwise.  

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Alta Vista Trail 

  • Length: 1.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 560 feet
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

Alta Vista Trail is another very accessible hike that starts from the parking lot of Paradise Visitor Center. Despite its short distance, the trail meanders through terrain that is bursting with wildflowers in the summer—at their peak from late July through August— and boasts panoramic, close-up views of the mountain. 

You can reach the trailhead from either the upper or the lower parking lot at Paradise Visitor Center. Along the way, you’ll encounter numerous intersecting trails, but the numerous signs make Alta Vista Trail easy to follow. 

Although the trail is mostly paved, there are a few narrow spots on the path and some gentle incline to reach the summit of the hike among a grouping of fir trees, before sloping down to a rocky ledge. You can follow the loop, which will bring you back to the parking lot, or choose to veer off to one of the connecting trails for a longer excursion. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Bench and Snow Lakes Trail

The view of Rainier’s glaciated peak in Bench Lake
  • Length: 2.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 610 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Pass Required: National Park Pass
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location 

Bench and Snow Lakes Trail is the ultimate Rainier excursion that allows you to skip the crowds, experience the magic of two alpine lakes, and doesn’t require too lengthy of an adventure. 

The trailhead is located on the east side of the parking lot up steep sets built into the soil.

The trail is enveloped by foliage, which provides welcome shade on hot days, and is abundant in blueberries and huckleberries during late summer. While the elevation gain is mild, the trail has many ups and downs throughout. 

A view of Mount Rainier from the Bench and Snow Lakes Trail

About three-quarters of a mile in, you’ll reach the shore for Bench Lake. The glimmering lake waters in the foreground coupled with Mount Rainier in the background makes for a perfect photo opportunity. 

Once you’ve had your fix of views, make your way back to the main trail and continue to Snow Lake.

Snow Lake from the trail

Before you reach the lake, you’ll reach an intersection. If you head left, you’ll reach Snow Lake Campground, which is worth an overnight stop if you can secure a permit.

Head right to arrive at the shores of Snow Lake. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Pinnacle Saddle Trail

  • Length: 2.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back 
  • Difficulty: Easy / Moderate 
  • Pass Required: National Park Pass
  • Dog-Friendly: No 
  • Trailhead Location 

Covering significant elevation gain over a short distance, the Pinnacle Saddle Trail will make you work for the views, but the rewards are well worth it, spoiling hikers with close-up mountain views with verdant forest and the Nisqually Valley below.

Enter the park through the Nisqually Entrance and find parking in the small parking lot for Reflection Lakes. The trailhead starts across the road from the largest Reflection Lake, clearly marked with a sign. 

Start climbing through a lightly forested area. About three-quarters of a mile in, the forest opens up and provides clear, unobstructed views of Mount Rainier for the rest of the hike. 

The rest of the trail is now a rocky incline, with increasingly spectacular mountain views, as well as views over a network of trails across Paradise. 

After a final climb at around a mile and a quarter, you’ll reach Pinnacle Saddle, where you’re privy to views over lush, open meadows and dominant views of Mount Baker. Take it in for as long as you wish, pausing to absorb your surroundings, before heading back from the direction you came. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Christine and Comet Falls Trail

  • Length: 3.8 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Pass Required: National Park Pass
  • Dog-Friendly: No 
  • Trailhead Location 

One of the best trails if you’re wanting a full waterfall experience, the Christine and Comet Falls Trail covers a relatively short distance with an abundance of waterfalls, big and small, along the way. 

Find parking at the Comet Falls trailhead, with space for about 16 cars. From the trailhead of Comet Falls, as you’re crossing the bridge over Van Trump Creek, you’ll first be able to spot Christine Falls tucked in between trees.

Then, continue along the trail for about a mile and a half, walking parallel to the rushing creek. The trail winds in and out of forest before reaching a tributary at about 1.5 miles in, plunging down into the three-tiered cascades of Bloucher Falls. These falls are worth a photo stop, particularly on a sunny day when the light glimmers in the mist (pictured above).

Return to the trail over a small log bridge. Not far from here, Comet Falls comes into view between trees. 

