Mount Rainier is the most prominent and the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States. Those are some serious accolades when your competition looks like Whitney, Hood, Bachelor, Elbert, and the like. And when we say "prominent," we’re not simply being subjective here (though most of us that live in the Pacific Northwest would hardly disagree with a subjective claim of its prominence). In fact, Mount Rainier’s prominence—its height measurement from the summit to the lowest encircling contour line—is 13,211 feet, beating out its next closest competitor, Whitney, by over 2,500 feet.
With just under 240,000 acres of high-alpine lakes, wildflowered meadows, old-growth forests, and glaciated expanses to explore, the number of three-day itineraries we could craft are nearly infinite. We’re of the conviction that it’s not the number of adventures you pack into a weekend that makes it count; rather, it is the quality of time spent in the important places with the important people. That said, there’s hardly a campsite (correction: there’s no campsite) you can plan to stay at without enjoying the company of over 100 “new friends.” The crux of the cookie: plan ahead (we’re talking months if you’re trying to secure a wilderness permit). And the good news is that if you’re unable to secure a reservation or a permit, many of the campsites in the national park are first-come, first-served, and there’s a substantial number of camping and lodging options just outside the park.
Exploring Mount Rainier National Park is truly a privilege—it serves as a pristine reminder of the value of protected, public spaces and should be revered as a model. From expert alpinists to young children, there’s not a human alive that’s immune to the soul-moving experience of watching the pink alpenglow kiss the glaciated summit of Rainier. Regardless of where your journey takes you, always, always abide by the principles of Leave No Trace.
To reiterate: Arrive early. The Sunrise area is the second most visited area of the park. As its name might imply, it’s situated on the eastern flanks of the mountain, effectively soaking up sherbet morning colors. On your way to the Sunrise Visitor Center, be sure to stop at Sunrise Point to drink in the stunning morning views and grab any last minute necessities at the general store.
Once you get to the parking lot and *hopefully* claim your well-earned, early-bird spot at White River Campground, you’ll feel ready to take a load off (and hopefully enjoy an hour or two of solitude before the rest of your neighbors arrive).
After an hour or two of rest, tack back to the Sunrise Parking Lot and get your first no-holds-barred experience of hiking around Mount Rainier on the Sunrise Rim Trail. This amazing 5.7-mile out-and-back hike eloquently expresses the mind-blowing power of Rainier’s glaciers. Head to the Emmons Overlook, revel in the beauty and the power, eat a late lunch, and return to camp to get some shut eye for Day 2.
After a relatively leisurely morning in camp (these are my favorite), prepare a well-equipped daypack pack with plenty of water and snacks and head back to Sunrise Point to embark on the 7.5-mile round-trip adventure that is the Palisades Lake Trail. There’s hardly anything that could prepare you for stunning views of Rainier’s Sourdough Mountains dressed to the nines in alpine snowfields, the Enchantments, and the North Cascades.
Though the mileage isn’t super challenging when you’ve got a whole day’s worth of sunlight to burn, we recommend that you give yourself much more time than needed to complete 7.5 miles. Because, trust us, you’ll want to afford yourself ample leisure time at each lake. Sunrise, Clover, Tom, Dick, and Harry Lakes, and Hidden Lake are all breathtaking in their own right. And who doesn’t love any and all excuses to stop and have a snack and a good lakeside chit chat?
This is the perfect night for getting back to your campsite at your leisure, having a beer, and talking late into the night. Mmm. So dreamy.
From your campsite at White River you’ll have direct access to the lovely Emmons Moraine Trail. It’s a relatively easy hike and perfect for a quick morning jaunt before you pack up your campsite and head out. A short 4 miles round trip will earn access to the moraine, and with it, incredible views of Rainier, Emmons Glacier, the White River, and Goat Island Mountains. These views will follow you consistently almost the entire way along the moraine and in your memory all the way home.