The 11 Best Mt. Rainier Hikes to Add to Your Washington Bucket List

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Mount Rainier National Park is home to the tallest mountain in Washington state and in the Cascade mountain range, towering 14,411 feet overhead. Besides the stunningly massive Mt. Rainier, this national park is a Pacific Northwest wonderland, full of fields of technicolor wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and some of the most incredible hiking trails in the United States.

So if you’re headed to the park and want to hit some of the most jaw-dropping trails, here’s 11 of the best Mt. Rainier hikes.

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Pssst… headed to Mount Rainier? You may want to check out our other posts about this amazing national park:

Skyline Trail: Mt. Rainier’s Wildflower-filled Paradise with Views for Hundreds of Miles

Fremont Lookout: Hike to Mount Rainier’s Highest Fire Lookout

Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout: Hike to Mount Rainier’s Most Beautiful Hike

24 Hour Guide to Fall Hikes in Mount Rainier

How to Get to Mt. Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is located in Washington state, about two hours southeast of Seattle. The park itself is enormous- 370 square miles!- and trailheads in the park can be up to a three hour drive from one another. So, given its massive footprint, it’s important to know which trail you’re headed to before making your way to the park.

Road in Mt Rainier National Park

In fact, the park is broken up into five sections, most of which have their own entrance:

  • Paradise is the most iconic section of the park, found on the southern side of the mountain. Known for its gorgeous wildflowers and the historic Paradise Inn, if you’ve only got one day in the park, I’d recommend it being in Paradise.
  • Longmire, located in the southwest portion, is home to the park’s historic district, with several charming log cabins and gorgeous lush forests.
  • Boasting some of the park’s best old-growth forests (like the epic Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, which is sadly closed indefinitely), the Ohanapecosh section, in the southeast corner, is an excellent way to escape the summertime crowds. 
  • Carbon River/ Mowich Lake, in the northwestern section, is only accessible via a pretty gnarly road- but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best hiking and camping in the park, without the crowds!
  • Sunrise, in the northeastern corner, is the second most popular portion of the park, with absolutely stunning views of Rainier. 

Below, I’ll list which section each hike is in, but if you’d like a closer look at the park, its trails, and other points of interest, the National Park Service always pulls through with their awesome interactive maps. If you’re old school like me and like actual paper maps, this tearproof, waterproof version is a great option (especially if you plan on going on any backcountry adventures in the park) and here’s an awesome guidebook to the park as well.

Once you reach your entrance of choice, you’ll either need to present an interagency pass, like America the Beautiful (which, for $80 a year, gets you into an unlimited number of US national parks!), or pay a $30 entrance fee per vehicle, that’s good for one week.

Road in the Sunrise section of Mount Rainier National Park

When is the best time to hike in Mount Rainier?

Mount Rainier National Park is one of the snowiest places in the lower 48 states- so unfortunately, it has a pretty short hiking season from mid-July through mid-October. In addition to the trails being mostly clear of ice and snow, the skies will be sunny and clear and the park will be full of colorful wildflowers.

Woman hiking on the Pinnacle Peak trail in Mt Rainier National Park

Most visitors come in the summertime to see the park’s iconic wildflowers, but I actually think fall in Mount Rainier is one of the most spectacular sights, thanks to its jaw-dropping autumnal foliage. In fact, if you’re all about seeing those extraordinary fall colors (who isn’t?!), Mount Rainier is one of the best national parks to visit in October.

Outside of that window, you may experience road or trail closures due to the heavy snowfall and may need either microspikes, trekking poles, or snowshoes (I have these and my husband, Justin, has these), as well as a keen understanding of the dangers of hiking in the snow, in order to explore the park.

Woman snowshoeing along Skyline Loop Trail of Mt Rainier

With that, let’s get into the trails!