To see the falls up close, continue a short way up a few switchbacks, staying left to reach the plunge pool. Admire the sun reflecting off the misty water cascading down granite faces through a thicket of evergreens. 

Get refreshed by the spray rising off the falls before you head back to the parking lot. Keep your eyes open for other small waterfalls along the way!  

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Lakes Trail Loop

  • Length: 5.25 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,550 feet
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Pass Required: National Park Pass
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

An enjoyable and very moderate trail that loops past numerous lakes and mountain views, the Lakes Trail Loop is a fantastic half-day hike departing from the Paradise Ranger Station. You can find parking in the lot for Paradise Visitor Center and then set off for your excursion downhill from the ranger station on the Lakes Trail. 

Half a mile in, you have the option to make a short detour to Narada Falls, adding in 1.2 miles to your trek and a spectacular waterfall viewing opportunity. 

As you continue along the Lakes Trail, you’ll come across a number of intersections with other trails. For a half mile, you’ll be walking along the shores of the beautiful Reflection Lake, which also happens to be a great photo opportunity with the glaciated peak of Rainier glistening in the background. 

From Reflection Lake, continue up a relatively steep climb through forest with a few creek crossings until you reach Faraway Rock, which overlooks the lake. Continue on for more than a mile until you reach the junction with Skyline Trail. At the junction, veer left and follow a series of switchbacks down Mazama Ridge. 

From here on out, you’ll be on a steady downward hike, crossing another series of creeks and then reaching Myrtle Falls just a quarter of a mile before you’re back to the parking lot.

At the intersection with the Skyline Trail, note that there is the option to straight up to Panorama Point, which loops back to your car on a longer route, though adds four more miles to your journey. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here.

The Skyline Loop Trail

  • Length: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,450 feet 
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Pass Required: National Park Pass
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

The Skyline Trail is a perfect introduction to Mount Rainier, offering you the best of the park in one fairly accessible trail. On this loop hike, you’ll walk through sloped, green valleys that are blooming with a smattering of rainbow-hued wildflowers—mountain heather, lupines, and cascade asters— in the summer months. 

By late September, these valleys will have turned red and gold with the warm shades of autumn. 

The Skyline Trail is equally stunning during both seasons and worth a trip during both summer and fall if you have the chance. The brilliance of Skyline isn’t exactly a secret though, so you’ll likely be sharing the trail with quite a few other hikers. 

The hike begins on the trailhead behind the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center in the Paradise parking lot. As many hikes depart from the same area and intersect with other trails, make sure to follow the signs for the Skyline Trail. 

If you head out on the hike going clockwise, the trail starts off with a pretty steep climb that eventually becomes gentler. Look out for views of Mount Tahoma and Glacier Vista coming up and eventually you’ll be hiking along Nisqually Glacier.

Throughout the duration of the hike, you’ll be nearly face-to-face with Mount Rainier most of the time and upon reaching Panorama Point, you’ll be met with views of Paradise Valley, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. 

As you depart Panorama Point, there are two options of trails to take as you continue the loop back. On the way back, you’ll have the option to take a significant detour on a four-mile trail to Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake. Otherwise, stay on the designated trail and pass by Myrtle Falls, a worthy photo stop about a half mile away from the parking lot. 

Expect this hike to take approximately three hours, depending on your pace. If you have the time, linger awhile so you can soak up the views and the peace of the mountains. 

It is important to note that you’ll have two options when hiking the Skyline Loop. You can either tackle it clockwise or counterclockwise. Which direction is best depends on a number of factors, including time of day you arrive and personal preference. 

Hiking it clockwise means a steeper but shorter ascent with incredible views of Rainier during your climb. However, you’ll also be contending with crowds on the ascent. 

Going counterclockwise, you’ll have a gentler and more gradual ascent on a quieter trail. On the downside, you’ll have a steep descent, which can be hard on the knees. You will also be sharing the trail with crowds going uphill. 

Neither route is perfect, though neither will disappoint! 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

Van Trump Park 

  • Length: 6.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,150 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate / Hard
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

The hike to Van Trump Park packs in a moderate challenge with a succession of waterfalls, alpine meadows, and spectacular views of Mount Rainier. This is one of my favorites in the Paradise section if I’m looking for a solid day hike that is still a reasonable distance. From the Nisqually entrance of the park, you’ll find a small parking lot just past the Christine Falls viewpoint. 

