Known as “The Mountain” to many locals, Mount Rainier has become the unofficial state logo. Towering over the state at 14,411 feet, this stunning mountain is one of my favorite sites to see on a sunny day in Seattle. Even though you can see it from most places in Seattle, it’s about 90 miles southeast of the city and takes several hours to drive for a day trip to Mount Rainier.
I love coming here, and you’ll find me on the mountain multiple times a year, no matter what season it is. Whether I’m spending a long weekend there or just one day at Mt. Rainier, I always find that this area is my happy place. You all know how much I love hiking, and I like that there are still so many left for me to do regardless of how many times I’ve been.
While I still haven’t done all the things to do at Mt. Rainier, I’ve now been there every season. They all have their advantages – I love being able to snowshoe without many people around in the winter, but nothing beats the late summer wildflowers that pop up on hikes (similar to going on a Seattle to North Cascades National Park trip).
Based on that, I put together this guide for going on a Seattle to Mount Rainier day trip, which is one of the top day trips from Seattle if you ask me.
Whether you want to learn the area’s history, hike through forested valleys and alpine meadows, or photograph the colorful burst of wildflowers, there are many ways to spend a day trip to Mt. Rainier. Here are some tips to consider, what to see, and how to spend a Mount Rainier day trip from Seattle.
This article was first written in 2020 and was last updated in August 2023.
11 Incredible Things to Do at Mt. Rainier in One Day
This national park is one of the biggest attractions around Washington State, and it provides you with the famous Mount Rainier – an active 14,411-foot-tall stratovolcano that sits over Puget Sound.
Let’s dive into some spectacular things to do at Mt. Rainier in one day at one of the best national parks in Washington.
1. Hike the Stunning Skyline Trail Loop
One of the most beloved Washington hiking trails, the Skyline Trail Loop, takes you around Mount Rainier’s south side. It’s a beautiful hike that leads you through grassy, snow-covered dirt trails and is my favorite way to spend a one-day trip to Mount Rainier. Whenever someone asks me for my top hike, this is the one I always recommend because you see so much during the loop.
The 5 ½-mile hike departs near the entrance to the Jackson Visitor Center. It will take you around 4.5 hours to complete, with an elevation gain of 1450 feet. There’s an intricate group of trails in the Paradise area, so make sure you stop by the visitor center to pick up a map (or use AllTrails, the app I always have running when I hike).
While you’re here, keep an eye out for panoramic paradise and majestic waterfalls on your Mount Rainier day trip. I would pack snacks and a lunch you can enjoy during your breaks (although you can buy snacks at Sunrise and Paradise in the summer).
There are also many easier hikes, including the Sunrise Nature Trail (1.5 miles) and Silver Forest Trail (2 miles), in the Sunrise area. I also have a whole post on the best hikes in Mount Rainier with a variety of different difficulty levels and various areas of the park. Again, you don’t have to be a hiker to come here, but I think it is one of the best things to do in Mount Rainier in one day.
2. Take a Picture of Mount Rainier at Reflection Lakes
Possibly one of the most remarkable and iconic views when visiting Mount Rainier is its mirror image in a lake. The park provides an abundance of lakes, but seeing an incredibly perfect reflection takes a little luck and planning.
To get the precise mirror image-like-reflection, you’d need to get to the lake on a calm day, when the lake is like glass. One of the best lakes to get this image is Reflection Lakes in the early morning. I was here at 6 am last summer, and by 6:30, the side of the road was full of photographers, so get here bright and early.
If you can’t get to Reflection Lakes, try Tipsoo Lake during your Mount Rainier day trip. You can do this any time of the year, but I think mid to late summer and fall are the most scenic.
Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.
3. Discover the Longmire Museum
The Longmire Museum was named after James Longmire, who arrived in the mid-1800s and established the Longmire Medical Springs and Hotel. The first road to Mount Rainier was built in 1890 when James Longmire cleared out 60 miles of road from Yelm so people could start to visit.
He was living up there and found natural hot springs one day when his horses got loose, and then had the idea to create a spa for people to visit began. For $8 a week, you could come up to have lodging and food taken care of, access to the natural hot springs, and one spa service a day.
