Mount Rainier National Park is one of our favorite national parks. You really can’t believe how massive Mount Rainier is until you’re hiking up close to its many glaciers and ice fields. If mountains make you happy, then you absolutely need to spend a few days hiking in Mount Rainier National Park so you can not only see the mountain from different angles, but also so that you can explore the surrounding peaks and take in the many panoramic views of this vast wilderness called the Cascade Range.
We have done A LOT of hikes in Mount Rainier but we haven’t done all of them so some of the hikes mentioned in this blog, we haven’t experienced personally. We’ve narrowed it down to the top 5 hikes in each area of Rainier that way if you’re camping in one area and you don’t want to drive all the way to another side of the park, you can find the top hikes wherever you end up.
Hiking in Mount Rainier
You can’t visit Mount Rainier and not hike. I just won’t allow it 😉. Depending on how much time you have though will play a big factor in deciding which hikes are best for you.
If you are skimming and only have one day… go to Paradise and do Panorama Point, maybe adding in one of the variations I listed below. If you have two days, then get your bootie over to Sunrise and hike Mount Fremont Lookout or Burroughs Mountain with Glacier Basin Loop. If you’re lucky enough to spend more than 2 days in Mount Rainier, then you’ve got a lot of great options that I’ve listed below.
Top 5 Hikes in Mt Rainier NP
- Panorama Point via Skyline Trail
- Pinnacle Peak
- Mt Fremont Overlook
- Lakes Trail
- Burroughs Mountain + Glacier Basin Loop
Best Hikes in Longmire, Mt Rainier
Trail of the Shadows – Easy, 0.7 mile loop, minimal elevation change
This nice easy hiketakes you past mineral springs, a beaver pond, and a historic cabin, all while being surrounded by huge fir and cedar trees.
Rampart Ridge – Strenuous, 4.6 mile loop, 1339′ elevation gain
This hike climbs for what feels like forever and starts from the Trail of the Shadows. While the forest is gorgeous and you do get a great view of Mount Rainier for a few minutes of the hike, I don’t think it comes close to the amazing hikes by Sunrise and Paradise.
Eagle Peak – Strenuous, 7.2 miles RT, 2955’ elevation gain)
Want a bigger challenge than Rampart Ridge? This thigh burner takes you up to panoramic views of Nisqually Valley and Mount Rainier.
Carter + Madcap Falls – Moderate, 2.2 miles RT, 500′ elevation gain
This hike starts right across the street from Cougar Rock campground. I thought it was a great hike and we saw many deer along the way.
Comet Falls and Van Trump Park – Strenuous 3.6 miles RT, 2200′ elevation gain
This also starts near Cougar Rock campground. It takes you past 2 waterfalls and on to a beautiful sub-alpine meadow.
Best Hikes in Paradise, Mt Rainier
Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista – Moderate, 2.5 miles, 900′ elevation gain
This is really just a stop on the way to Panorama Point a little over mile from the visitor center on a mostly paved. Being less than an hour hike from the Visitor Center, it’s unbelievable the level of beauty at Glacier Vista for so little work to get there.
Seeing all the textures of Nisqually Glacier up close is absolutely incredible and I could sit for so long staring at the views. I would highly recommend doing the Skyline Trail at or near sunrise or sunset to avoid the crowds this trial draws.
You also don’t necessarily have to hike just the Skyline trail to Glacier Vista. There are many alternatives to get here such as the Alta Vista Trail and Dead Horse Creek trail. All of them are beautiful and pretty much have the same views so you can really just go wherever the wind takes you and maybe you can avoid some of the crowds along the way.
Skyline Trail to Panorama Point – Moderate, 4 miles, 1,263′ elevation gain
There are various ways you can hike this like I mentioned previously but hike it you must. It’s a little strenuous if you’re out of shape (this is how you can train ahead of time to hike it if needed) but regardless, you have to make it to Panorama Point. Sure you could stop at Glacier Vista, but I’d be so disappointed in you 😆.