Not long after you start off on the hike, you’ll cross a bridge over Van Trump Creek, where you can also catch a glimpse of Christine Falls if you look over the bridge. Follow the trail as it meanders parallel to Van Trump Creek. The rushing waters add a perfect soundtrack to your hike. 

Look out for small waterfalls and cascades along the way. 

Then, at about 1.5 miles in, you’ll be rewarded with views of the three-tiered cascades of Bloucher Falls. And then just about a quarter mile further, you’ll get a clear view of the impressive Comet Falls, dropping nearly 400 feet down. 

Sound impressive? The hike is just warming up!

Continue up a fairly steep ascent, which will eventually bring you to a verdant meadow and your first glimpses of Mount Rainier. Carry on for just over another quarter mile until you reach Van Trump Park. Look all around you, as you’re enveloped by the vistas of Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens to the south, and the stunning Mount Rainier from an expansive meadow. 

You can unwind here before heading back from where you came, or you have the option of carrying on a bit further to Mildred Point. You’ll add on another mile, which involves a narrow, steep path among blooming wildflowers.

From the bluff at Mildred Point, the scene will become all the more dramatic as you come face-to-face with Rainier and peer down into the vast Kautz Creek Valley. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Best Hikes at Sunrise 

Sunrise, situated in the northeastern section of Mount Rainier is unquestionably my favorite area of the park. Although it is very seasonal and the entrance closes after the first snowfall, it has some of the most exciting moderate-to-challenging hikes. 

The Sunrise Visitor Center is also the highest elevation accessible by car in the park and offers stunning glacier views. In mid-summer, the trails around Sunrise are also renowned for wildflower viewing. 

Sourdough Ridge Trail

  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 400 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

The hikes from Sunrise tend to be a bit longer and more challenging than the ones from Paradise. Sourdough Ridge Trail, however, is the perfect option for a family-friendly hike that still provides enough of a challenge and the mountain vistas that everyone came to see. 

The hike departs from the parking lot of Sunrise Visitor Center, climbing up a set of stairs through the open, green valleys of Yakima Park for about half of a mile. 

Admire views down into Huckleberry Valley once you reach the intersection and continue left on the Sourdough Ridge Trail. After a short but steep climb, you’ll emerge to views of Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma, and the Sunrise Valley in front of you. Enjoy the flat and very picturesque trek along a ridge overlooking Sunrise Valley.

After just over a mile, you’ll reach a five-way intersection. Here, you have the option to follow a number of additional paths to extend your adventure. The path connects to intersecting trails that lead to Burroughs Mountain and Fremont Lookout, and by continuing straight ahead, you will also reach the Wonderland Trail, Berkeley Park, and Skyscraper Pass. 

Alternatively, if you’ve had your fill of hiking for the day, you can turn around and retrace your steps from here. You have the option to veer off Dege Peak on your way back before returning to the parking lot. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here.         

The Naches Peak Loop 

The trailhead for the Naches Peak Loop is located just off of Chinook Pass. You’ll find a parking lot with plenty of spaces, though due to the popularity of the hikes here, you can still expect them to fill up.

The Naches Peak Loop trail is as brilliant to experience during the summer as it is during the fall, with the abundance of meadows surrounding you coming to life with blossoming wildflowers and the vivid hues of autumn. 

The hike is accessible for almost everyone with a basic fitness level and makes for an easy, pleasant jaunt with incredible mountain views throughout much of the hike. 

You can choose to hike this loop in either direction, though I prefer hiking it counterclockwise. By hiking it in this direction, you save the best views of Rainier for the latter half of the hike. The trails weave through open, grassy meadows and pass by a number of lakes and ponds.

After you leave the lake, the hike becomes increasingly more picturesque. Mount Rainier soon comes into view and stays for most of the remaining hike. You’ll come into an old-growth forest at some point with views over the deep blue waters of Dewey Lake down below.

