Visiting Mountain Rainier National Park and looking for the best hikes it has to offer? Mount Rainier is truly a gem in the National Parks System. Located in Washington, this park is divided into 5 different areas – Mowich Lake, Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, and Sunrise – and all offer up different experiences and views of Rainier and the surrounding areas. As of 2024, the 2 most popular entrance corridors (Sunrise and Paradise) are requiring timed entry reservations. It is free to book, but required if you are planning on exploring these areas of the park, so be sure to plan ahead. In this blog, we’ll go over my top hike picks in each of the areas! Let’s jump into one of my absolute favorite areas of the U.S.!
Mowich Lake/Carbon River (Northwest)
Located in the northwest corner of Mount Rainier NP, the Carbon River area receives the highest amounts of rainfall so the climate resembles that of a temperate rainforest.
*Note: The Carbon River Road was washed out by the 2006 Flood and is closed to vehicles past the park boundary. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic are permitted on the remainder of the road inside the park, which has been converted into a trail. Carbon is reached via the Carbon River Road, off of State Route 165. With that being said, if you are willing to put the effort into getting into the park, these are my top 3 recs for hiking adventures.
Spray Park to Mount Pleasant: This 7 mile round trip hike offers stunning views of wildflowers, alpine meadows, Fay Peak and Mount Rainier. It starts at Mowich Lake and is moderate in difficulty. This trail starts out on the easy side and then works its way out of the forest canopy into a more challenging climb with incredible views.
Tolmie Peak Lookout: This 6 mile round trip hike takes you to an historic fire lookout with panoramic views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding area. The trail is moderate in difficulty and one of the best hikes in all of Washington. At the top you will experience the Tolmie Peak Lookout and amazing vistas of the peaks in the area, including Rainier, along with the beautiful teal blue Eunice Lake which you hike past on your way up.
Fay Peak Trail: This is a challenging 3 mile round trip hike that is for the Type 2 fun loving adventure seekers. The trail is not well-marked so be sure to research and download offline resources to help you navigate this trail. If you are willing to make the short but steep trek, you will be able to enjoy beautiful views from the summit of Fay Peak.
Longmire is the entrance you will go through first if entering from the West by Ashford, WA. Because it is lower in elevation than other areas, it is a popular spot for winter activities and also has an inn, gift shop, museum, and visitor center. Without further ado, here are three trails that will give you the most bang for your buck in the Longmire area.
Rampart Ridge Trail: This 5 mile loop trail begins near the Longmire Museum and offers stunning views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding valleys. The trail is moderately challenging and takes hikers through lush forests and meadows. Includes the Trail of the Shadows Trail. It is recommended to hike this loop going clockwise to keep the views of Rainier ahead of you.
Eagle Peak Trail: This is a 7 mile round trip hike that is rated hard. The trail starts on a gradual incline through a canopied forest. After coming into an open meadow you’ll start the rocky climb up to incredible views. At the top you will see views of Rainier to the north and the Cascade range including Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams to the south.
Comet Falls Trail: This 3.5 mile out-and-back trail is filled with different landscapes from waterfalls, rivers, meadows, and Mount Rainier in the background. The trail is well-maintained and not too steep. Comet Falls is a beautiful waterfall that cascades over a rocky cliff.
With incredible views of Mount Rainier and some of the park’s most beautiful trails, there is a reason that Paradise is the most popular of the 5 different areas in Rainier NP. Along with an insane amount of adventure opportunity, there is also the Jackson Information Center and Historical Paradise Inn here. Of course, I couldn’t narrow the abundance of trail opportunities to 3, so I’ve listed 5 of my favorite picks from the area.
Pinnacle Peak: This is a steep 3 mile round trip hike that starts at Reflection Lakes. This is a more technical and rocky trail that climbs up switchbacks to a mountain saddle. Use caution in all months of the year since snow patches often linger and the trail does include exposed drop-offs.
High Lakes Loop: This is a moderate 3 mile loop that also starts at Reflection Lakes, taking off to the north. It is recommended to hike the trail clockwise for a more gradual incline, but no matter which way you choose to do the trek, you will have incredible views of Faraway Rock, Louise Lake and Stevens Canyon as well as the Tatoosh Range and Reflection Lakes.
