Looking to visit one of the best National Parks in the United States? This 2 and 3 day Mount Rainier National Park itinerary will cover the best month to visit Mount Rainier, how to navigate the park, and the best things to do in each section of the park!
Over 1.5 million people visit Mount Rainier for its wildflowers, wildlife, and exceptional mountain views of the highest peak in Washington.
So, whether you only have one day in Mount Rainier or multiple, we’ll give you some of the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park to make your visit absolutely unforgettable!
We spent three days exploring Mount Rainier and loved every second! From stunning sunrises to majestic sunsets and everything in between, visiting Mount Rainier should be on everyone’s must-visit list!
Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary – 2 and 3 Days
PIN & SAVE IT FOR LATER!
Getting To Mount Rainier
To orient you, Mount Rainier National Park is located in western Washington state in the Cascade Mountain Range. Located a few hour’s drive from popular Pacific Northwestern cities, getting to Mount Rainier is straightforward. However, visiting the park definitely requires some 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
- Portland, Oregon to Mount Rainier: 3 – 3.5 hours
If you’re looking to fly, the closest major airport to Mount Rainier is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Once at the airport, you can pick up a rental car to get you to Mount Rainier.
Alternatively, if you’d rather opt for a tour, there are a few Mount Rainier tours that leave from Seattle!
Mount Rainier Sections + Park Entrances
The first thing to understand about Mount Rainier National Park is that it’s MASSIVE.
While it’s nowhere near the size of larger National Parks like Yellowstone, Mount Rainier’s geography makes it difficult to zip through the park.
In most circumstances, visitors must circumnavigate the park to access its five sections – Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River.
So, if you want to explore different sections of the park, getting to and from various sections could take several hours, not to mention several park entrances.
Speaking of park entrances….below are the four park entrances of Mount Rainier National Park.
- Nisqually Entrance: Southwest entrance and the most popular entrance to Mount Rainier. It takes you to the Longmire and Paradise sections of the park.
- Carbon River Entrance: Northwest entrance. It takes you to the Carbon River section of the park.
- White River Entrance: Northeastern entrance. Takes you to the second most popular section of the park, Sunrise.
- Stevens Canyon Entrance: Southeastern. It takes you to the Ohanapecosh section of the park and provides access (when open) to Sunrise and Paradise.
Above is a map overview of the four entrances and the five sections of Mount Rainier National Park. As you can see, Mount Rainier National Park surrounds the massive Mount Rainier, making it impossible to cut through the park. Oh, and always check the National Park website for road closures!
How Many Days Should I Spend In Mount Rainier National Park?
While you can visit Mount Rainier in one day, we recommend spending at least three days here!
While three days won’t let you explore every section of Mount Rainier National Park, it will let you explore more than one. This means you have a reason to come back to explore the other sections you didn’t get to 🙂
Of course, if you want to experience all five sections, you’ll need to allocate 5-7 days to your Mount Rainier itinerary.
Best Time To Visit Mount Rainier National Park?
Summer and fall are by far the best times to visit Mount Rainier National Park!
When planning your Mount Rainier itinerary, know that July – October typically has the best weather. If you visit during this time frame, most park facilities are open, and trails are snow-free! Not to mention, wildflowers in the summer and fall foliage in autumn are incredible sights to see!
As for winter, most of Mount Rainier’s roads are closed for winter, but you can still visit Longmire and Paradise sections! During winter, you can snowshoe and see what wildlife you can spot.
PRO TIP: When planning your Mount Rainier itinerary, the earlier you arrive at the National Park, the better! Especially if you visit on the weekends and holidays. Do your best to be at the park entrance by 8 AM. This will help you avoid long lines to enter the park and crowded trails.
Where To Stay In Mount Rainier National Park
In Park Accommodations (+ Campsites!)
Outside of hotels, Cougar Rock Campground (Paradise), White River Campground (Sunrise), Ohanapecosh Campground (Ohanapecosh), and Mowich Lake (Carbon River) are campgrounds within Mount Rainier National Park.
TIP: Mowich Campground is first-come-first-serve only and requires campers to hike a short distance to access the campsites. All other campgrounds campers can drive to.
Accommodations Near Mount Rainier
The closest town to the Longmire and Paradise sections is Ashford. Home to gas stations, restaurants, and outdoor shops, Ashford is a great place to stay! Places like Chalet at Mount Rainier, Nisqually Lodge, Stormking Hotel, and Mountain Meadows are all great options to consider that are just outside the park entrance!
A popular home base for those exploring multiple sections of Mount Rainier, like Paradise and Sunrise, Packwood has places to stay at, like Crest Trail Lodge, Cowlitz River Lodge, and The Cabin in Packwood.