The second half of this hike is simply spectacular and can be walked as slowly as you want to simply enjoy the scenery. This hike also offers so many lovely areas to read and relax among nature so if you wish to linger longer than the hike itself, bring a book with you and make a day of it. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail

  • Length: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet 
  • Trail Type: Out and Back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Dog-Friendly: No 
  • Trailhead Location

A moderate hike to a classic lookout point, Mt. Fremont is the perfect way to spend a morning at Sunrise. Expect a mildly challenging hike that is accessible for most fitness levels and will reward you with incredible views. 

After setting out on the Sourdough Ridge trail, which starts from the parking lot of Sunrise Visitor Center, you’ll walk across open meadows and climb up rocky escarpments. You’ll eventually reach a junction with Mount Rainier and the three Boroughs looming in the background. 

At the junction, follow the trail to the right past Frozen Lake. The trail will eventually lead you to a historic cabin that is one of the original fire lookouts in the park.

The viewpoint is very exposed to the sun. From the lookout, take in the views of Mt. Rainier, the Cascades, and the Olympic Mountains before turning around and heading back down the trail. Expect the hike to take about 2.5 hours. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

Sheep Lakes to Sourdough Gap

For an enjoyable, moderate hike including a lake, mountain views, and wildflower meadows, get off the road right at Chinook Pass and hop on the trail to Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap. If you’re looking for an easier hike with minimal elevation gain, you can just do the leg out to Sheep Lake, which is 3.5 miles round trip. 

While the views of Rainier aren’t as spectacular as other parts of the park, the hike is accessible for most levels. During summer, the meadows are dotted with wildflowers and in the autumn, they are ablaze with red huckleberry bushes. Take a dip in the frigid but refreshing Sheep Lake or lounge in the grassy fields on the lake’s edge. 

If you wish, you can carry on to Sourdough Gap and Crystal Lakes. As you continue to climb, the landscape becomes increasingly more spectacular. 

At the end of the 1.4-mile ascent with noticeable elevation gain, you can spot the sparkling blue Crystal Lake in the basin below, surrounded by views over the south Cascades, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens. Savor the views and when you’re ready, return to where you came from. 

The cool waters of Sheep Lake might be even more inviting now after a more challenging hike! That’s the order I tackled it in—hiked to Sheep Lake and stopped for lunch, carried on to Sourdough Gap, and then on the return descent, jumped (well, more like tentatively stepped) into Sheep Lake and relished in the cool water. 

The hike will take 3-4 hours, depending on pace and if you stop for a dip in Sheep Lake. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Berkeley Park Trail

  • Length: 7.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location 

A trek that starts in a stark landscape and leads you to the lush Berkeley Park with crystal-clear mountain views is a phenomenal day-hike for anyone looking for a moderate challenge and a healthy dose of Pacific Northwest magic. 

This hike begins from the parking lot at Sunrise Visitor Center, starting off at the same point as many other trails. Climb up a set of stairs through an emerald valley to a ridgeline overlooking Huckleberry Valley. 

From here, you’ll follow the Sourdough Ridge Trail on a high ridge across the Sunrise Valley for about a mile until you reach an intersection. Here, you’ll continue straight to Berkeley Park. 

At this point, the trail briefly joins the Wonderland Trail, curves around the rocky Burroughs Mountains, and begins to descend. Continue straight down into the top of Berkeley Park. 

Here, you’ll feel as though you’re entering a flower-filled wonderland with tumbling creeks, green valleys, and wild critters.

Pick a spot in the valley to enjoy lunch and savor the views. You can stay here or continue a mile further to the base of Berkeley Park, which is also Berkeley Camp. A beautiful spot to book a camping permit if you’re after a short backpacking adventure.

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Summerland Trail 

  • Length: 8.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,100 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

Summerland is one of those trails I’ll return to time and again. I just hiked it again at the beginning of September and with the lingering intense heat of this summer, I experienced a different side to Summerland. 

I hadn’t remembered just how exposed the trail was for most of the trip—and it was hot with the intensity of the sun. I was incredibly grateful for the rushing stream that I crossed over about two-thirds of the way through the hike, where I stopped and splashed water on my face and arms, relishing in the divine freshness of the glacial melt water. 