Best Mt. Rainier Hikes

1. Skyline Loop Trail

Distance: 6.2 miles

Elevation gain: 1,788 feet

Difficulty: Hard

Trailhead: Located here, in Paradise

Woman hiking along Skyline Loop Trail in Mt Rainier

It’s tough narrowing down what would be my absolute go-to Mt. Rainier hikes, but if I was forced to choose only one, this just might be it. With its incredible fields of wildflowers, in-your-face views of waterfalls and the Nisqually Glacier, and even a good chance of seeing new mountain goat friends, the Skyline Trail is one of the most iconic and popular hikes in the park for a reason.

With sections of steep and unrelenting inclines, this trail can feel quite challenging at times- but given its stellar views, like Panorama Point, which quite literally provides 360-degree views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains, it’s absolutely worth the effort to complete the full hike.

Since it’s a loop, you can do it either clockwise or counterclockwise. Hiking counterclockwise initially offers a more gentle uphill climb that eventually ratchets its way up in intensity- but I slightly prefer clockwise, which offers breathtaking views from the very start of the trail to your last footstep.

Couple standing on Mt Rainier along the Skyline Loop Trail

2. Mount Fremont Lookout

Distance: 5.7 miles

Elevation gain: 1,118 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: Located here, in Sunrise

Okay, so you know how I said it was tough to narrow down my go-to Mt. Rainier hikes? If you can only choose one or two hikes in the park, I’d also recommend considering the Fremont Lookout

One of the best things to do in Mt. Rainier is exploring its historic fire lookouts, built in the 1930s. Given their high vantage points perched at the tippy top of mountains, these structures helped rangers spot burgeoning forest fires around Rainier.  Now, the remaining lookouts, like Mount Fremont Lookout, serve as a glimpse into the past, as well as providing some of the very best perspectives of the massive mountain.

Woman setting on Mount Freemont Lookout at Mt Rainier National Park

You’ll start the trail hiking up and along the Sourdough Ridge, where you can admire the seemingly endless layers of the Cascades off in the distance. You’ll continue downhill past Frozen Lake, a small alpine tarn, and start your steady climb up a scree field towards the lookout.

Unlike a lot of hikes in Mount Rainier, this trail is completely exposed, without trees lining the trail- meaning you’ll have unobstructed views that just keep getting better and better as you approach the lookout.

From the lookout itself, you’ll have panoramic views- of Rainier, its many foothills, and their beautiful lakes and beyond, a sea of snow-capped mountain peaks of the Cascades. 

Mount Rainier from the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail

If you really want to see Mother Nature strut her stuff, come here at sunset- the colors are absolutely spectacular and it’s one of the best places in the park to see a cloud inversion (basically, where the clouds blanket the ground, with nothing but you and mountain peaks standing above the clouds. SHEER MAGIC!).

3. Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout

Distance: 6.5 miles

Elevation gain: 1,540 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: Located here, in Carbon River/ Mowich Lake

This hike combines all of my favorite things- alpine lakes, a historic fire lookout, and, of course, sweeping views of Rainier.

Mount Rainier from the Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout

You’ll start the hike along the banks of Mowich Lake and wind your way through a dense pine tree forest. Because this is Mt. Rainier, land of stunningly beautiful alpine lakes, you’ll eventually reach the azure waters of Eunice Lake, which is surrounded by vibrant wildflowers and lush trees. With one final push up the mountain, you’ll end the hike at the Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout, with jaw-dropping views of Eunice Lake below and beyond, the sheer enormity of Rainier. 

This hike is especially gorgeous in the late summer, when the trails, slopes, and valleys are covered with wildflowers, as well as in the fall, when the park’s foliage and shrubs transition into gorgeous autumnal colors. 

4. Bench and Snow Lake

Distance: 2.2 miles

Elevation gain: 446 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trailhead: Located here, in Paradise

Woman hiking along Bench and Snow Lakes Trail in Mt Rainier

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, this tranquil hike, featuring not one but two alpine lakes (ahhhh… Rainier things), is the trail for you.

