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Guide to visiting Mt Rainier National Park, WA

Guide to visiting Mt Rainier National Park, WA

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Up there with my favourite US National Parks visited during our three-month road trip across America is Mt Rainier. Visiting Mt Rainier when we did meant there was still plenty of snow and the lakes were frozen (mid-May), but this made it even pretty. Plus, we were treated to an absolute beauty of a sunset and I saw my first ever bear!

It happened to be wandering across the road once we turned a corner right after I’d just said to Thom “I wonder if we’ll see any bear in Canada” (Canada being where we were heading after our USA tip). If you’re planning to visit Mt Rainier then be sure to check out this Mt Rainier travel guide below for the key things to know before visiting Mt Rainier National Park, Washington.

guide to visiting mt rainier national park in washington pin

About Mt Rainier National Park

Mt Rainier is a National Park in Washington State, USA. The park gets its name from the massive Mount Rainier with stands at a whopping 4392m (14,410ft) above sea level! Mt Rainier is an active volcano and is the most glaciated peak in the Lower 48 States. The lower slopes on this volcano are covered in forest which gives way to wildflower meadows and then an icy ring around the crater.

Mt Rainier National Park was the fifth National Park in the US and covers 236,381 acres with Mount Rainier pretty much in the middle.

Mount Rainier has five developed areas: Longmire, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, Carbon/Mowich and Paradise, Mt Rainier. That’s not to say they’re all super developed and some are more developed than others, but each one does act as a good base for exploring the rest of the park. There are several visitors’ centres but only the Henry M Jackson Memorial Mt Rainier Visitor Center in Paradise is open all year round.

The park gets very busy in summer and it’s recommended to visit mid-week if possible and enter outside the hours of 10am-2pm to avoid the longest queues.

sunset in mt rainier national park

Where is Mt Rainier National Park located?

Mt Rainier National Park is in Washington State, USA. It’s around 138 miles north of Portland and the distance from Seattle to Mt Rainier is between 55-90 miles depending on which of the Mt Rainier entrances you arrive at. Because of its location, it’s possible to do a Mt Rainier one day trip without too much effort.

Mt Rainier National Park map

mt rainier national park map

This map of Mt Rainier National park shows you a basic layout of the park. You can find other park maps, including a Mt Rainier hiking map here.

mt rainier national park

How to get to Mt Rainier National Park

Mt Rainier National Park is pretty easy to get to from both Portland and Seattle which makes a Mt Rainier day trip easily doable if you’re from, or visiting, either of these cities.

If you are visiting the Pacific North West on vacation and need to rent a car, I highly recommend checking out who make it super easy to compare prices so you get the best deal.

Nearest airports to Mt Rainier

The nearest international airports to Mt Rainier National Park are Seattle-Tacoma and Portland International Airports.

If you’re flying to the US before visiting Mt Rainier National Park and have dates in mind then I recommend checking out to compare your cheap flights!

If you’ve yet to choose your dates then take a look at Dollar Flight Club, once signed up you can set your home airport(s) and then they’ll let you know when they find amazing deals on flights. The savings they find every day AMAZE me!

Driving directions to Mt Rainier from Seattle

From Seattle to Mt Rainier National Park, taking the I-5 is usually quickest but that depends on traffic. You’ll take the I-5 S to exit 127 for WA-512 E towards Puyallup/S Tacoma Way.

The Seattle to Mt Rainier drive usually takes around 1.5-2 hours so planning a Seattle to Mt Rainier day trip is easy!

Driving directions from Portland

Driving from Portland to Mt Rainier usually takes 2 hours 20 – 3 hours. You’ll take the I-5 Northbound out of Portland and then take exit 68 for US-12 E toward Morton/Yakima.

mt rainier national park

Mt Rainier National Park entrance fees & permits

Here are some of the following permits, passes and fees you may need to pay during your Mt Rainier National Park.

Mt Rainier National Park entrance fees

The Mt Rainier entrance fee costs $30. This gives unlimited entry for 1 vehicle over the course of seven consecutive days. If you’re visiting by bike or on foot then a pass costs $15.

If you’re planning on visiting a few US National Parks over the course of a year then consider buying the “America is Beautiful National Parks Pass.