Bench and Snow Lakes: This trail is a moderate 2 mile out-and-back that is wonderful for beginners, families, or people looking to soak in gorgeous views with less effort. The “bench” that you hike across into Bench lake is relatively flat followed by a steeper section of log steps up into Snow Lake, which is tucked into a cirque of the Tatoosh Range.
Skyline Trail: This is a popular trail that takes you through meadows, offers stunning views of Mount Rainier, and features beautiful wildflowers during the summer months as well as Myrtle Falls Viewpoint. The trail is about 5.5 miles long and is considered moderately challenging. You can hike it in either direction, but most recommend to hike it clockwise. Pro-tip: if you aren’t wearing pants you want to get wet, take a garbage bag and take advantage of the fun glissading opportunity on the way back down!
Reflection Lakes to Narada Falls: This 3.5 mile out and back trail offers up great views of lakes, mountains, lush forests, and waterfalls. It is also a great option for snowshoeing in the winter. Narada Falls is a gorgeous cascade that falls off of a rock bluff.
Ohanapecosh is situated in an old-growth forest and is somewhat drier and sunnier than the west side of the park and also has a visitor center. It is a great destination when Paradise and Longmire are fog-covered or rained out. If you ever have questions on the park’s weather conditions check out the webcams for up-to-date visuals. Look no further for three hiking recommendations in the Ohanapecosh area.
Shriner Peak Lookout: This is an 8 mile challenging out and back trail that provides amazing views of the park’s eastern wilderness. After a solid incline offering up a leg-burn, you will enjoy 360-degree views from the summit at the Shriner Peak Fire Lookout – which is one of the best in the park.
Silver Falls Loop Trail: This 3-mile loop trail takes you through old-growth forests and leads to a stunning waterfall that plunges into a turquoise pool. It is an easy-going hike that is great for all skill levels.
Eastside Trail to Stafford Falls: This is a family friendly 3.5 mile out and back trail that is a nice hike into a beautiful waterfall with yet another teal blue pool. It is a great summer option if you are looking for an opportunity to cool off and escape the heat.
Sunrise/White River (Northeast)
Sunrise is the second most visited area in Rainier NP. With its high elevation, it offers the highest point that can be accessed by vehicle. Sunrise Point has nearly 360 degree views of the surrounding area including Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and other peaks in the Cascade Range. The area also has a great trail system making it a scenic seekers dream, and I have hand picked 5 of my favorite treks just for you!
Naches Peak Loop: This is an awesome 3.5 mile moderate loop that is a great option for all skill levels and boasts incredible views of the area. If you are looking for a family friendly option that is not too long, but offers gorgeous views, this is the hike for you. Start at the parking lot by the Stephen Tyng Mather Memorial.
Naches Peak Loop
Shadow Lake: This is an easy 2.7 mile out and back that leads you into a quaint but beautiful blue lake. Along the way you will find beautiful mountain and meadow views.
Fremont Lookout Trail: This 5-mile out-and-back trail is known for its panoramic views of Mount Rainier, the Emmons Glacier, and surrounding valleys. It’s a moderately challenging hike but well worth the effort. It starts off with grassy meadows full of wildflowers in the summer and toward the end of the trail meets a rocky wide-open landscape with incredible views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains. If you are an early bird, I highly recommend this destination for a sunrise hike.
Burroughs Mountain Loop: This 9-mile loop trail takes you to three peaks on Burroughs Mountain, providing incredible views of Mount Rainier’s glaciers and the surrounding alpine meadows. It is a mix of sand and rocky sections and along the way you will pass Frozen Lake and Shadow Lake (linked above).
Glacier Basin Trail: This 8 mile out-and-back trail takes you through meadows, forests, and rocky terrain before reaching the beautiful Glacier Basin. Look out for waterfalls and wildflowers along the way. You will pass the junction to Emmons Moraine and Emmons Glacier on your way in, which are both beautiful sites and worth the one mile round trip spur as Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier in the lower 48 states.
No matter what adventure you choose in Mount Rainier National Park, you truly cannot go wrong. With incredible views surrounding the second tallest mountain in the contiguous US, this park absolutely does not disappoint and there is absolutely something for everyone. If you are wanting to prepare for the more strenuous climbs and feel strong on the trails apply for our 1:1 Mountain Metabolic Coaching.
Happy + Healthy Trails,