Go the extra two-thirds of a mile and get to the best view in Mount Rainier National Park. Seriously, from here you can see it all!
Skyline Trail Variations
Once you get to Panorama Point you have a few options:
- You could just backtrack on the Skyline Trail and get to take in the glacier views again, you could finish the Skyline Trail loop and maybe cut off a little time by taking the Golden Gate Trail
- Another option is to backtrack to the trail for Camp Muir. This is the primary base camp for summit expeditions and only recommended for very experienced adventurers.
- Got only a day in Mount Rainier? Are you an experienced hiker? Combine 3 hikes and make it an 8 mile hike you’ll never forget by continuing on Skyline Trail until you reach the junction for the Lakes Trail then continuing down to Reflection Lake. When you get to Reflection Lake, cross the street and hike up to the top of Pinnacle Peak and then return to the Lakes Trail which will take you back to the visitor center.
Lakes Trail via Reflection Lake – Moderate, 5 miles roundtrip. 1300′ elevation gain
This is a great way to escape the crowds. It was one of the first hikes we did years ago in Rainier and we absolutely loved it. You get views of waterfalls, lakes, and long stretches of forest with no one around.
Pinnacle Peak – Strenuous, 3 miles roundtrip, 1150′ elevation gain
This is a another of my favorite hikes in Rainier. I think it is more of a moderate hike and without kids, I easily got to the top within about 30 minutes. It is a much less crowded hike and you get superb panoramic views. You can even extend this to a longer hike or backpacking trip if you feel adventurous. This one starts from Reflection Lakes.
Bench and Snow Lakes – Easy, 2.5 miles roundtrip, 700′ elevation gain
This is a good option if the parking lot at Paradise is full. The trailhead is about a mile east of Reflection Lake and can fit an RV if it’s not a busy time. The hike is beautiful and takes you to a pretty alpine lake.
The real draw with this hike isn’t the desitnaiotn but the trail itself which goes through picturesque meadows with some great views. It’s also a perfect hike when wildflowers are blooming.
Best Hikes Near Ohanapecosh, Mount Rainier
Grove of the Patriarchs – Easy, 1.3 miles, 100′ elevation gain
This is a very easy and very crowded trail in Mount Rainier that travels through an old growth forest with trees reaching 300′ tall and 1,000 years old. The trailhead parking is right after you pass through the Stevens Canyon Entrance and can get very busy so try to time your arrival very early or late in order to find parking.
East Side Trail – Moderate, 11.5 miles one-way, 1000′ elevation gain
If you want an all day adventure, start at Grove of the Patriarchs and continue on as far as you like.
Silver Falls – Easy, 1 mile, 300′ elevation gain
This one also begins from the same trailhead as Grove of the Patriarchs but on the other side of the highway. You can also hike it from Ohanapecosh Campground or from Highway 123.
Cowlitz Divide – Strenuous, 8.5 miles, 2440′ elevation gain
Again a nice option if you are looking for a harder hike. The trailhead is only a few miles from Grove of the Patriarchs or you can start by hiking Silver Falls and then turn right to get on the Cowlitz trail.
Laughingwater Creek Trail – Strenuous, 12 miles roundtrip to Three Lakes Camp, 2700′ elevation gain
Another detour from the Silver Falls trail is to head south and then east and hike Laughingwater Creek Trail. You can also park on highway 123 to access the trailhead more directly or start from the campground but it will add a mile each way.
Best Hikes in Sunrise, Mt Rainier
Note: Since Sunrise is at such a high elevation, many of the trails are covered in snow until July and some may have patches of snow into August.
Mount Fremont Lookout Trail via Frozen Lake – Strenuous, 5.6 miles, 900′ elevation gain
While considered a strenuous hike, I thought this was more of a moderate, especially the section to Frozen Lake. The remaining mile or so after the lake does climb in elevation, however it was a moderate, steady climb and the views from the historic fire lookout were worth every step.
