Mount Rainier National Park Overview | Climbing and Backpacking | Camping and Lodging | Winter Access and Permits | Pets
Mount Rainier National Park Overview
As the most prominent* mountain in the lower 48 states, Mount Rainier is visible as far south as Portland, Oregon, and as far north as the San Juan Islands, dominating Washington state's horizon. The mountain is truly massive. Standing at 14,410 feet, the giant statovolcano is the tallest peak in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48, and it is the preeminent feature of Mount Rainier National Park.
Renowned for its rugged glacial alpine scenery, spectacular subalpine wildflower-filled meadows, dramatic waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and old-growth forests, the need to protect Mount Rainier's landscape was recognized early. Mount Rainier National Park was created in 1899, making it the fifth oldest National Park in the United States.
For most visitors, the park can easily be split into four distinct areas:
- Mowich Lake/Carbon River: Located in the northwest corner of the park, the Mowich Lake area is actually the closest to the Seattle and Tacoma area, but the 17-mile gravel access road and primitive facilities are inconvenient enough to divert some park visitors to other areas. Beyond paddling or splashing around Mowich Lake, key attractions in this section of the park include panoramic views from Tolmie Peak, the wildflowers of Spray Park, Spray Falls (the park's second tallest trail-accessible waterfall), Chenuis Falls, snowshoeing from Carbon River to Ipsut Falls, and camping along the Carbon River at Ipsut Creek Campground.**
- Sunrise: The second most visited portion of the park, Sunrise, is located on the park's east side (naturally). Sunrise is characterized by dominating views of the massive Emmons Glacier, Little Tahoma Peak, the Cowlitz Chimneys, the neighboring Goat Rocks, and the distant but prominent Mount Adams (Washington's second tallest mountain). Burroughs Mountain Trail is the park's highest maintained hiking trail, and it is also the most popular. Visitors can also explore the Sunrise Rim Trail, Silver Forest Trail, the trail to Mount Fremont Lookout Tower, Emmons Moraine Trail, the Tamanos Mountain hike, backpacking along the Palisades Lake Trail, and venturing to the Summerland and Panhandle Gap via the Wonderland Trail. The short hike to Frozen Lake provides rewarding views of the Sourdough Range and Mount Rainier.
- Longmire and Paradise: As the oldest and most popular area of the national park, the wildflower meadows, high mountain lakes, and waterfalls in and around the Longmire and Paradise area have attracted visitors for over 100 years. Located on the mountain's south side, the Longmire and Paradise area is also the only place in the park with established lodging accommodations. Rooms are available at the National Park Inn or at the fabulously rustic and historic Paradise Inn. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the Reflection Lakes, Myrtle and Narada Falls, Comet Falls (at 462 feet, the park's tallest trail-accessible waterfall), Box Canyon Overlook, the Nisqually Vista Trail, the stunning Skyline Trail, snowshoeing or backcountry skiing in Edith Creek Basin, a hike to Camp Muir, and the arduous hike up to Eagle Peak.
- Ohanapecosh: Located in the park's quieter southeast corner, Ohanapecosh is actually home to the park's largest campground and the raging Ohanapecosh River, which draws extreme kayakers. Hikers come to explore Silver Falls and the Grove of the Patriarchs. The Owyhigh Lakes Trail leaves from Highway 123 and offers beautiful views of the lakes in addition to access to Tamoanos Creek Camp.
Climbing and Backpacking
For climbers and backpackers, there are four more distinct areas of the park to explore:
- Mount Rainier Summit: With roughly 10,000 attempts annually, Mount Rainier's 14,410 foot summit draws climbers from all over the world. The main routes to the summit include Disappointment Cleaver via Camp Muir or the Emmons Glacier route via Camp Schurman and Camp Curtis.
- West Side: Since the closure of the Westside Road in 2007 at mile-marker 3.1, Mount Rainier's west side has become its most remote area. The closure came as a blessing for backpackers who were happy to avoid the crowds of the park's other destinations. Destinations such as Gobblers Knob + Lake Gorge and Indian Henry's Hunting Ground are more accessible, but locations such as Aurora Lake and Golden Lakes are now often only visited by those traveling on the Wonderland Trail, the park's famous 93-mile scenic trail that circumnavigates the entire mountain.
