No trip to Washington or Oregon is complete without a Mount Rainier National Park visit. The sights and experiences at this iconic national park are truly unforgettable. I’ve been here twice already, and I’m itching for my next trip back. There’s so much to see and do here all year round, from hiking among the wildflowers, to chasing hundreds of spectacular waterfalls, to even strolling through a temperate rainforest.
In the fall, the terrain transforms to feature beautiful shades of orange and red. In the winter, come for epic skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. With its proximity to so many major cities in the Pacific Northwest, carving out some time to visit Mount Rainier is a no-brainer.
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WEEKEND ITINERARY FOR MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
This itinerary is great for travelers who only have a regular weekend or a long weekend to explore Mount Rainier National Park. With a weekend, you should have enough time to see the main attractions of the park, as well as get some epic hikes in at the Sunrise and Paradise areas. This post breaks down our latest trip to Mount Rainier National Park from Portland and highlights some of the best attractions, perfect for first-time visitors!
Side note: We had fully intended to check out a few more sights and do a few more hikes on this trip, but what we found was that we just weren’t as spry as we used to be. We found ourselves quite tired and hungry after our first 1-2 hikes, so it was difficult to find the drive to embark on an additional hike in the late afternoon! Hey, it happens to the best of us. Nevertheless, we had no fear of missing out because we plan to go back to Mount Rainier in the next few years!
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK – FUN FACTS
- Mount Rainier is America’s fifth national park. It was established in 1899, 17 years before the National Park Service was created in 1916. You’ll learn a lot about Mount Rainier’s history while in the park.
- Mount Rainier is a 14,411-foot volcano with the potential to erupt again. The most recent eruption was a small one sometime between 1820 and 1850.
- Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. There are 25 named glaciers on Mount Rainer.
- People actually climb to the top of Mount Rainier! Trained and experienced climbers will encounter a challenging vertical elevation gain of 9,000 feet over a distance of more than 8 miles.
- Mount Rainier is encircled by the 90-mile trail known as the Wonderland Trail. The full hike typically takes 10+ days.
- The Native American name for Mount Rainier is Tahoma (or Tacoma), which translates to “mother of waters”.
- Expect to see lots of chipmunks, marmots, deer, goats, and even black bears!
HOW WE GOT TO MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Most people looking to visit Mount Rainer from out of state usually fly into Seattle, Washington (SEA airport). However, since we had Portland flights booked already, we decided to start our weekend trip to Mount Rainer from Portland, Oregon.
Mount Rainier National Park is about 140 miles northeast of downtown Portland (2.5-3 hours), whereas it’s approximately 107 miles from downtown Seattle (2 hours).
Estimated drive times from other nearby cities:
- Seattle, Washington – 2 hours
- Portland, Oregon – 2.5 hours
- Eugene, Oregon – 4.5 hours
- Spokane, Washington – 4.5 hours (to the East Entrance, not available during winter)
- Spokane, Washington – 6 hours (winter route)
- Boise, Idaho – 8 hours
FRIDAY NIGHT: DAY 0
Upon landing at PDX, we rented a car, threw our luggage in the back, and headed straight for Mount Rainer National Park! Within 20 minutes we had already crossed into Washington state.
First stop: Vancouver, WA for dinner. There were lots of restaurant options in the downtown Vancouver area, but we chose to eat and drink at Heathen Brewing Feral Public House since we had yet to hit up a brewery upon landing. Our first PNW beers of the trip did not disappoint, but the mediocre pizza sort of did. Our next stop was to the local grocery store to pick up a few snacks for our weekend at Mount Rainier.
Since we were aiming to arrive at Mount Rainier National park by 8am, we opted for an overnight stay at a basic motel in Kelso, WA, a small town 45 miles north of Portland. There wasn’t much to see here, but we chose to stay here so that we’d have less distance to drive in the morning.