Today, it’s designated as a national historic district, where you’ll also find the National Park Inn and Longmire Wilderness Information Center during your Mt. Rainier day trip. You can get food and beverages at the Inn when they’re open if you need a snack.
The museum provides information about the area, its history, and the best trails to explore. There’s also a gift shop, picnic tables, and restrooms to relax and enjoy the area, and is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.
Several trails nearby, including the Trail of the Shadows, are a 1-mile loop trail beginning near the museum. It takes you through the forest to hot springs, where you’ll pass by some cabin replicas.
4. Find a Rainbow Cascade at Narada Falls
Narada Falls is located north of Cougar Rock Campground, alongside the main road. You’ll want to check out this popular waterfall during your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle.
A bridge over the top of Narada Falls leads to another road and is the start of the majestic Wonderland Trail. It’s an easy hike to the trail junction before heading off into the peaceful wilderness. You can often catch the light just right to get a rainbow effect through the waterfall.
The short spur trail leads to one of the falls’ best viewpoints before embarking on the Wonderland Trail. It’s typical to see a shield of mist and rainbows from the falls during the afternoon during your day trip to Mount Rainier.
Many choose to do a day tour from Seattle to visit Narada Falls, Christine Falls, and Mt. Rainier during their Mount Rainier one day trip.
5. Visit Cascading Waterfalls Throughout the Park
If you want more waterfalls to find, there are tons throughout the park, and one of the most scenic ones is Mrytle Falls. This is only a 10-minute walk from the Paradise Visitor Center, and you’ll be rewarded with the towering mountain when you put this on your Mount Rainier 1 day itinerary.
If you’re chasing waterfalls, you’ll love the Silver Falls Trail during your day trip to Mt. Rainier. It’s an easy 3-mile round-trip hike from Ohanapecosh Campground, or you can park in a parking lot to access the trail just past the Ohanapecosh entrance. You’ll gain an elevation of 300 feet, and it will take you around 1.5 hours to complete the loop.
Its relatively flat surface makes it a famous Mt. Rainier attraction amongst families. I did this with my baby when it was pretty hot last summer, and I loved that almost all the trail was shaded.
The trail follows the river to the cascades, crosses over a bridge, and makes a loop back to the campground. The falls are surrounded by lush greenery, providing the perfect place to take stunning photos on your vacation. There is no shortage of beautiful Mount Rainier hikes in the area.
While the falls gain most of their glory in winter, it gushes year-round and is a must-see when spending one day at Mount Rainier.
6. Go Glissading in the Snow
Glissading is another term for sliding on your butt in the snow on a mountain. On Mount Rainier, there are areas designed for you to have fun skating around in the snow. It’s best to check with a park ranger when you first get to the park to see the snow conditions and where you can go for some of the best winter hikes in Washington.
This is a great article talking about the basics of glissading that I highly recommend you read first.
That said, if you’re an advanced hiker with snow experience, make your way to Panorama Point and then take the Pebble Creek Trail. The trek will lead you to the Muir Snowfield, which is typically used by those coming down from Camp Muir.
Note: Keep a lookout for hidden crevasses under the snow and stay on the route to Muir Snowfield during your Mount Rainier one day trip. I don’t recommend this for kids or if you don’t have experience in the snow. As usual, always talk to a ranger when possible to let them know your plans and see if they give alternate suggestions.
7. See One of the Largest Glaciers on Mount Rainier
The magnificent Nisqually Glacier is one of the most massive and accessible glaciers on Mount Rainier. To see the Nisqually Glacier, embark on the 2.2-mile Nisqually Vista Trail during your Mt. Rainier one day trip. It’s a popular trail with families because it’s easy to follow and not challenging. The trail can take around 45 minutes to complete with a 400ft elevation gain.
The stunning hike will lead you through beautiful wildflower meadows during your trip to Mt. Rainier National Park in one day. You’ll find several lookout points that provide grandeur views of the glacier.
The glacier is the primary water source for the Nisqually River that carves its way through to the Puget Sound, which is a sight you’ll want to see during your one day at Mt. Rainier.
8. Go on an Adventure and Do the Citizen Ranger Quest
With the popularity of the Junior Ranger programs, many parks started a program for older children (12 years and up) and adults. Mount Rainier created the Citizen Ranger Quest, which provides various activities and adventures during a day trip to Mount Rainier – ideal for friends and PNW family vacations.