The hike starts from a trailhead off the side of the road on the way to Sunrise Visitor Center. There are some designated parking spaces, as well as places to park along the side of the road. However, it is a popular hike, so it is best to plan accordingly. 

When you set off on the trail, you’ll start off climbing through old-growth forest on a gradual incline. The shady foliage soon opens up to an exposed trail for quite some distance. Eventually you’ll cross a rushing stream (a welcome reprieve on a hot day) and continue to ascend before the trail opens up to grassy, wildflower-dotted meadows with sweeping views of Mount Rainier. 

You can stop here, which is around the Summerland Campground, and find a spot for lunch. There are a number of logs to sit on and admire the mountain views from.

Or, you can continue to trek for a while through meandering meadows, as the trail continues as part of the Wonderland Trail Loop. If you’re up for a 12 mile hike, the hike out to Panhandle Gap is magnificent. Here’s the view:

Either way, you’ll be completely enveloped by the splendor of Mount Rainier.

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Burroughs Mountain Trail

  • Length: 9.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Dog-Friendly: No 
  • Trailhead Location

One of the more challenging day hikes in Mount Rainier, Burroughs Mountain is also one of my favorites. This trek is defined by three small peaks in high-elevation terrain that feels otherworldly. 

Unlike many of the other hikes in the park, which include quite a bit of distance through forests, this trail is exposed the entire way. On a sunny day, the hike can feel deceptively hot due to the sun exposure and the high elevation, though it feels much colder when you stop for a rest. It is best to come prepared for all conditions. 

That being said, this unique topography is also what makes Burroughs Mountain trail more interesting, as the terrain is so distinct from other trails. The open, barren landscape offers dramatic and unobstructed views of Mount Rainier throughout the trek. 

The trailhead starts from the northwest corner of the Sunrise Visitor Center parking lot and follows the signs to the top of Sourdough Ridge. You’ll walk across open, relatively arid valleys. Well into early summer, you might need to cross snowfields on your way to the First Burroughs. 

Even in late summer, you’ll still likely find snow patches on the trail. Despite the dry terrain, the hills are still blooming with colorful wildflowers in early summer. Look out for goats, chipmunks, and marmots roaming the hillsides. 

When you reach Frozen Lake, follow the signs for Burroughs Mountain Trail and continue up a pretty steep incline to reach the First Burroughs Mountain.

Continue on to Second Burroughs, which requires some more elevation gain but rewards you with views from every direction: Glacier Basin, Little Tahoma, and sweeping views of the park.

While many people choose to turn around here, you can continue to make the final push to Third Burroughs. However, you should know that it’s a big climb, doubling the elevation gain (roughly) of the entire hike because you have to descend down into a valley before making your final ascent.

You do need to conquer a steep climb to reach the rocky top at 7,800 feet, but you’ll seem so close to Rainier that you’ll feel like you can touch it.

Stay awhile and admire the glaciers at a proximity you’re not privy to in most areas of the park. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Best Hikes at Ohanapecosh

Ohanapecosh, located in the southeastern section of Mount Rainier, offers a unique experience to the rest of the park. Here you’ll find old growth forests at lower elevations with phenomenally impressive ancient trees. 

However, the tradeoff is that there are almost no Rainier views in Ohanapecosh. 

Grove of the Patriarchs

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 50 feet
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

This easy hike should take you less than an hour but will be an hour packed with spectacular time beneath ancient giants. The trailhead to the Grove of the Patriarchs is located just across the Ohanapecosh River Bridge on a tiny island that has been preserved from the tests of time. 

Amble among majestic, ancient western red cedars, Douglas firs, and western hemlocks that have been preserved on this island for over 1,000 years. The isolated location has protected their environment. 

While the hike might be short, it is entirely unique in comparison to other trails within Mount Rainier National Park. Savor the experience by walking slowly and perhaps bringing a book or a lunch and enjoying it on the edge of the Ohanapecosh River and beneath the shade of the ancient trees.

The loop will bring you back to where you started and will perhaps leave you wanting more. The good news is that if you’re up for more of a hike, right next to Grove of the Patriarchs is another short hike you can explore after for a full day of exploring this section of the park. 