For those exploring the Carbon River section of the park and Sunrise, staying in Emunclaw is the perfect place to make your home base. Places like Crystal Mountain Lodge, LOGE Alta Crystal Resort, and Guesthouse Inn are accommodation options for you to consider.
Park Facilities + Tips For Visiting Mount Rainier
Like most U.S. National Parks, Mount Rainier has limited facilities and spotty phone service. But there are a few things you should be aware of to ensure you’re prepared for your visit to the park.
- Entrance Fee: $15 for pedestrians | $25 for motorcycles | $30 for cars
- Park Hours: The Park is open 24 hours a day all year, however, certain sections/roads close in winter months
- Cell Reception: While exploring the National Park, we found that locations around the Paradise Visitor Center offered reliable cell reception for making calls and responding to texts and emails.
- Download Maps: To avoid experiencing any issues with navigational maps, download maps so you can use them offline when cell reception is not available.
- Places To Eat: Only three restaurants are located in the National Park. Paradise Inn in Paradise, National Park Inn in Longmire, and Sunrise Day Lodge in Sunrise. Other sections of the park do not have restaurants, so pack plenty of snacks and water so you don’t get hangry!
- Gas Stations: No gas stations are in the park, so fill up before entering the National Park boundaries.
- Showers: If you are camping in Mount Rainier National Park, we’re sorry to say that none of the campgrounds have showers. You’ll have to resort to finding public showers outside of the park (the onsite Camp Host can help you with this), or opt to be a little stinky for a few days 🙂
PRO TIP: If you plan to visit more than three National Parks in a year, you should buy the America The Beautiful National Park Pass to help save you on entrance fees!
About This Mount Rainier 2 and 3 Day Itinerary + Map
As mentioned above, Mount Rainier is massive! Making it nearly impossible to get from one section of the park to another quickly. Hence, being strategic where you stay is super important!
Below is our suggestion on where to stay to help you further plan your route and Mount Rainier itinerary. After all, you want to spend most of your time explore the park, right?!
- Day 1: Full day in Paradise, stay in Packwood
- OPTIONAL: The night before your first day in Mount Rainier (Paradise), you can stay in Ashford if your schedule allows.
- Day 2: Full day in Sunrise, stay in Packwood
- Day 3: Carbon River, stay in Enumclaw
In addition, the below two- and three-day Mount Rainier itinerary assumes you are visiting July through the beginning of October when roads are open and the weather is nice.
So, let’s get to it!
Use the + and – to navigate within the map to find the locations of some of the best things to do. Paradise (purple), Sunrise (blue), Carbon River (burgundy), and the closest towns to park entrances (yellow).
2 Day Mount Rainier Itinerary
DAY 1: PARADISE
The more developed side of the Park and one of the most visited sections in Mount Rainier is Paradise. Home to waterfalls, fields full of marmots, incredible hikes, and beautiful lakes, Paradise was just that….an absolute Paradise.
The town that butts right up to the Park Entrance (Nisqually Entrance), is Ashford.
You’ll enter Mount Rainier through the Nisqually Entrance and pay your $30 USD entrance fee. Once in the park, you’ll drive 12-ish miles through the Longmire section until you eventually reach Paradise.
PRO TIP: If you’re coming from Packwood, Steven’s Canyon Road will be the quickest route to take…if it’s open! Be sure to check Steven’s Canyon Road road closures ahead of time!
Stop 1: Reflection Lake
If you can eat breakfast on the go, or better yet, enjoy it at Reflection Lake, do it! Try your best to get there for sunrise or close afterward.
The morning light reflects views of Mount Rainier in the lake, making it a picture-perfect view of Mount Rainier. Plus, the earlier you start your day in Mount Rainier, the better! You’ll avoid the crowds 🙂
Stop 2: Hike The Skyline Trail Loop
After you leave Reflection Lake, you’ll make your way to the trailhead of THE best hike in Paradise!
The Skyline Trail Loop is a 5.7-mile loop trail that starts at the Paradise Visitor Center.
We recommend you tackle this trail clockwise. You’ll start with UNREAL views of Mount Rainier and end with expansive views of the Tatoosh Range. The Skyline Loop Trail is rated as hard, but we’re here to tell you it’s oh-so worth it!
Along the way, you’ll have views of Mount Rainier, its valleys, and nearby peaks practically the entire way. Not to mention meadows of wildflowers, dozens of marmots, and, if you’re lucky, a wolverine and mountain goat!
One of the best things about this trail is even though it’s a loop, there are different variations you can do.
