Snow capped mountain with colorful flowers

Visiting Pierce County in the summer gives you the best weather to enjoy one of our coolest geological offerings: Mount Rainier. This active volcano is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States spawning five major rivers, breathtaking wildflower meadows, ancient forests, endless hiking trails, wildlife galore, and more! It’s also Washington’s first national park and the fifth oldest national park in the entire country. With all that being said you could easily spend days in the park and not even skim the surface of what there is to see. We don’t all have days (or weeks!) to dedicate to see everything this incredible park has to offer which is why we’ve created this first timers guide to the absolute can’t miss parts of Mt. Rainier National Park. 


First things first: Summer is the park's busiest season, so timed reservation slots must now be booked ahead of time to enter the park from the Nisqually Entrance (Longmire and Paradise recreation areas) and White River Entrance (Sunrise recreation area). You can go online here to book your slot which gives you a two-hour window to arrive and get parked. If your chosen date is booked up, not all hope is lost. The NPS opens quite a few spots at 7 p.m. for next-day visits. There’s no limit on how much time you can spend in the park after your arrival window so we recommend choosing the earliest reservation you can to maximize the amount of time you get to spend in the park.


Now that you’ve booked your reservation, it’s time to get into the fun stuff: what to do once you’re there. We’ve rounded up what we consider to be can’t miss parts of the park to have the most fun, beautiful, and adventurous first trip to the mountain possible. 



The park boasts over 150 different hiking trails in varying lengths and difficulties all leading to incredible views. We’ve rounded up our top four hikes that each highlight a different ecological aspect of the park. Unfortunately the park does not allow dogs on any of its trails, so leave the pups at home! 


Skyline trail at Mt Rainier




Skyline Trail Loop:

Arguably the most iconic of the park's hikes is the Skyline Trail Loop. It takes visitors through Paradise with an incredible southern view of the mountain, cascading waterfalls, glaciers, and subalpine meadows full of vibrant rainbow wildflowers. The hike is 5.5 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1,450 feet, with its highest point being 6,800 feet. Its calculated difficulty is considered moderate, but its calculated payoff-for-effort is considered absolutely incredible.


Snow Lake at Mt. Rainier with Unicorn Peak in the Distance

Bench and Snow Lakes:

On this hike you’ll get up close and personal with the two alpine lakes found in the park. This hike takes you through incredible forested areas with unique vegetation (which provide cooler temperatures and ample shade!) straight to the shore of Bench Lake. About halfway through, the trail comes to a split with the option to loop back to the parking lot or go up to Snow Lake. The trails are also lined with huckleberry and blueberry bushes, so you can snack as you walk! This hike is 2.5 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 610 feet, with its highest point being 4,725 feet. Its calculated difficulty is easy/moderate.


Naches Peaks Loop at Mt Rainier




Naches Peak Loop:

This hike takes you along the hillside above a beautiful valley with views of the mountain, to a viewpoint overlooking Tipsoo Lake, to a path that goes directly through a meadow brimming with wildflowers and huckleberries. This hike is generally considered the best “bang for your buck” as you get to see lots of different aspects of the park in a relatively short amount of time. This hike is 3.2 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 600 feet, with its highest point being 5,850 feet. Its calculated difficulty is considered easy/moderate, and the calculated level of bugs is occasionally considered excessive.


Comet Falls at Mt Rainier




Comet Falls:

On this hike you’ll follow a whitewater creek upstream through a narrow gorge of glacier polished rock that leads to Comet Falls. This waterfall dumps water 301 feet in a single plunge. Over the course of the hike you’ll also pass two other large waterfalls, several smaller ones and cascades. This hike is 3.8 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 1,250 feet, with its highest point being 4,875 feet. Its calculated difficulty is moderate. 


Scenic Drives:

If hiking isn’t your thing, no worries! The park offers several different routes to drive through to see the park without exerting yourself too much. Here’s a couple of our favorite driving tours within the park:


Entrance to Mt Rainier via Circle Mt Rainier Drive




Circle Mt. Rainier Drive:

Travel over 140 miles in the loop around the mountain! This scenic drive will take you through the cascade foothills and the Cascade Mountains into Mt. Rainier National Park. Once in the park you’ll see waterfalls, peaks, rivers, creeks, canyons, lakes, and more. This whole loop will take around 4-6 hours to complete depending on how many times you stop and potential traffic but it’s a great way to see a huge part of the park from the comfort of your car.


Chinook Scenic Byway at Mount Rainier


Chinook Scenic Byway:

This 92-mile drive starts out in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and leads into Mount Rainier National Park. Along the way you’ll see amazing views of Mt. Rainier, dense forests, rocky ridges, canyons, subalpine meadows, and lakes. This drive is a little shorter than the circle Mt. Rainier drive and should take around 3-5 hours depending on stops and traffic.


Other Activities:

Besides hiking and driving through, there are other things to do inside the park and a different way to see it!


Gondola Crystal Summer


Mt. Rainier Scenic Gondola:

Located just on the outskirts of the park at Crystal Mountain you can take a gondola ride and see the mountain from above. Not only is this the only gondola ride in Washington state, but it also takes you over 2,400 vertical feet to the summit where you will see expansive views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades. This is by far the most unique way to take in the mountain. 


Sunrise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier


Sunrise Visitor Center:

This one is just for you summer folks, since the road to Sunrise is closed in winter. Drive up to the Sunrise Visitor Center where there are bathrooms, picnic areas, exhibits about the park, and ranger led activities. Once you’re there, take a short quarter-mile walk to see the Emmons Vista. You’ll get to see the mountain, Emmons Glacier, and the White River Valley. This is also a great area to see lots of wildlife like black-tailed deer, mountain goats, marmots, and different bird species. 

Hopefully this gave you lots of inspiration for what you should do when you head up to Mt. Rainier National Park this summer! Remember when spending a long day outside to bring lots of sunscreen, water, comfortable walking shoes, and snacks! Also, the elevation is extremely high on the mountain in general and even higher on certain hikes, so take it slow. You likely won’t be able to keep up your usual pace because higher altitude means thinner atmosphere so you’re not taking in as much oxygen as you would in a normal breath! We hope you have a blast and make sure to tag us @visittacomapiercecounty on socials so we can see which recommendations you take.