There are indoor and outdoor quests for your Mt. Rainier day trip, varying from history to science and stewardship. You’ll receive a certificate and patch for your one day in Mount Rainier National Park activity at the end of the challenge. While my kids are too young to join for now, you can bet I’ll be signing them up for this when they’re older.
9. Discover the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
This 1.5-mile loop trail is at the Sevens Canyon Entrance at the southeast of the park. It’s an easy hike during your day trip to Mt. Rainier, with an elevation gain of 50 feet; folks of all ages can enjoy it during one day in Mt. Rainier.
Along the way, you’ll come to find a suspension bridge over the Ohanapecosh River that leads you to a small island with towering 1,000-year-old Douglas-firs and western red cedar trees. Some reach nearly 40 feet in diameter and stand almost 300 feet tall.
Follow the wooden boardwalk as it loops through the ancient forest back to the center. Since you’re only seeing Mt. Rainier in a day, I recommend this hike, as it doesn’t take too much time.
10. Take a Ride on the Mount Rainier Railroad
Nestled in Elbe’s small town, south of the park, lies Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. Here, passengers can board a vintage logging locomotive and take an 18-mile scenic ride through the foothills and across the upper Nisqually River to a museum in Mineral’s town. The museum exhibits a comprehensive collection of steam-logging locomotives.
The excursions run from May to October and provide a fun atmosphere for family and friends. There is a snack bar and history lessons to keep you entertained during your day trip to Mount Rainier. All aboard!
11. Snowshoe Around the Mountain
Don’t discount taking a day trip to Mount Rainier during the winter – there are plenty of things to do at Mt. Rainier when it snows. You’ll see significantly fewer people during this time, so you don’t have to fight crowds (which is one reason I love coming during winter in Seattle!).
Snowshoeing is an easy but fun activity you can do to explore the forests. You’ll want to dress warmly in the right winter hiking clothing and check out winter safety tips to keep in mind while exploring the outdoors.
From December until March, you can go on ranger-led snowshoe walks on the weekends at 11 am and 1:30 pm. They’ll provide the snowshoes if you don’t have any (but appreciate a small donation of $5 to maintain the snowshoes). This is a great way to spend your day trip to Mt. Rainier from Seattle.
Two Sample Itineraries for One Day at Mt. Rainier
The most common areas to visit during a Seattle to Mt. Rainier day trip are Sunrise and Paradise. Sunrise is on the mountain’s north side while Paradise is on the south side, to help you plan this. You can do both areas in a day if you want, but it’s 1.5 hours to drive between them.
Instead, I’d recommend picking one side to explore for your Mount Rainier one day itinerary. You can always extend your trip and go to the other side on your second day. That’s why I’m providing two different itineraries – one for the Paradise/Ohanapecosh (south) area of the park, and one for the Sunrise (north) area of the park.
I recommend looking at this list of what to do at Mt. Rainier and mapping it out before you go. That way, you’ll know how long the drive is between each attraction and can better plan out your Mount Rainier National Park one day itinerary.
One Day Mount Rainier Itinerary for the Paradise/Ohanapecosh Area
Morning – I recommend doing any outdoor activities you want first before it gets too crowded. That means going on a hike or snowshoeing as soon as you get there. You’ll also appreciate the weather being cooler, particularly in the summer.
Skyline Loop Trail is the perfect one to do, as you’ll be partially shaded for a bit before you get to the top of it. I recommend starting counterclockwise on this trail for the best views. If you want something with less mileage, consider Nisqually Vista Trail which is shorter but still provides beautiful views.
Lunch – For lunch, I recommend stopping at the visitor’s center. I love the visitor’s center at Paradise, as you can spend an hour learning about the area. A short movie plays a few times an hour, and plenty of exhibits talk about the area’s history. You’ll also find out what kind of wildlife lives among the trees on Mt. Rainier. You can also get lunch there or at the cafe at Paradise Inn.
Afternoon – Summer gets pretty hot here, but you’ll love the scenic Bench and Snow Lakes trail that is mainly shaded. It’s a trail that goes up and down multiple times but is fairly short, plus the view at the end is incredible. Bring your bathing suit to jump in Snow Lake!