So, if you think 5.7 miles is too long, no worries! You can break this trail up and only do a section.
ALT Skyline Loop Trail Variations:
- Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls: 1-mile | 100ft elevation gain | rated as easy
- Alta Vista and Skyline Trails: 1.6 miles | 577ft elevation gain | rated as moderate
- Skyline Trail to Panorama Point: 3.8 miles | 1700ft elevation gain | rated as hard
Stop 3: Have Lunch at Paradise Inn (+ Visitor Center)
If you hike the Skyline Loop Trail clockwise, you’ll end at Paradise Inn, a historic inn serving food and beverages.
Plan to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a Mount Rainier Lager Beer on their outdoor patio.
After you’re done, you can head into the Inn or the Henry M Jackson Visitor Center, a short 3-minute walk away. You can grab a souvenir or learn more about Paradise and Mount Rainier in either location.
Stop 4: Narada Falls
After lunch, you have a few more stops before leaving Paradise. From the visitor center, set your sights on Narada Falls, a 176 ft high waterfall.
A few feet from the parking lot, visitors can view the falls from an above overlook. 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, so it’s well worth a stop!
Stop 5: Christine Falls
After you leave Narada Falls, the next waterfall you’ll visit 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 to see Christine Falls from the Park Road as you drive by.
If you’d like to spend more time looking at Christine Falls, park at the small parking lot and walk a short way to reach the second viewpoint.
This viewpoint gives you a far longer and more direct look at Christine Falls.
OPTIONAL STOP. 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 what will surely be a whirlwind, fantastic day, it’s time to leave Paradise.
If you’re staying in Ashford, you’ll pass through the Longmire section of the park on your way to the Nisqually Entrance. On your way, you’ll pass by the National Park Inn, where you can make a dinner reservation.
Alternatively, you can carry onto Ashford and have dinner at places like Copper Creek Inn Restaurant, Wildberry Restaurant, or Rainier BaseCamp Bar & Grill.
If you are staying in Packwood (recommended for this itinerary), and Steven’s Canyon Road is open, be sure to take Steven’s Canyon Road back to Packwood vs. existing out of the Nisqually Entrance in Ashford.
It’s shorter to take Steven’s Canyon Road back to Packwood! Once in Packwood, you can head for a bite to eat at Packwood Brewing Company or Cliff Droppers.
TIP: Check the latest road closures and construction via the NPS website to ensure Steven’s Canyon Road is open!
DAY 2: SUNRISE
As its name suggests, Sunrise is one of the first places in Mount Rainier National Park that gets hit with the morning light. Home to epic hikes, sprawling valleys, and endless views of Mount Rainier, Sunrise is one of the most popular sections in Mount Rainier National Park….and for good reason!
Unlike Paradise, no town butts up to the Sunrise entrance (White River Entrance) of Mount Rainier.
Instead, the closest town to the White River Park Entrance is Packwood (40 minutes away) or the little further away town of Enumclaw (45 minutes away).
TIP: Sunrise Road usually opens in late June or early July and, due to snow, 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!
Stop 1: Sunrise Point
Once you arrive at the White River Entrance, you’ll drive 14 miles to reach Sunrise Point, a curve in the road offering expectational views of Mount Rainier.
It’s a short and easy stop to snag a few photos of Mount Rainier from Sunrise Point parking lot.
Additionally, the Sunrise Point parking lot is a great place to stargaze! And for you photographers, it is a great location to set up the tripod for astrophotography!
Stop 2: Sunrise Visitor Center
A few minute’s drive from Sunrise Point is the Sunrise Visitor Center, which happens to be the highest point (6,400 ft) that can be reached by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park. Neat, right!?
While the Sunrise Visitor Center is a little lackluster when compared to the Visitor Center in Paradise, it can still be a nice stop for those wanting to learn a little more about the Sunrise section of Mount Rainier.
TIP: Next door to the Visitor Center is Sunrise Day Lodge. Offering sandwiches, drinks, and sweet treats for those needing a pick-me-up before or after hitting those hiking trails.
Regardless of whether you pop into the Visitor Center or not, the Visitor Center parking lot is the end of the road and the main trailhead for some of the best hikes in the Sunrise section of Mount Rainier!
Speaking of hiking…. 🙂
Stop 3: Hike To Fremont Lookout
One of our favorite hikes in Mount Rainier is hiking the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail!
This 5.7-mile out-and-back trail packs a punch of epic views of Mount Rainier and nearby peaks, valleys, and meadows!
You’ll start at the visitor center, eventually passing Frozen Lake and hiking along hillsides and rocky footpaths until you reach Fremont Lookout.