- Tatoosh Range: This short range on the Mount Rainier's south side provides some of the park's most technical climbing and backcountry experiences. Reaching the summits of Unicorn Peak, Pinnacle Peak or The Castle requires rope and traditional climbing equipment. However, the short access to Snow Lake makes for an easy day-hike.
- Chinook Pass: The peak off Highway 410 also makes for a great departure point for several short hikes and for some longer backpacking adventures. Located at the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail, visitors will enjoy views from Tipsoo Lake, and hikers will enjoy the Naches Peak Loop Trail which can be extended to Dewey Lake, American and Cougar Lakes, or even as far as Two Lakes.
Climbing Permits and Backcountry Camping Permits are required and should be reserved and purchased well in advance of your trip. However, 30% of all campsite permits are kept aside for same-day purchase. They are sold on a first-come, first-served basis for last-minute planners. Permits can be purchased and picked up at the following ranger stations:
- Longmire Wilderness Information Center
- Paradise, Jackson Visitor Center
- Ohanapecosh Visitor Center
- White River Wilderness Center (White River Entrance)
- Sunrise Visitor Center
- Carbon River Ranger Station (Carbon River Entrance)
Camping and Lodging
Since Mount Rainier National Park is an incredibly popular destination, getting campsite reservations can be extremely difficult. Good and early planning is critical. The park's campgrounds include:
Note that only Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh Campgrounds permit RVs and trailers, but neither provide electrical, water or sewer hook-ups. Dump stations however are provided at both.
Recommended overflow campgrounds just outside of the park:
- Big Creek Campground: 24 car/tent sites, reservations allowed. (West of park off of WA Hwy 706, outside of Ashford).
- Silver Springs Campground: 56 car/tent sites, reservations allowed. (North of park off of WA Hwy 410).
- Buck Creek Campsites: 38+ primitive campsites, no reservations. (North of park off of WA Hwy 410).
- La Wis Wis Campground: 54 car/tent sites, 16 group sites, reservations allowed. (South of park off of WA Hwy 12).
- La Wis Wis Campsites (Loop H): Five car/tent sites, one group site, eight walk-in sites, reservations allowed. (South of park off of WA Hwy 12).
- Sitting on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier, Paradise Inn is open mid-May through early October. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the inn's dining room. Pets are not permitted, and Wi-Fi is unavailable. Reservations can be made on the inn's website, and more information is available by calling 360.569.2275.
- Located in the Historic Longmire District, the National Park Inn is open to guests year round. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available from the inn's dining room. Pets are not permitted, and Wi-Fi is unavailable. Reservations can be made on the inn's website, and more information is available by calling 360.569.2275.
Winter Access and Permits
WA Hwy 706/Paradise Road up to Paradise is the only maintained and plowed road into Mount Rainier National Park with the exception of adventures departing from Chinook Pass. Paradise Inn is closed in the winter, but the Paradise Visitor Center is open and staffed on weekends and holidays from mid-October through May. The National Park Inn in Longmire is open year-round.
The gate at Longmire which permits vehicles up to Paradise is only open from 9am to 5pm, and it is highly recommended that all vehicles start their return to Longview no later than 4:30pm. Nov. 12th through Dec. 21st the gate is only open Thursday through Monday, and starting Dec. 22nd the gate opens daily.
Other than a National Park Pass, special day-use permits are not required. Winter backcountry camping is permitted anywhere (min. 300 ft. from all trails and structures) throughout the park once a minimum of 5 feet of snow has accumulated, and a backcountry permit is required (free) and can be obtained at the Longmire Information Center and at the Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise. Groups larger than 12 can camp in the designated group campsites at Paradise only.
* Prominence is the measure of the height of a mountain from its summit to the lowest contour line that encircles it, or in other words, the height of a mountain from its summit to base. Mount Rainier's prominence is 13,211 feet, compared to Mount Whitney's 10,080 feet or Mount Elbert's 9,073 feet.
** Due to a 2006 flood, access to the Ipsut Creek Campground can only be obtained via backpacking.
Dogs and pets are permitted within the park's developed areas and at White River, Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh Campgrounds, but they must be kept on leashes at all times. Dogs are not permitted, however, on any of the trails or any undeveloped areas.