Starting from the trailhead, you’ll start hiking downhill, reaching a rocky outcropping about half a mile in. From here, you’ll have a partial view of Rainier and below you, the very tip of Bench Lake. A bit further down the trail, you’ll have the option to take a spur trail to the shores of Bench Lake, which offers a stunning view of the towering mountain above.

Snow Lake in Mt Rainier National Park

The trail continues on, climbing up and downhill, until you reach Snow Lake, surrounded by snow-studded mountains and towering pine trees. Justin and I actually hiked here with our inflatable kayak and paddled around for hours- nothing beats gliding across the surface of a glassy lake, with Rainier’s glaciers peaking over the treetops.

Pssst.. if you’ve ever been curious about how inflatable kayaks stack up, I wrote a review of the Intex Explorer K2 kayak.

5. Naches Peak Loop

Distance: 3.3 miles

Elevation gain: 636 feet

Difficulty: Easy 

Trailhead: Located here, in Sunrise

This short loop packs a lot in, with wildflowers and huckleberries abound (season depending), plentiful lakes, and, of course, stellar views of Rainier. 

The trail starts at Tipsoo Lake and climbs up a steep hillside, which overlooks a valley that, come summer, explodes with wildflowers. From here, the trail levels out and the path will lead you through meadow after meadow of vibrant wildflowers and greenery. 

While you can hike this either clockwise or counter, I’d highly recommend following the clockwise direction- Mount Rainier will be soaring in front of you for almost your entire hike! 

Woman hiking through fall foliage along Naches Peak Loop in Mt Rainier National Park
Tip: This is one of the very best hikes in Mount Rainier in fall- the colors of the shrubs and wildflowers here are out of this world. 

6. Pinnacle Peak

Distance: 2.8 miles

Elevation gain: 1,423 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: Located here, in Paradise

Along this trail, you’ll hike through a gorgeous pine tree forest and eventually, climb up several switchbacks up rock fields. In my opinion, this is one of the best hikes in Mt. Rainier for views of the eponymous mountain- it looks absolutely massive from here. It also is an awesome place to spot marmots, large brown rodents (cutest rodents ever!) that make loud whistling sounds while you pass.

Mt Rainier from Pinnacle Peak Trail

Once you’ve reached the end of the trail, you’ll not only have those in-your-face views of Rainier, but also Goat Rocks, Mount Adams, and the Cascade Mountains as far as the eye can see.

7. Glacier Basin

Distance: 7.8 miles

Elevation gain: 2,194 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: Located here, in Sunrise

If you’re looking for something a bit more off-the-beaten track, Glacier Basin offers a different perspective than some of the more popular trails in the park.  You’ll hike through a dense forest (in the summertime, it’s BURSTING with huckleberries), eventually reaching a basin with wide meadows, stunning views of the Emmons Glacier (the largest glacier on Rainier, which is the most glaciated national park in the contiguous United States!), and a sparkling lake.

Glacier Basin trail in Mt Rainier National Park

For some added adventure, there’s a one mile round trip side trail, Emmons Moraine, about a mile from the trailhead. This quick addition will take you to a milky turquoise lake, with the massive glacier towering above- absolutely worth the extra effort!

Couple camping in Glacier Basin campground in Mt Rainier National Park

8. Nisqually Vista Trail

Distance: 1.1 miles

Elevation gain: 180 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Trailhead: Located here, in Paradise

If you’re looking for an easier hike in Mt. Rainier or a family-friendly alternative to the Skyline Loop trail, the Nisqually Vista Trail is along a completely paved trail, cutting through subalpine meadows, resplendent with wildflowers come July and August, to an overlook of the Nisqually Glacier and Rainier. 

Nisqually Vista in Mt Rainier National Park

This is an excellent place to spot wildlife, like deer and marmots- ensuring this easy trail will be a hit with any kiddos!

