Wondering what to do in Mount Rainier in one day? Depending on where you are coming from in Washington, a Mount Rainier day trip is totally doable! From epic day hikes to amazing scenery of the tallest mountain in Washington (Mount Rainier!), you are in for an unforgettable one day in Mount Rainier National Park.
For this one-day Mount Rainier itinerary, we will give you two options for spending your one day in the national park.
Well, Mount Rainier National Park is MASSIVE! So, depending on where you are coming from and, most importantly, what you want to do, one section of the park may better suit your travel time and needs.
So let’s get into it then! How to spend one day in Mount Rainier National Park is just below. Are you ready?!
Have more time in Mount Rainier?! Check out our 2 and 3 day itinerary!
What To Do In Mount Rainier In One Day
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Where Is Mount Rainier National Park In Washington?!
If you are a Washington native or just a visiting tourist, it’s good to understand where Mount Rainer is located.
Located in west-central Washington state, Mount Rainier is a few hour’s drive from several Pacific Northwest cities. And if you’re flying, the closest major airport is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
Now, these are general estimates as to how long it will take you to get to Mount Rainier. You’ll want to plug in your departure location to your park arrival location to get a better idea of distance and travel time.
However, the below is a good starting point for planning!
- Seattle to Mount Rainier: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Tacoma to Mount Rainier: 1.5 – 2 hours
- Yakima to Mount Rainier: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Olympic National Park to Mount Rainier: 3.5 – 5 hours
- North Cascades National Park to Mount Rainier: 4 – 5 hours
TIP: When planning your day trip to Mount Rainier, the earlier you arrive, the better, especially if you visit the National Park on weekends and holidays. Do your best to be at a park entrance by 8 a.m. to avoid long lines. Oh, and always check the National Park website for road closures.
Regardless of where you come from in Washington, you need to rent a car to get you to and around Mount Rainier National Park. Alternatively, if you’d rather opt for a tour, there are a few Mount Rainier tours that leave from Seattle!
Where Is The Best Place To Enter Mount Rainier National Park?
As we stated above, Mount Rainier is MASSIVE, and unlike other National Parks where you can cut through the park, you cannot cut through Mount Rainier.
Instead, you have to circumnavigate the park to reach most of its sections, of which there are five.
But why can’t you cut through Mount Rainier?
The 14,411-foot active volcano that is Mount Rainier sits smack-dab in the center of the park, making it impossible to cut through the park.
Mount Rainier National Park is literally built around the massive volcano, so getting to and from each section of the National Park can take several hours.
For this one-day Mount Rainier itinerary, we’ll only discuss two of the five sections.
So, where is the best entrance to arrive at? Well, it depends on which section you want to explore 🙂
- Paradise Section: Nisqually Entrance (southern section of the park)
- Sunrise Section: White River Entrance (northeastern section of the park)
Of the two sections listed above, the Nisqually entrance is the most popular in the park, and for good reason! But we’ll get to all that just below.
TIP: When the road is open, the drive from Paradise to Sunrise (or vice versa) is one of the most scenic drives in Washington! For example, if you plan to visit Paradise, you can drive to the Sunrise on your way home and exit through the White River Park Entrance. Doing this allows you to experience the northeastern side of the park. Of course, this is if logistics and time allow 🙂
Which Side of Mount Rainier is Better?
Oh, the ever-asked question when strapped for time and visiting Mount Rainier.
Having visited both Paradise (southern side) and Sunrise (northern side), both are magical in their own right and should be visited at least once!
- Paradise: The more developed side of Rainier. Home to loads of hiking trails (a few of which are ADA-compliant!), restaurants and lodges, lakes, and a few waterfalls (some of which don’t require hiking!). The paradise side of Mount Rainier has a slightly more diverse set of offerings than the sunrise side.
- Sunrise: The tallest section of the park (6,400 feet) allows visitors to get amazing views of Mount Rainer and is home to lakes and some of the best hiking trails in the park, like Freemont Lookout. And like Paradise, Sunrise has a Visitors Center and Lodge.
We’ll get into the specifics of each section just below. But to put your mind at ease, whatever section you choose to spend your one day in Mount Rainier, you honestly cannot go wrong!
They’re both breathtaking and offer AMAZING views of Mount Rainier.
Option 1: One Day Mount Rainier Itinerary – Paradise
Getting To Paradise
To get to Paradise, you’ll pass through the town of Ashford, the closest town to the park entrance and where park visitors who are not staying in the National Park opt to stay.