You could also go to Silver Falls, which is a bit longer but also mainly shaded. This is in the Ohanapecosh area, which is the southeastern part of the park.
Evening – I recommend taking the evening part of your day trip to Mt. Rainier to slowly stop at all the viewpoints and waterfalls on the way back. This includes Comet and Christine Falls and Narada Falls if you’re looking for waterfalls on your list of things to do in Mount Rainier.
You could also stop at the Longmire Museum on the way out, or visit Reflections Lake closer to sunset for some beautiful photos. If you came through Ashford, I recommend stopping at Rainier BaseCamp Bar & Grill for pizza and beer in an outdoor setting.
One Day Mount Rainier Itinerary for the Sunrise Area
Morning – The Sunrise area is even less shaded than Paradise, so any hikes you do here will need to be early (plus you need to bring plenty of water and a hat!). For easier hikes, check out Sunrise Natural Trail and Silver Forest Trail (both of which are slightly shaded). Head on the Sourdough Ridge trail to Frozen Lake or Dege Peak for longer hikes.
Lunch – You’ll need a break, so head to the visitor’s center to learn about the area and to the lodge if it’s open for quick food and drinks to grab.
Afternoon – You could opt for another hike, or decide to start heading and stopping at the many viewpoints along the way down the mountain such as Sunrise Point Lookout. If you want another hike once you get down the Sunrise road, Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap is a good one.
Evening – There is nothing more beautiful than visiting Naches Peak at sunset, so head here in the evening hours for a moderately easy three-mile loop around Tipsoo Lake. August is particularly a good time to visit, as the wildflowers are plentiful.
Alternatively, you could do the most famous Rainier fire lookout, Mount Fremont, for a sunset hike. Just be sure that you have your 10 essentials with you when you hike, including a headlamp, fully charged phone, and/or GPS (I download the AllTrails map for sunset hikes and follow that to make sure I’ve headed back the right way in the dark).
Tips for a Day Trip to Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier gets 2.5 million visitors each year and one million in August alone, thanks to the infamous wildflowers. That’s no surprise that so many people spend one day in Mt. Rainier National Park, as it’s one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
For this reason, it can be chaotic to go on your own during certain times of the year with traffic and parking at one of the most famous Pacific Northwest national parks.
Here are a few things to know for a day trip to Mt. Rainier:
- August is the best time to see the beautiful wildflowers, but that means everyone wants to see them. Do not go on the weekend; if you do, get to the Paradise or Sunrise parking lots no later than 7 am. I was up at 5 am on a recent weekend for photography, and the lots were almost completely full by Saturday and Sunday at 7 am.
- That said, I know it’s not possible for everyone to get a weekday day off from work. I recommend picking one section of the park and then exploring it as much as you can. For example, both Sunrise and Paradise have numerous hikes to go on, a visitor’s center, and a lodge with food, so you can spend a good amount of time there without having to repark.
- Map out your stops in advance – Mount Rainier is huge, so map out all your stops before you leave home and see how far apart they are. You’ll then need to take into account traffic or time to find parking to make sure your itinerary is doable.
- Chains are required through the winter until about May each year, so make sure you have these. I’ve never had to use them, as the roads have always been well-plowed, but you’ll need to keep them in your car and show the ranger when you pay your entrance fee.
- Confirm the current status of the park on their website to make sure there are no closures.
- Current fees are $30 per vehicle or $15 per walk up or bicycle, but you can save money by buying the America the Beautiful pass if you plan on going to more parks during the year.
- Cell phone service is minimal to none, so you’ll want to prepare for this if you need to communicate with anyone. You can get some service in towns further away, such as Ashford.
How to Get to Mount Rainier From Seattle
One of your first questions may be how far is Mount Rainier from Seattle, and the answer is approximately 90 miles, and it takes roughly two to three hours to get from Seattle to Mount Rainier. That varies because the mountain has multiple entrances, so it depends on which one you use. They don’t connect either, so you can’t exactly drive around the mountain and plan on seeing it quickly.
That’s why you’ll want to plan out your day trip to Mount Rainier from Seattle in advance. The most popular places to go to are Paradise and Sunrise, based on the visitor’s centers and numerous hikes to do in the areas. Some entrances are seasonal, so check out their website before planning what to do in Mt. Rainier in one day.