9. Myrtle Falls

Distance: 0.8 miles

Elevation gain: 150 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Trailhead: Located here, in Paradise

Myrtle Falls in front of Mount Rainier at Mt Rainier National Park

Yet another family friendly option, this paved path is actually a section of the full Skyline Loop Trail. Beyond the usual ol’ views of Rainier and its wildflowers, you’ll be hiking to the 72-foot tall Myrtle Falls, which dramatically drops into a deep gorge below. 

This is one of the most photographed spots in the entire park (I mean, can you see why?), but expect to share the viewpoint with other hikers and photographers alike.

10. Summerland Trail

Distance: 10.1 miles

Elevation gain: 2,595 feet

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

Trailhead: Located here, near Sunrise

The Summerland trail is absolutely stunning, taking you first through a wooded forest, passing fields of wildflowers and about 4.5 miles in, bursting into a meadow with Mount Rainier towering above. You can stop here to camp (if you’re lucky enough to snag an elusive wilderness permit!) or if you just want a more manageable day hike.

Alternatively, you can press on through a rocky moraine, past rushing waterfalls and alpine tairns, to Panhandle Gap, for panoramic views of the surrounding Cascades and, of course, a jaw-dropping view of Rainier.

This is arguably the best wilderness campsite in the entire national park and, in my opinion, one of the most underrated fall hikes in Mount Rainier.

11. Wonderland Trail

Distance: 93 miles

Elevation gain: 22,000 feet

Difficulty: Challenging (… like, throw yourself a parade challenging!)

Trailhead: Circumvents Mount Rainier- you can start at several points

This is absolutely on my bucket list- on this epic trail, you’ll hike around the entirety of Mount Rainier in about 10-14 days. Along the way, you’ll see sights few other visitors get to see- charming historic cabins, elusive glaciers, babbling creeks, and endless perspectives of Rainier itself.

View of Mount Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

If you don’t have a spare 10 days of PTO or the will to climb 22,000 feet of elevation in one go (I don’t blame ya!), one of the benefits of the Wonderland Trail is that you can break it up into several smaller sections, like the hike from Longmire to Mowich Lake. So you could theoretically tackle the Wonderland Trail in a handful of trips or alternatively, just explore bits and pieces of Rainier’s most pristine backcountry.

Like all backcountry camping in Rainier, you’ll need a permit to camp along the Wonderland Trail- there’s usually an early access lottery in late February and early March (that I’ve lost three times in a row, NOT THAT I’M BITTER OR ANYTHING) for you to nab one of the coveted permits.

What to bring for Mt. Rainier Hikes

To have the best time on the trails, make sure you bring along the following gear:

  • Sunscreen: High elevation hikes frequently feel cool, but, trust me, the sun is nonetheless just as brutal here. Given the elevation and the fact that several of these hikes in Mount Rainier are largely exposed, I’d highly recommend slathering on sunscreen before you hit the trail. I swear by this stuff– you’ll instantly feel like you’re on a tropical vacation when you pop open the bottle.
  • Bear spray: So you know how I mentioned above that Rainier has abundant wildlife? This includes bears- and lots of ‘em. The park only has black bears, which tend not to be aggressive, unless you startle them or are perceived as a threat to their young.

    Because of this risk, Justin and I each carry a can of this bear spray, which is essentially like a gnarlier version of pepper spray that temporarily deters, but does not harm, the aggressive animal.
Man hiking along the Glacier Basin trail in Mt Rainier National Park
  • Bugspray: Mosquitoes can be kinda brutal during the summertime, especially at any of the hikes near lakes (which, y’know, is basically all of them in this alpine wonderland). Arm yourself with mosquito repellent and thank me later.
  • Water: Hiking + high elevation= lots and lots of water. To be kind to the planet and cut down on wasting money on single-use plastic bottles, Justin and I each have one of these giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international trips to hitting the trails of Mount Rainier. They’re easy to clean, hold a lot of water, and easily fit in the exterior water bottle pocket of our hiking bags.
  • Hiking boots: Mt. Rainier hikes transition from being along root-filled dusty trails to across rocky scree fields. Wear actual hiking boots (like these for women or these for men) to provide better protection from the stabby rocks and more traction on any icy or slippery surfaces.
Woman walking along the Skyline Loop trail in Mt Rainier National Park
  • Rainjacket: It’s the Pacific Northwest, y’all- you should be prepared for rain at any time. Lightweight rainjackets, like this one for women or this one for men, are awesome because they provide protection from the rain and also serve as the perfect lighter jacket for chilly mornings or evenings on the mountain.