More often than not, clouds tend to hang on the horizons of this side of the park but even still the views are really incredible. The nature are far more raw on this side and I loved the contrast of meadows and mountains.
Berkeley Park – Moderate, 7 miles, 1,683′ elevation gain
An alternative to doing the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, this one has it all- jagged peaks, subalpine meadows, cascading streams, and wildlife such as marmots and mountain goats.
Glacier Basin – Moderate, 8.3 miles, 2,926′ elevation gain
This trails takes you past rushing rivers, lakes and meadows and gets you up close views of Mount Rainier as well as waterfalls and glaciers. Be sure to add in Emmons Moraine for up close views of the glacier. Note that it starts from the campground.
Burroughs Mountain – Moderate, 9 miles, 2,496′ elevation gain
This is a great hike into the alpine tundra that delivers epic up close views of Mount Rainier (assuming it’s a sunny day of course). Or for a really epic adventure, combine Burroughs Mountain with Glacier Basin for a 10 mile loop hike.
Sourdough Ridge to Dege Peak – Moderate, 4.2 miles, 780′ elevation gain
Oh how I love ridge hikes and was disappointed to not get to squeeze this one in. This is another great hike for seeing wildflowers when they are in bloom.
Best Hikes in Carbon River + Mowich, Mt Rainier
Carbon River Trail – Easy, 5 miles RT, 600′ elevation gain
Mountain biking this trail is now on my bucket list. I actually didn’t even realize this was a thing my first few times to Rainier and it’s the only trail in Mount Rainier that allows bikes. And if you don’t have bikes, you can hike it. Note that this trail starts near the Carbon River Ranger Station. The Carbon River Trail is also the first (and last) three miles of the Green Lake Trail below.
Green Lake – Moderate, 10 miles, 1500′ elevation gain
This hike starts off on a gravel road for three miles before turning south and hiking 2 miles to get to the beautiful clear Green Lake. About half way there take the side spur trail to check out Ranger Falls.
Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout – Moderate, 5.6 miles, 1500′ elevation gain
This hike takes you to a past alpine lakes and subalpine meadows. When you get to the lookout station your efforts will be rewarded with panoramic views. Note: getting to the trailhead requires driving two miles on an unpaved road that may be rough.
Spray Park Trail – Moderate, 6.9 miles, 2,086′ elevation gain
Like Tolmie, this starts near Mowich Lake but instead of heading north towards Tolmie, you go south to Spray Park. Make sure to take the quarter mile spur to check out the 300′ Spray Falls.
Tips for Hiking in Rainier
- Water: Bring a reusable water bottle like this, there are water filling stations at all the visitor centers and if it’s after hours you can always fill in the bathrooms or most picnic areas had drinking fountains and the water was sooo cold and delicious.
- Mosquito Repellent: The mosquitos here can be sooo bad. Up at Sunrise it wasn’t as bad but in the forest ad especially in the Carbon River area it can get very bad. I normally prefer to use an essential oils mix of lemongrass, tea tree, and lavender, but after being attacked in Alaska, I gave in just went to the real stuff with DEET. You may even want to consider mosquito repellent bracelets, clothing or even a head net if you are doing a lot of hiking on the northeast side.
- Avoid the Crowds: Rainier is one of the most pristine US national parks yet also one of the most crowded. In order to really take in the beauty of the park I highly recommend hiking near sunrise or sunset, preferably on weekdays. For more tips to avoid the crowds check out this blog.
Where to Stay on a Hiking Trip in Rainier
Looking for a place to stay in Mount Rainer? Check out our Guide to Camping and Lodging in Mount Rainier.
Mount Rainier Resources:
- 11 Things You Must do in Mount Rainier (+ Other Tips for Visiting)
- Camping Guide to Mount Rainier
- Best Hikes in the PNW
- Best Campgrounds in Washington State
- Washington State National Parks Itinerary
- 20 Best Day Hikes in the World
- Yellowstone National Park in 1 Day
- Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park