You could also do a day trip from Portland here; just keep in mind that it’ll be quite a long day.
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The Best Time to Visit Mt. Rainier
I always find it a little funny that people message me asking about the best spring wildflower hikes they can do at Rainier, and they get disappointed when I say that won’t happen in late summer. This huge mountain has snow on it most of the year (unlike when exploring Olympic National Park in the spring).
During peak season (July to August), the park boasts an array of activities. From visiting cascading waterfalls, and meadows teamed with hues of colorful flora, to the majestic glaciers, you’ll love planning a one-day trip to Mt. Rainier.
However, similar to going on a North Cascades day trip during this season, you should note that certain entrances will be closed during the winter due to the area’s heavy snow. That means if you’re doing a Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle during this time, you’ll need to plan your trip ahead of time. You can read all about how to visit Mount Rainier in the winter.
Popular trails are often snow-covered until mid-July, but there are plenty of snowshoeing trails you can go on. The best way to see what conditions are like is to check the Mount Rainier Twitter account right before you go, as conditions can change quickly.
That said, July and August are the best time to visit Mt. Rainier, if you’re looking for everything to be open and to see the wildflowers. It gets very crowded during this time, so you’ll need to start your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle early to get a parking spot.
As of 2023, the Sunrise Visitor’s Center plans on opening in July, while the Paradise one is currently open with limited capacity. However, there are water fountains outside both to refill your bottles even if the stations are closed.
June and September are also great times to visit, though, as there is minimal snow but fewer visitors. This is also one of the best road trips from Seattle during this time of year, as the roads are easier to drive on.
Where to Stay on a Mt. Rainier Day Trip From Seattle
I know the title of this article is about visiting for a day, but a day trip to Mount Rainier from Seattle can be a long day, depending on where you’re coming from. I personally prefer to stay overnight so I don’t have to rush back, so I want to provide a few options of where to stay in the park if you want to extend your trip to Mount Rainier in one day.
My personal favorite place to stay is at a comfy cabin near Mount Rainier, as it’s relaxing to come back to.
Here are a few hotels I recommend (which you’ll need to book several months in advance, especially in the summertime in Seattle):
- National Park Inn – This historic lodge in Longmire is a great place to call your base while exploring the area. Amenities include a restaurant and an outdoor patio area with BBQ grills. (rates start at $212 per night)
- Paradise Village – This hotel is in nearby Ashford and has family rooms available as well as patios and balconies in some rooms. (rates start at $110 per night)
There are also plenty of vacation rentals nearby, including the following:
- Creekfront Cabin – This is a favorite of mine, with large chalet-style windows overlooking Big Creek and views of Osborne Mountain. (rates start at $168 per night)
- Packwood Cabin with Hot Tub – This three-bedroom cabin has a hot tub on-site for post-hiking relaxation. (rates start at $187 per night)
Can You Hike Mt. Rainier in a Day?
Yes! I come here constantly during the summer and fall to go hiking just for the day and spend a long Mount Rainier day trip from Seattle here. My best recommendation is to leave as early as you can from wherever you’re staying so you can make the most of your day. I often leave at 4 am to be hiking on Mount Rainier by sunrise, but I know that’s not for everyone.
Sunset hikes during the summer when the sun goes down late are also amazing to experience, but just make sure you know where you are so you don’t get lost in the dark. You should always bring your 10 hiking essentials with you, especially a headlamp for sunset hiking.
Can You See Mt. Rainier Without Hiking?
I’ve gotten this question a lot, so I updated my article to include it – while people rave about the hiking here, you can definitely still enjoy the mountain without being a hiker. It’s fun to go to the visitor’s center to learn more about the mountain, and there are many quick stop-offs you can see along the way, such as Narada Falls or Reflection Lakes so you can quickly get out for a picture and then continue on your Mount Rainier day trip.
There are also many short hikes you can do by both Paradise and Sunrise – my best recommendation is to talk to a ranger when you get to the park, tell them what type of hike you’re looking for, and follow that so you don’t have to hike any farther than you want to.
And that’s how you spend a day trip to Mount Rainier! There are so many things to do in the area that you’ll likely have to plan another trip back soon.