Note for 2023: This trail is closed indefinitely due to a bridge washout and is not expected to be open during the 2023 season – check here to see current status.

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

Silver Falls

  • Length: 3.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 600 feet 
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

Silver Falls is a short but sweet loop through some of the forested areas of Ohanapecosh. The trail was originally used to access the springs, which were a popular spot to soak in for their healing properties. While the springs are no longer accessible for swimming, the trail is still open and makes for a pleasant forest walk. 

The hike begins from the end of campground Loop B on the riverbank of Ohanapecosh River. 

The trail starts through thick forest on a wide, easy path that has a very gradual climb to overlook the Ohanapecosh River crashing down into white rapids. Follow switchbacks down to a bridge overlooking the tumbling waterfall and roaring river. Continue to follow the loop past the bridge and enter an expansive, open forest. 

Finish the hike beneath the grandeur of old growth trees and across a mossy carpet as you make your way back to the parking lot.  

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

Shriner Peak

  • Length: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,434 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Pass Required: None
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

The most challenging hike in the Ohanapecosh section of the park by far, Shriner Peak sees far fewer visitors than other trails in the park. 

The trail is exposed, steep, and lengthy, which may deter many from the hike. However, the views are rewarding enough for the challenge and the cherry on top is that you’ll most likely have the trail to yourself. 

Shriner Peak is best attempted during cooler, fall months as the exposed trail can get very hot on sunny, summer days.

The trail steadily ascends for the entire duration. At the start, it runs parallel to the Panther Creek through cedar and fir trees. Less than a mile in, you’ll reach an area that has previously been impacted by forest fires and is lacking natural shade from trees. After a series of steep switchbacks, you’ll finally be rewarded with your first views of Mount Rainier. 

The hillsides are covered in wildflowers in the summer and transformed by vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold come autumn, when the maple, golden larch, and crimson huckleberries are turning colors. A dusty, rocky ascent still lies ahead of you, where a watchtower sits atop Shriner Peak. 

Take in the views of Shriner Lake, Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Sourdough Ridge surrounding you, while resting before heading back down.  

For more information and recent trail reports, check here.  

The Best Hikes at Mowich Lake 

Mowich Lake is situated in the northwestern section of Mount Rainier. This area has fewer trail options than other areas of the park, although it contains two of my favorites and easy lake access for a post-hike swim. 

Note that Mowich Lake is somewhat challenging to reach due to the 18-mile washboard gravel road that is required to navigate. 

Tolmie Peak

  • Length: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

The trailhead for Tolmie Peak is located in the area of Mowich Lake Campground and is best reached with a high clearance vehicle to conquer the long and arduous road to get there. 

While I might be slightly biased towards the Spray Park trail, Tolmie Peak is another fantastic hike that offers decent mileage and a slight challenge without overwhelming elevation gain. 

The trail starts off on a gentle incline through lowland forest. Expect a bit more of a steep incline before you reach Ipsut Pass, which is also part of the Wonderland Trail. From the Pass, you’re a little under a mile to Eunice Lake surrounded by beautiful meadows. 

You can choose to stop at the big, blue, beautiful Eunice Lake for lunch, although you might be competing with swarms of bugs in the height of summer, unfortunately.

Alternatively, you can continue past the lake for the final climb of the hike, which is a steep mile that will bring you to the old Tolmie Peak fire lookout.

Your reward at the top? Perfect, close-up views of Mount Rainier, views over evergreen-lined ridges, and views down into the Carbon River Valley and Eunice Lake. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

Spray Park

  • Length: 8.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dog-Friendly: No
  • Trailhead Location

It had been a few years since I had hiked Spray Park and I had forgotten just how much I loved it until I went back this August. With the exception of the washboard road to reach the trailhead, this has quickly moved to the top of my favorite hikes in Mount Rainier.

There is enough of a challenge to feel like you’ve had a sufficient workout, but it won’t exert all of your energy or require an advanced fitness level.

The trailhead is also located at Mowich Lake Campground, where there is an abundance of parking spaces. The hike departs from a different part of the campground from Tolmie Peak, however. 

