Exploring Mount Rainier – What to Do Around Mount Rainier National Park Without Timed Entry Reservations

Mount Rainier National Park is a natural wonderland of pristine wilderness, breathtaking vistas, old growth forests and stunning waterfalls. All of this natural beauty draws an influx of visitors each summer which has necessitated the implementation of Timed Entry Reservations.  These reservations are required beginning May 24 for the Paradise Corridor and July 3, for the Sunrise Corridor through Sept. 2 from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm each day.
You can find more information about the reservation system here.
What can you do if you find yourself turned away at the gate without a reservation? Fear not! There is a wonderful variety of activities just outside Mount Rainier National Park’s most popular entrances. There are also ways to access the park at places that don’t require going through an entrance as well as the less popular  Carbon River Entrance.


Mount Rainier National Park Arrive Before 7 a.m.

For visitors who don’t mind an early morning, plan your trip to watch the sunrise at the park. There is no timed entry requirement if visitors arrive early. The sun comes up early in the summer so plan to arrive at the park entrance of your choice by 3:30 am. Visitors tend to flock to Sunrise for this experience (both Mount Fremont Fire Lookout and Burroughs Mountain are excellent vantage points inside the Sunrise entrance) but a less crowded choice is Reflection Lakes. Located just past Paradise along Stevens Canyon Road, guests can observe a stunning sunrise on a clear day. As dawn breaks and the sky starts to lighten Mount Rainier looms large in the distance and begins to reflect in the lakes. Gorgeous hues of pinks, oranges, and purples begin to decorate the sky and paint the lakes. It is truly a magical experience and savvy locals know it is often experienced with very few other people.


Outside the Nisqually Entrance

If you find yourself turned away from the Nisqually Entrance don’t fret there is a variety of activities just outside Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Tahoma Trails

The Mount Tahoma Trails Association operates approximately 50 miles of trails which leads to three huts and a yurt. Trailheads originate at two Washington Sno Parks. No parking fees or passes are needed for summer day visits. Explore the South Cascades Mountain Range and enjoy stunning views of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Sunsets are extraordinary. Plan a day hike or enter the lottery for stays at the huts. Visit Whittier Mountaineering in Ashford for directions and maps.

Gifford Pinchot Forest Hikes

The challenging High Rock Trail is a dramatic hike to an elevation of 5,685 feet. As its name suggests, High Rock sits higher than the surroundings and has excellent views of Mount Rainier. The summit is exposed and has what is considered some of the best views in Washington according to AllTrails.

Recycled Spirits Of Iron Sculpture Park

A visit to the Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park is a mind-blowing experience. It’s hard to believe these sculptures were created from recycled items. From the parking lot plan to explore the site. There is an overwhelming number of sculptures that warrant a look at the intricate construction. Try to determine what they are made from. Klennert took junk that would have ended up in a landfill and created artwork that thrills all who visit. There is truly no place like it and it can be a little eerie as visitors often find themselves alone as they explore. No fee but please consider leaving a donation in one of the creative donation collection containers.

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad

The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is a nonprofit that brings back the thrill of steam train excursions aboard a vintage train pulled by a steam locomotive. There are a variety of train rides available including scenic, brunch, dinner, and whiskey trains.

RailCycles are a new way to discover the foothills of Mount Rainier. They are easy to ride and family friendly. Zoom along on a historic logging railroad while enjoying views of farmland and forests on a custom designed four seat RailCycle.

Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

For those craving wildlife encounters, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is a must-visit destination. Home to a diverse array of native Pacific Northwest animals, including bison, elk, and bears, this wildlife park offers up close and personal experiences with some of the region's most iconic species. Take a tram tour through natural habitats or explore the park's walking trails at your own pace.


Sunrise and White River Entrance

Should your plans lead you to the Sunrise or White River Entrance, there's no shortage of outdoor wonders to explore. Highway 410 is replete with hikes (and even some permit-free dispersed camping spots) that don't require you to enter a park gate. 

Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap Hike

The hike to Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap heads out on the Pacific Crest Natural Scenic Trail and there is very little elevation change to the lake. It is a great place to see the wildflowers this area is known for. Sheep lake is a two-mile hike and a mile more for Sourdough Gap. The last mile is more strenuous with an elevation gain over 500 feet, but it is gradual. On a clear day you can see Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens

Tipsoo Lake

The lovely Tipsoo Lake is in Mount Rainier National Park but it is outside the gates off SR410. The subalpine lake is beautifully scenic and is surrounded by wildflower filled meadows. The large parking lot is a popular stop so plan to arrive early. Enjoy a picnic lunch and stroll the trail around the lake. For a longer hike visitors can access the  Naches Peak Loop Trail

Crystal Lakes Trail

The Crystal Lakes Trail is a Mount Rainier National Park hike that is outside of the entrance gates. Stunning views and crystal clear mountain lakes are your rewards for this six mile round trip hike. The price is a 2300 elevation gain. Plan to start early as some areas of the trail are in full sun and it can get hot.

Mount Rainier Gondola

The Mount Rainier Gondola is located at the Crystal Mountain. A ride to the top will take visitors to spectacular views of Mount Rainier. Pick up a trail map to enjoy a variety of hikes including hiking back down to the parking lot. The Summit House Restaurant is steps away from the gondola and is the highest elevation restaurant in Washington. Views of Mount Rainier and Pacific Northwest cuisine make it a popular destination.


Carbon River Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park

If you're seeking an entrance unaffected by the reservation system, look no further than the Carbon River Entrance. However, be warned of potential road closures and adverse weather conditions. Despite these challenges, the Carbon River Entrance offers unparalleled opportunities for adventure. Hike along the Carbon River Trail, immersing yourself in old-growth forests and pristine wilderness. Keep an eye out for wildlife sightings, including elk, deer, and even black bears. Visit Experience Carbon Canyon for more information on the quiet corner of Mount Rainier National Park.

 While timed entry reservations may pose a hurdle for some Mount Rainier visitors, the surrounding areas are teeming with opportunities for exploration and adventure. From scenic hikes and outdoor art galleries to wildlife encounters and nostalgic train rides, there's something for everyone just beyond the park's boundaries.