Built-in 1934 to provide rangers a place to watch for wildfires, today, hikers use it to take in exceptional views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountain Range!
Fremont Lookout is for you if you’re looking for a hike in Sunrise that brings exceptional views as far as the eye can see! It was one of our favorites!
ALT Sunrise Hikes For Those Wanting Something Easier
If 5.7 miles is just too much for you physically, or you don’t have the time, there are a few alternative hikes that are shorter and easier.
- Sunrise Lake Trail is a 1.5-mile loop that has a 400ft elevation gain and is rated as moderately difficult.
- Sunrise Nature Trail is a 1.5-mile loop that has a 370 ft elevation gain with a “moderate” difficulty rating.
- Silver Forest Trail is a 2.7-mile out-and-back trail with a 320 ft elevation gain and an “easy” difficult rating.
- Emmons Vista Overlook is a short 0.5-mile jaunt to fantastic views of Mount Rainier.
Stop 4: Lunch at Summit House Restaurant (+ Gondola Ride!)
After a big hike, we’re sure you’re hungry! This next stop requires you to leave the National Park and drive for about 50 minutes.
If you’re up for it, we promise it’s worth it!
Why? Well, Summit House Restaurant is Washington’s highest restaurant, and the views are hard to beat!
To get here, you’ll need to make your way to Crystal Mountain Resort and purchase a gondola ticket. Once your gondola ticket is in hand, you’ll board the gondola and take a 2,500 ft ride to the Summit House Restaurant, where you’ll be 6,872 feet in elevation and have outstanding views of Mount Rainier!
You can dine inside, outside on the patio, or have a drink in one of the many Adirondack chairs that line the area.
PRO 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.
Stop 5: Grove of The Patriarchs or Tiposo Lake
After a busy day, you can stop at one of the two stops (or both!) listed below.
Grove Of The Patriarchs
For those staying in Packwood, Grove of The Patriarchs is on your way when leaving the Sunrise section of the park.
Grove of The Patriarchs is a 1.5-mile nature trail that weaves through some of the oldest trees in Mount Rainier National Park. Visitors can walk through beautiful forests, on dirt paths, and over bridges, making it an easy walk to end your day.
PRO 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.
Tipsoo Lake is 30 minutes from Crystal Mountain Resort and 15 minutes from the White River Entrance. Known for the reflection of Mount Rainier in its water and its meadows full of wildflower blooms (in July), Tiposo Lake is an easy and picturesque stop and just a great way to end your day!
After a fantastic day in Sunrise, you’ll have a little bit of a drive to return to Packwood. Once in Packwood, you can grab dinner at Packwood Brewing Company or Cliff Droppers.
3 Day Mount Rainier Itinerary
DAY 3: CARBON RIVER
The drive from Packwood to the Carbon River area (Mowich Lake specifically) is lengthy, about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
To avoid driving nearly 6 hours round trip, we recommend checking out of your Packwood accommodation and staying the night in the Emunclaw area at places like Buckley Inn, Container Studio, or the Guesthouse Inn.
While Carbon River is the less visited section of Mount Rainier National Park, it does not make it any less beautiful!
Stop 1: Mowich Lake
The first of your two stops on your day 3 Mount Rainier National Park itinerary is Mowich Lake, the largest and deepest lake in Mount Rainier National Park!
Mowich Lake is open from mid-July to mid-October. It’s a great place to fish and overnight camp. It also just so happens to be the starting point for one of the best hikes in the area, Tolmie Fire Lookout.
TIP: Mowich Lake Road is an unpaved, gravel road open from mid-July to mid-October. Before planning your visit to the Carbon River section, check out the latest road conditions on the National Park Service website.
Stop 2: Hike to Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout
Beginning from the north side of Mowich Lake, hiking to Tolmie Fire Lookout is among the top things to do in the Carbon River area. This hike is quiet and not overrun with loads of tourists.
You’ll pass by the subalpine Eunice Lake as you weave up 1,010 ft until you come to the Tolmie Peak Lookout. A total of 6.5 miles, Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout offers excellent views of Mount Rainier’s northwest side!
Since you may be arriving at this section of the park a little later in the day, this is a fantastic hike to do for sunset!
Leaving Carbon River
Once you’re done with your hike, make your way to your accommodation in the Enumclaw area. Places to eat, like Carbonado Saloon and The Carlson Block are on the way to Emunclaw.
Alternatively, depending on when you leave the National Park, you could drive the extra hour-ish to Seattle and do some sightseeing there (if your schedule allows) or head to your next stop in Washington!
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stu’s)