At the end of town in Ashford, you’ll reach the Nisqually Park Entrance, where you’ll pay the National Park Fee of $30 to enter the park. Once in the park, you’ll drive 12-ish miles through the Longmire section of the National Park until you eventually reach the Paradise section.
It’s a little bit of a drive, but well worth it after you realize what there is to see and do in Paradise! Which we’ll get to just below 🙂
Sunrise at Reflection Lake
The first stop is an early one, but if you can manage, seeing the sunrise from Reflection Lake is a sight to see!
The morning light reflects views of Mount Rainier in the lake, making it a perfect first glimpse of Mount Rainier and an even better way to kickstart your one day in the park.
Even if you can’t make it for sunrise, seeing Reflection Lake is still worthwhile!
The path to get there is a few short steps from the parking lot, making it an easy walk to enjoy some of the scenic beauty in the Paradise section of Mount Rainier National Park.
Hike The Skyline Trail Loop
If you ONLY have one thing to do while visiting Paradise, it’s hiking the Skyline Trail Loop! It’s a magnificent way to see Mount Rainier and the nearby Tatoosh Range, along with wildflowers, marmots, and, if you’re lucky, mountain goats and wolverines!
Without a doubt, hiking the Skyline Trail Loop was by far our favorite thing we did in Paradise! It was a spectacular hike and one heck of a way to spend the majority of your time in Paradise.
This 5.7-mile loop trail starts at the visitor center.
We recommend tackling this loop clockwise so you start with seeing spectacular views of Mount Rainier and finish with views of the Tatoosh Range and Myrtle Falls before ending at Paradise Inn, where you can have lunch and a beer on their patio.
ALT Options For Hiking In Paradise
However, if you are looking for something easy, two of the more accessible hikes in Paradise are just below.
Nisqually Vista Trail (Easy)
This paved 1.2-mile loop trail is a great trail located just off one of the lower parking lots near the Paradise Visitors Center. The trail weaves through forests and provides great views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier.
Myrtle Falls (Easy)
Starting counterclockwise at the Skyline Trailhead, you’ll walk a short 1-mile (round trip) paved path to Myrtle Falls. While you won’t get as close to Mount Rainier as you would if you hiked the Skyline Trail Loop, you’ll still get some views along with a waterfall!
Lunch at Paradise Inn + Paradise Visitors Center
After some hiking, it’s time for some lunch! Paradise Inn, located a stone’s throw from the Paradise Visitor Center, is a historic inn that was built in 1916.
Still retaining its rustic charm, today, the inn serves food and beverages and offers visitors a place to stay in their 121 guest rooms.
The inn is open from mid-May through early October and is a perfect place to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a cold Mount Rainier Lager Beer from its patio deck.
After lunch, you can pop over into the Visitor Center to not only learn more about Paradise and Mount Rainier but grab a souvenir or two before heading down towards your next activity, waterfalls!
On your way up to Reflection Lake and the hiking trails, you passed by Christine Fall and Narada Falls. That was intentional! We want to make sure you saw the sunrise at Reflection Lake and started hiking on the sooner side to avoid the crowds.
Now that hiking is done, you’ll head back down towards Longmire and the Park entrance, where you’ll pass by both waterfalls again, but this time you’ll stop at both!
The first waterfall you’ll come to is Narada Falls, a 176 ft high waterfall.
Accessible by two viewpoints, visitors can view the falls from an above overlook, a few feet from the parking lot, or opt to hike down a short but steep hike to the lower viewpoint some 0.2 miles away.
Narada Falls is the largest waterfall accessible by car in the Paradise section of the park, so it’s well worth a stop.
After you leave Narada Falls, the next waterfall you’ll come to is Christine Falls, a 69 ft high waterfall.
Like Narada Falls, visitors have two ways to view Christine Falls. The first and the easiest option is from the Park Road as you drive by.
The second option is to park at the small parking lot and walk a short way to reach the second viewpoint, which gives you a far longer and more direct look at Christine Falls.
Optional: Comet Falls
After a whirlwind day of exploring, there is one thing left for you to do, and it’s totally optional! If you have enough gas in your tank, you can opt to chase down one more waterfall before wrapping up your one day in Mount Rainier.
Comet Falls, located a short distance from Christine Falls, is a 301 ft waterfall, making it one of the tallest waterfalls in Mount Rainier National Park.