Like many hikes in the park, you’ll start climbing through shady, old-growth forest. It really is a beautiful climb among noble giants. There are a few fallen trees that make for perfect spots to sit and soak up the splendor of the forest before continuing on. 

The second half of the hike involves a steeper ascent. You’ll also have the option to take a short detour to the viewpoint for Spray Falls, which I highly recommend. After a few hundred feet, you’ll reach an opening in the trees high above you, from which a long stream of water is cascading down rock faces.

In front of you, you’ll find a rushing stream that you can choose to cross (carefully!) to reach the other side of the stream—and a much clearer viewpoint of the falls. 

After you’ve had your waterfall fix, continue along the hike. You will know you’re nearing the top when you cross a small bridge over a stream and enter an open meadow with Mount Rainier coming into perfect view. This scene feels quite magical and is one of my favorite spots in the park. 

Continue walking for a short distance before finding a log to take a seat on and enjoy a lunch with mountain views. The steady descent makes for a fairly easy return. 

Once you’re back, Mowich Lake is the perfect spot to take a dip—and the water actually is quite pleasant! It is also big enough for paddle boards and kayaks if you wish to paddle around instead. 

For more information and recent trail reports, check here

The Best Time to Go Hiking in Mount Rainier National Park

If you’re thinking of exploring some hiking trails at Mount Rainier in June thinking that it technically is summer and you’ll be able to hit the trails snow free, you might want to think again. 

We have an entire guide dedicated to the best time to visit Mount Rainier, organized by season and featuring pros and cons for visiting during each. If you want more detail, that’s the place to look.

Summer Hiking in Mount Rainier National Park

The summer season arrives late in Mount Rainier and the trails are still covered in a blanket of snow through June. Timing depends entirely on each year, but typically by mid-July, you should be able to start hiking in Mount Rainier National Park.

Expect some of the lower elevation trails to open at the start of July at the absolute earliest, but you might encounter some snow along the way.

August and September are the surest months for hiking in the park, when last year’s snow has melted, skies are blue, the sun is almost always shining, and this year’s snow has yet to fall.

Early-to-mid-August witnesses the meadows coming to life with vivid shades of yellow and purple wildflowers.

Hiking in the Fall

In most years, the hiking season lasts through mid-late October. By late September, signs of fall are starting to peek through as red huckleberry, larches, and aspen trees turn into fiery shades of orange, crimson, and gold. Temperatures are a bit cooler and the air is crisp, with intermittent days of rain. 

Early fall is among the best times to hike in Rainier with moderate temperatures, full trail accessibility, fewer crowds, and brilliant colors. 

Winter at Mount Rainier

Just as summer comes late in Mount Rainier, winter weather also arrives early. By the beginning of October, temperatures will have dropped significantly and there is a much higher frequency of rainfall. 

Although it varies by year, by mid-late October, there is the anticipation of the first snowfall. Once the first snow falls, the majority of the access roads and trails shut down for the remainder of the year and won’t open again until the following summer. 

One exception is the Paradise section of the park, accessible from the Nisqually Entrance, which remains open year-round.

While you may not be able to access the majority of the trails, you still will be able to take a drive through the park, admire the evergreen trees blanketed in layers of snow, stop at some viewpoints to admire the quiet magic of the park in winter, and even snowshoe on a few of the hiking trails if you have the right gear. 

However, it is still important to make sure that the roads to Paradise are open and vehicles must carry tire chains between November 1st and May 1st. Winter hiking gear is also essential to traverse any of the winter trails. 

Spring at Mount Rainier

While much of the park (and subsequently, the hiking trails) is still closed in springtime, you can access the park through Nisqually Entrance. 

I’ve gone on a few hikes in late May that are accessible but quickly become buried deep with snow and still require winter gear. Spring is a perfect season to go on a waterfall loop, as their waters are extra powerful with fresh snowmelt.

Additionally, there are a handful of lower elevation hikes that will be accessible from around May, particularly in Packwood, Longmire, and Carbon River areas of the park.

Trail of the Shadows, Packwood Lake, Greenwater Lakes, and Lower Eastside Trail are among the low elevation hikes accessible during springtime in Rainier. 

Look out for colorful wildflowers bursting through as the park is slowly waking up from its winter slumber. 

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