Pro Tip: Pick up snacks and groceries ahead of time before you get close to Mount Rainier. You’ll find larger chain supermarkets closer to the metropolitan areas as opposed to closer to Mount Rainier. Since the towns nearby Mount Rainier are smaller, you’ll typically find smaller convenience stores/general stores.
Pro Tip: Fill your gas tank before entering the park. There are no gas stations within the park.
SATURDAY: DAY 1 MORNING – SUNRISE AREA
We woke up at 4:30am to pack and get ready and were on the road again by 5am. At this point, we still had a drive of 2 hours 45 minutes ahead of us to get to the Sunrise area, the highest point accessible by car. We had originally wanted to catch one of the iconic Sunrise sunrises, but that would have meant waking up at 2:30am. There was no way in heck we were doing that.
Three hours of driving later, we finally made it to Sunrise! It was quite a relaxing and scenic drive.
Pro Tip: If you’re able to take a day off to travel/drive to the Mount Rainier area the night before, I’d highly recommend it! That way, you could avoid waking up unnecessarily early. You could stay at one of Mount Rainier’s nearby towns, Ashford, Packwood, and Enumclaw. There are also lodges in the Paradise and Longmire areas.
On the northeast side of Rainier, the Sunrise area offers a different perspective of the iconic peak. With close-up views of the Emmons Glacier and hundreds of acres of scenic wildflower meadows, it gives Paradise some real competition. The road leading to Sunrise ranks among the most beautiful drives in the country. It’s also the highest point accessible by car and is wildly famous for its spectacular sunrises. Many hardcore travelers will get up in the wee hours of the night to drive here and catch a glimpse of the day’s early light beam onto the mountain.
Take note that the Sunrise Visitor Center is open during the summer months only (late June until early October). During other months, it’s usually buried in snow due to its high elevation. There is no lodging or restaurant here, but there is a snack bar serving hot meals at the Sunrise Day Lodge.
MOUNT FREMONT LOOKOUT TRAIL
The hike of the day was going to be the 6-mile roundtrip Mount Fremont Lookout Trail.
Starting from the Sunrise Visitor Center, this 6-mile hike takes you through alpine meadows, past a frozen lake, and finally to your destination, a lookout tower where you can take in sweeping views of Grand Park, Redstone Peak, Skyscraper Mountain, and Berkeley Park.
Since Sunrise sits at a higher elevation than other parts of the park, a beanie and a puffy jacket or fleece are must-haves. When we did this hike in late September, it was 42 degrees in the morning when we started! I didn’t have a warm hat, so my ears were painfully cold. As a last resort, I used my face mask bandana as a headband to cover my poor little ears.
Despite the chilly morning weather, the hike boasted such impressive views. Not only did we get super close-up views of Mount Rainier along the way, but the wildflowers were also in bloom all around us, making for an absolutely beautiful hike despite the cold.
As we hung out and enjoy our Lunchables at the Fremont Lookout, we were suddenly ambushed by a bunch of curious chipmunks. They were not afraid of us and even attempted to climb into our backpacks looking for things to eat.
Pro Tip: If you encounter then trying to snack on human food in Mount Rainier, please don’t feed them! Feeding them only exacerbates this unnatural behavior. Also, leave no trace!
We headed back to the parking lot, got a little stretch in, then headed towards the Sunrise Day Lodge to check out the large gift shop. From there, we got back into our car and took off for the Ohanapecosh area.
SATURDAY: DAY 1 AFTERNOON – OHANAPECOSH AREA
The terrain here is quite different from Sunrise or Paradise, as it’s nestled in the old-growth forest by the Ohanapecosh River. This area is so beautiful and lush with greenery–first-time visitors should definitely not skip out on a visit to this region of the park. There is no lodging or food service here like there is at Longmire, Sunrise, and Paradise. However, there is an amazing campground at Ohanapecosh.
We came to this area to see Silver Falls. For waterfall chasers, you really can’t miss this one. Silver Falls is one of the best looking waterfalls in the park and one of my absolute favorites. It’s a complete 180 from those glaciers, wildflowers, and alpine lake views. Instead, we were greeted by lots of trees and lush, emerald greenery. Once we arrived at the base of the falls, we snapped a few photos, and continued hiking up to a viewpoint near the top of the falls to experience it from a different perspective.