To see Comet Falls, visitors will have to hike 3.5 miles on an out-and-back trail, which usually takes 2 to 3 hours to complete.
After a fun-filled and epic one day in Mount Rainier, it’s time to say goodbye. As you pass through the Longmire section of the park on your way to the Nisqually Entrance, you’ll pass by the National Park Inn, which happens to serve dinner.
If time allows, you are welcome to make a reservation for dinner at the National Park Inn or grab dinner in Ashford at places like Copper Creek Inn Restaurant, Wildberry Restaurant, or Rainier BaseCamp Bar & Grill.
However you choose to end your day, one thing is certain, we’re sure you’ll see why so many visitors flock to Paradise in Mount Rainier. It’s spectacular and full of stunning natural wonders and scenery, all of which help make this place live up to its name…Paradise.
Option 2: One Day Mount Rainier Itinerary – Sunrise
Getting To Sunrise
Unlike Paradise, no town butts up to the Sunrise White Rivers Park Entrance. Rather, the closest town is Packwood (40 minutes away) or the little further away town of Enumclaw (45 minutes away).
Once you arrive at the White River Entrance, you’ll drive 14 miles to reach the Sunrise Visitor Center, where loads of hiking trails and points of interest start from.
Once at Sunrise Visitor Center, you are at 6,400 feet in elevation, which is the highest point that can be reached by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park.
As it’s name suggests, Sunrise is one of the first places in Mount Rainier National Park that gets hit with the morning’s light.
Like Paradise, to get to Sunrise can be a little bit of a drive, but once you see those amazing views, you’ll see it’s well worth the trip! Now, let’s get to the best things to do in the Sunrise section of Mount Rainier!
TIP: Due to snow, the Sunrise Road usually opens in late June or early July and closes in late September to early October. Be sure to plan your time in Sunrise accordingly to ensure this section of the park is accessible when you plan to visit.
Just before you get to the visitor center, you’ll take a turn on the road where you can pull off in a parking lot. Welcome to Sunrise Point, a place that offers 360-degree views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding Cascade Range.
On clear days, you can see Mount Adams, the second-tallest peak in Washington!
Once you’ve stretched your legs and taken your photos, you can get back in your car and head to the next stop or opt to hike a trail or two.
Sunrise Visitor Center + Sunrise Day Lodge
After you’ve taken in the views from Sunrise Point, your next stop is the visitor center. The Sunrise Visitor Center is open from early July to early September.
Visitors can view exhibits to learn more about the sunrise area and grab a souvenir or two.
Next door, you’ll find the Sunrise Day Lodge, which offers sandwiches, drinks, and sweet treats for those needing a pick-me-up before or after hitting those hiking trails.
After you’re done wandering through the Visitor Center, it’s time to hit a hiking trail! The nice thing about parking and being at the visitor center is some of the best trails in the park start right behind the Visitor Center.
Talk about convenient, right?!
Hike To Fremont Lookout
One of THE most popular hiking trails in Mount Rainier National Park is hiking to Freemont Lookout.
Starting at the visitor center, the 5.7-mile out-and-back trail to Freemont Lookout gives you UNREAL views of Mount Rainier and the valleys below.
You’ll pass by Frozen Lake and continue up and alongside hillsides until you eventually reach Freemont Lookout.
Once at Freemont Lookout, you’ll be greeted with views as far as the eye can see of the Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and, the spectacular meadows of Grand Park.
Freemont Lookout was built in 1934 to provide rangers a place to keep an eye out for wildfires.
Today, the lookout remains for visitors of Mount Rainier National Park. You can climb to its second story, sit on the railing, and take in the dramatic views and mountainous peaks surrounding it.
And while you cannot sleep in the lookout tower, a trip up for sunrise or sunset is well worth it!
ALT Easy Hikes at Sunrise
If you’re thinking 5.7 miles is too much, no worries at all! Hikes like Sunrise Nature Trail, Emmons Vista Overlook, and Silver Forest Trail are rated on the easier side and may be a better option for those looking for something a little easier.
Sunrise Nature Trail is a 1.5-mile loop that has a 370 ft elevation gain with a “moderate” difficulty rating. Whereas Silver Forest Trail is a 2.7-mile out-and-back trail with a 320 ft elevation gain and an “easy” difficult rating.
Or you can opt for a super short 0.5-mile jaunt to Emmons Vista Overlook, which gives visitors fantastic views of Mount Rainier and the valley below!