You can also get an annual pass for Mt Rainier which costs $55 and is great if you think you’ll be visiting the park more than once that year.

Mt Rainier camping fees

For those of you wishing to go camping in Mt Rainier National Park, you’ll need to pay $20 per person per night. Campsites are available on a first come, first served basis but you can reserve sites for the Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh Rock campgrounds on the web site.

Mt Rainier campgrounds

There are four campsites in Mt Rainier National Park: Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, White River and Mowich Lake. Not all Mt Rainier National Park camping sites are open all year round so I recommend you check out this page of the NPS site.

Most of the Mt Rainier National Park campgrounds are suitable for car camping with the exception of Mowich Lake campground. This campground is free but is only suitable for tents and you still need to self-register even though there’s no payment.

Group sites are available at Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh and cost $60.

Backpacking in Mt Rainier National Park: Backcountry fees and permits

If you wish to explore the backcountry hiking trails in Mt Rainier National Park and camp overnight you’ll need to get a wilderness permit.

It’s recommended that you make a reservation to get a wilderness permit which reserves you a specific wilderness camping site for the night. The permits available to reserve fill up quickly during summer. About 70% of permits are allocated for reservation and 30% are kept back for first-come, first-served customers.

Reservations open in March each year and The Wonderland Trail, in particular, is extremely busy. Because of this, reservation requests are usually not accepted after 1st April.

It costs $20 to make a reservation request and this is non-refundable whether you are successful or not at securing a Mt Rainier National Park backpacking permit

You can find more information about exploring the wilderness of Mt Rainier here. 

mt rainier national park

Where to stay near Mt Rainier National Park

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay near or in Mt Rainier National Park then check out the following recommendations below for Mt Rainier hotels and campsites outside of the park.

Mt Rainier Lodging within the park

If you’re wondering where to stay in Mt Rainier National Park then read on. There are two hotels in Mt Rainier National Park which are shown below. Mt Rainier National Park hotels usually cost more than staying slightly outside of the park and book up quickly but they’re great if you don’t want to have to drive into the park each day.

  • The Mt Rainier National Park Inn: The National Park Inn in Longmire which is open all year round and has 25 rooms, a store and a dining room. It can be reserved here.
  • Paradise Inn, Mt Rainier: The historic Mt Rainier inn, Paradise Inn, is usually open from mid-May to early October and has great facilities for a hotel in Mt Rainier Park.

Hotels near Mt Rainier National Park

Most of the hotels near Mt Rainier National Park are located in the town of Packwood and Ashford which are towards the south of the park. Both towns are only about 16km (10ish miles) from park entrances.

Campgrounds near Mt Rainier National Park

If you wish to go camping near Mt Rainier National Park then you’re in luck. Mt Rainier is surrounded by lots of campsites and the VisitRainier site is full of options for RV camping near Mt Rainier as well as tenting.

bear at mt rainier national park

Top 5 things to do at Mt Rainier National Park

Take a look at my pick of the top things to do in Mt Rainier National Park (of course there’s much more to do than what’s listed below!) for an idea of what to do at Mt Rainier.

  1. Find Myrtle Falls: This Mt Rainier waterfall has the volcano in the background and it’s one of the best views of Mt Rainier in the park.
  2. Walk the wildflowers nature trails at Paradise
  3. Take the Mt Rainier scenic drive
  4. Take on one of the many Mt Rainier hiking trails! (see below)

5 of the best Mt Rainier hikes

There are so many Mt Rainier trails to hike and they’re all beautiful in different ways. These trails include a mix of easier day hikes and longer backpacking trails in Mt Rainier. I highly recommend trying to fit in at least one Mt Rainier National Park hiking trail during your trip!

  • The Skyline Trail: one of the more popular Mt Rainier day hikes
  • Spray Park
  • The Naches Peak Loop
  • Burroughs Mountain trail
  • The Wonderland Trail – the ultimate in Mt Rainier backpacking and extremely popular.

Check out this post for more of the best Mt Rainier National Park hikes including the best day hikes in Mt Rainier as well as backpacking

mt rainier national park

Things to do around Mt Rainier

If you’re in the area for longer here are some things to do near Mt Rainier.

waterfall at mt rainier national park

More USA National Parks Posts

Hannah Flack

Wednesday 8th of January 2020

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