Tips for Mt. Rainier Hikes

  • Arrive early: Mount Rainier receives an average of TWO MILLION visitors each year, almost all of them between July and September. So expect crowds, especially along the popular trails, like the Skyline Loop or Mount Fremont Lookout.

    To avoid having to fight to the death to other hikers for parking spots, I’d advise coming as early as possible (like, hitting the trail at or before 7 AM), especially if you’re visiting during the weekend in the summer. 

    The park controls how many visitors are in the park at any given time, so showing up late can mean that you’ll need to wait in line for hours by the park’s gate. Once, when Justin and I were exiting the park, we saw a stationary line of cars for the Paradise section that literally stretched two miles long- yikes!
Woman hiking through wildflowers towards Mt Rainier
  • Don’t trample wildflowers: Listen, I know the wildflowers are gorgeous and you want to run through them and pretend you’re in the Sound of Music and make all the TikToks. I’m right there with you. 

    But you just can’t- wildflower fields are extremely fragile. In fact, when most species of wildflowers are crushed, they’re unable to produce seeds, which is how they reproduce. Meaning your TikTok is not only killing the wildflowers you’re currently stepping on, but also future generations of its wildflower grandbabies to come. And you don’t want to be a future wildflower grandbaby killer, do you?

    While you’re at it, please know, love, and follow the other Leave No Trace principles– Mount Rainier is too beautiful to not respect!
Woman hiking along the Skyline Loop trail in Mt Rainier National Park
  • Leave the pups at home: Dogs are not allowed on any trails or buildings in Mount Rainier. 

    We once visited Mount Rainier on a hot summer’s day and parked next to a car, who had a dog frantically panting in it (I can only assume the owner thought the pup could hit the trails with them). We notified a ranger, who contemplated breaking the windows if the dog looked to be in too much distress.

    So do your dog and your car windows a favor and just leave the furbabies at home!
mt-rainier-hikes-mount-rainier-hikes-in-mount-rainier-1.jpg

Where to stay for Mt. Rainier

There’s so much to see in Mount Rainier- I’d highly recommend staying at least two to three days to see some of its highlights. If you can’t tell, I’ve been to the park north of a dozen times and still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface!

So consider making the following places your homebase:

  • The park itself is home to two lodges, Paradise Inn and the National Park Inn, as well as four established campgrounds (Cougar Rock, White River, Mowich Lake, and Ohanapecosh). Reservations for lodging in the park tend to book up way, way in advance, so if you have your heart set on staying within the park’s boundaries, I suggest reserving your spot as early as possible.
View of Mount Rainier from Skyline Loop Trail in Mt Rainier National Park

Outside of the park, you’ll have a bit more options and won’t have to book quite so far in advance.

Near the Longmire and Paradise section, consider staying at:

  • Paradise Village: With clean and updated rooms (including heated bathroom floors!) and even a wood-burning hot tub, this hotel is just minutes from the Longmire entrance.
  • Nisqually Lodge: While slightly outdated, this lodge is conveniently located close to the national park, has comfortable beds, and cozy touches, like a wood-burning fireplace in the lobby.

For the Sunrise section, consider staying at:

  • Alta Crystal Resort: In an area without a lot of options, this charming ski chalet, with an outdoor hot tub and heated pool and suites with fireplaces and fully equipped kitchens, is the perfect homebase.

I hope you have the best time exploring Mount Rainier and all of its amazing trails- it’s seriously one of the most gorgeous national parks in the entire country! Do you have any questions about the trails? Let me know in the comments below!

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