SATURDAY: DAY 1 EVENING – ASHFORD
After completing the Silver Falls hike and checking out the Longmire Historic District, it was nearing 4pm, so we decided to call it a day and drive out to Ashford, WA where we were to spend the night. Our B&B for the night was at Mountain Meadows Inn. We checked in, walked around the property for a bit (there was an awesome garden area as well as a hot tub open for use) and decided to grab some food.
After two day hikes, we were absolutely famished. We checked Yelp for nearby restaurants and decided to check out Wildberry, a local Nepalese restaurant. What a hidden gem! We had such a great meal here. I ordered the traditional Nepalese dinner, while Papu ordered a Summit Burger, which was essentially a cheeseburger that was three hamburger patties deep. Both were so delicious and comforting. We finished our meal with a blueberry pie a la mode (made with local wild blueberries), which was so delightful and really hit the spot.
To end the night, we headed back to the hotel to make s’mores and watched some good ol’ television. What a great first day at Mount Rainier National Park!
SUNDAY: DAY 2 MORNING – PARADISE AREA
As we knew we had to drive back to Portland on Sunday, we only had enough time to visit and do one hike in the Paradise area. And of course, when in Paradise, there’s one hike that absolutely cannot be missed–the Skyline Trail.
Paradise, sitting at 5,400 feet of elevation, features the best of the best. It’s no wonder most Mount Rainier visitors flock to this end of the park. You can expect spectacular views all around, glacier-fed lakes, hiking trails lined with wildflowers, and various rushing waterfalls.
This area is best known for its epic views of Mount Rainier and the 5.5-mile Skyline Trail hike (a must-do for any first-time visitor). If you are looking for an overnight lodging option, you’re in luck because if you stay at the historic Paradise Inn, you’ll be waking up in one of the most scenic parts of the park.
SKYLINE TRAIL HIKE
During this 5.5-mile hike (moderately strenuous), you’ll get to experience a little bit of everything that Mount Rainier is famous for. This hike boasts insanely gorgeous views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier, as well as waterfalls, streams, stunning wildflowers, panoramic views, and lots of marmots. Wildflowers that you’ll encounter in peak season include lupines, mountain heather, scarlet paintbrush, cascade asters, and bistort.
We recommend hiking the loop in a clockwise fashion, even if it is a little more of a steep climb in the beginning. This way, you’ll be facing all the breathtaking views the whole time. You can also check out a number of short ancillary trails from this direction (you won’t get lost, they’ll bring you back to the Skyline Trail).
As you start your hike, be ready for the initial grade from the parking lot; it’s steep for about 0.4 miles, but it will eventually level out and be so much easier to climb. Don’t miss those panoramic views at the top! Panorama Point provides stunning views of the Paradise Valley, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and even Mount Hood on a clear day.
On your way up or down the Skyline Trail, I urge you to linger for a few additional moments at Myrtle Falls, an iconic waterfall situated right in front of one of the most iconic views of Mount Rainier.
SUNDAY: DAY 2 AFTERNOON – DRIVE BACK TO PORTLAND
After completing our hike, we took a stroll around the Paradise area, soaking in as many views as we could before inevitably leaving. Once we were ready to go, we hopped back into the car in search of a spot to grab a late lunch.
We stopped at Pizza Express in Elbe, WA. This pizza spot is so cute–it’s set up inside of a railroad car! And I must say, they serve up pretty decent pizzas by the slice, considering it’s located in the middle of nowhere! Shortly after scarfing down our pizzas, we were on our way back to Portland, Oregon. Until next summer, Mount Rainier!
If you have more time to spend in the park, then you’re very lucky! Check out my complete guide on the top things to do at Mount Rainier National Park here.
I hope our experience was able to give you a few ideas for your perfect Mount Rainier National Park itinerary!
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