Ride The Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort
After you’ve enjoyed your hike, it’s time to leave the National Park. Yes, you read that right, but we promise it’ll be worth it!
And, you have to be hungry, don’t you?!
Located 50 minutes from the Sunrise Visitor Center is the Crystal Mountain Resort, home to one of the best restaurant views of Mount Rainier.
Summit House Restaurant, Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant, sits pretty at 6,872 ft. But the best part? The only way to get to the Summit House Restaurant is to take a scenic Gondola ride some 2,500 feet up to reach the restaurant and its exceptional views!
Once at the top, you can dine inside, outside on the patio, or have a drink at one of the restaurant’s many Andriondak Chairs that line the area.
Fair warning. This is not the most budget-friendly outing, but if you have the time and would like a unique experience, it’s well worth it!
TIP: Open from 10:30 am – 3:00 pm, seasonally. Please be sure you check the hours of operation to ensure the Summit House Restaurant is open when you’d like to visit.
Additional Things To Do In Sunrise, Mount Rainier
Now, the above is sure to be a full day of exploring, but if you still have daylight and gas in your tank, below are two great options to add to your one-day Mount Rainier itinerary!
Located 30 minutes from Crystal Mountain Resort or 15 minutes from the White River Entrance is Tipsoo Lake.
Tipsoo Lake, like Reflection Lake in Paradise, is known for the reflection of Mount Rainier in its lake waters. If you visit in July, the meadows surrounding the lake will be full of wildflower blooms!
You can opt to visit Tipsoo Lake before you enter the park, at sunrise, or after you leave the park.
Grove of The Patriarchs
If you are staying in Packwood, or making your way towards that direction, you can stop at Grove of the Patriarchs on your way.
Grove of the Patriarchs is about 20 minutes from the White River Entrance, or 40 minutes from Crystal Mountain Resort.
So, what is Grove of The Patriarchs?
Well, it’s an easy 1.5-mile nature trail that takes you over a river via a suspension bridge and through some of the oldest trees in Mount Rainier National Park. Ancient trees like Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars, and Hemlocks tower along the walking path, making this trail a great option to end your day.
TIP: Due to flooding, sometimes the Grove of The Patriarchs closes. Check the NPS website to ensure the Grove of The Patriarchs is open during your visit.
Tips For Visiting Mount Rainier In One Day
- Arrive and Start Your Day Early: You have loads to see, so make the most of the daylight! Oh, and the earlier you start, the fewer crowds there will be.
- Have a Plan/Route Ahead of Your Arrival: Plan ahead so you know your exact route and itinerary for the day. This will ensure you make the most of your one day in the park!
- Have Maps Downloaded for Offline Use: Reception in the park can be spotty. Make sure you download maps so you can use them offline when there is no reception.
- Pack Plenty of Food and Water: One way to make the most of your time is to eat on the go. Be sure you have plenty of snacks and water packed!
- Pack A Headlamp: Especially if you’ll be hiking before sunup or after sundown, a headlamp is crucial!
- Bring A Change of Clothes: Trust us, you’ll want a fresh pair of clothes to change into, especially if you have a long drive home at the end of the day!
- Consider Staying The Night: If you can swing it, staying the night in or near the park the day before or the night after you wrap your one day will allow you to spend more time in the park.
Where To Stay at Mount Rainier
If you do decide to stay the night, there are some places in or close to the park that are great options to rest your head for the night.
If you’d rather stay outside the park, the closest town to the Paradise section is Ashford, Washington. Home to a few restaurants, shops, and some accommodation choices, Ashford is your best bet for something close to the Nisqually Entrance.
There is no overnight lodging in the Sunrise section of Mount Rainier National Park outside of camping, which can be found at White River Campground. The Sunrise Lodge does not have rooms for any overnight lodging. It’s a day-use lodge (food, ice cream, etc.) open during the summer only, typically from early July to mid-September.
So, if you want to stay overnight in Sunrise, you must stay out of the park.
The closest accommodation to Sunrise is Crystal Mountain Lodge. Followed by LOGE Alta Crystal Resort until you get to the closest larger town of Packwood, which has places to stay at, like Crest Trail Lodge, Cowlitz River Lodge, and The Cabin in Packwood.
Or the second closest town, in the opposite direction of Packwood, Enumclaw. Which has places to stay, like Guesthouse Inn.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stu’s)