How to Plan the Perfect Day Trip to Mount Rainier

mt rainier in one day
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When you think of Seattle, you likely either think of the Space Needle or Mount Rainier. Towering over the state at 14,411 feet, this mountain is one of my favorite sites to see on a sunny day in Seattle. Even though you can see it from far away, it’s about 90 miles southeast of the city and takes several hours to drive for a day trip to Mount Rainier.

I love spending one day at Mt. Rainier and last went in July 2020. While I still haven’t done all the things to do at Mt. Rainier, I’ve now been there in every season. 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 history of the area, go hiking, or see 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.

The facts in this article have been checked and are accurate as of March 2021.

This post promotes travel to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Puyallup people. I make a formal land acknowledgment showing my respect and appreciation to the people of these lands. You can learn more about this on Native Land.

Tips for a Day Trip to Mount Rainier

mt rainier paradise

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 popular Pacific Northwest national parks.

If you want to spend one day at Mt. Rainier National Park, there are several different entrances to go to. Some are seasonal, so make sure to check out their website before you plan your trip. 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.

Here are a few things to know for a day trip to Mt. Rainier:

  • If you go during the summer, aim to be at the park as early as possible before parking fills up.
  • 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.

The Best Time to Visit Mt. Rainier 

Year-round you’ll be spoiled with an assortment of things to do in Mt. Rainier. During peak season (July to August), the park boasts an array of activities. From visiting cascading waterfalls, meadows teaming with hues of colorful flora, to the majestic glaciers, you’ll love planning a one-day trip to Mt. Rainier.

However, you should note that certain entrances will be closed during the winter due to the heavy snow the area gets. That means if you’re coming to Mount Rainier from Seattle during this time, you’ll need to plan your trip ahead of time. Popular trails are often snow-covered until mid-July, but there are plenty of snowshoeing trails you can go on.

That said, the best time to visit Mt. Rainier if you’re looking for everything to be open and to see the wildflowers is July and August. It does get very crowded during this time, so you’ll need to start your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle pretty early to get a parking spot.

June and September are also great times to visit though, as there is minimal snow but not as many visitors yet.

Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park

mt rainier national park inn

A day trip to Mt. Rainier can be a long day depending on where you’re coming from, so you do have a few options of where to stay in the park if you want to extend your trip to Mount Rainier in one day.

  • 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)
  • Creekfront Cabin – This is an area favorite with large chalet-style windows overlooking Big Creek and views of Osborne Mountain. (rates start at $168 per night)
  • Packwood Cabin with Hot TubThis three-bedroom cabin has a hot tub on-site for post hiking relaxation. (rates start at $187 per night)

11 Incredible Things to Do at Mt. Rainier in One Day

This national park is one of the biggest attractions around Washington State. It provides you with the famous Mount Rainier – an active 14,411-foot-tall stratovolcano that sits over the 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

skyline trail

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 my favorite way to spend a one-day trip to Mount Rainier. 

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.

While you’re here, keep an eye out for panoramic paradise and majestic waterfalls on your Mount Rainier day trip.

2. Take a Ride on the Mount Rainier Railroad

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 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!

3. Discover the Longmire Museum

mt rainier 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.

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 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
Image via Flickr/anumpam_ts

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.

There is a bridge over the top of Narada Falls that 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. 

Taking 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. 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

mount rainier waterfalls

There are tons of waterfalls 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 Mount Rainier as your backdrop.

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. You’ll gain an elevation of 300 feet, and it will take you around 1.5 hours to complete the loop. With its relatively flat surface, it’s a famous Mt. Rainier attraction amongst families.

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.

While the falls gain most of its 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

muir snowfield

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 what the snow conditions are and where you can go for some of the best winter hikes in Washington.

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. Take a Picture of Mount Rainier at Reflection Lake

reflection lake

Possibly one of the most remarkable and iconic views of 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 at Reflection Lake, in the early morning.

If you can’t get to Reflection Lake, try Lake Tipsoo during your Mount Rainier day trip.

8. See One of the Largest Glaciers on Mount Rainier

mount rainier day trip

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 for its gentle trek meandering around the mountainside. 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.

9. Go on an Adventure and Do the Citizen Ranger Quest

mount rainier meadows

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 and provides various activities and adventures during a day trip to Mount Rainier – ideal for friends and 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.

10. Discover the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail

mt rainier hike

This 1.5-mile loop trail is at the Sevens Canyon Entrance, southeast of the park. It’s an easy hike during your day trip to Mt. Rainier, with an elevation gain of 50ft; 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 40ft in diameter and stand almost 300ft tall. Follow the wooden boardwalk as it loops through the ancient forest back to the center.

11. Snowshoe Through the Forest

mt rainier snowshoe

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. 

Snowshoeing is an easy but fun activity you can do to explore the forests. You’ll want to dress warmly 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 visit Mt. Rainier National Park in one day.

Sample Itinerary for a One Day at Mt. Rainier

one day at mount rainier national park

The most common areas to visit are Sunrise and Paradise. Sunrise is on the north side of the mountain while Paradise is on the south side to help 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.

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 day.

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.

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 there are plenty of exhibits that talk about the area’s history. You’ll also find out what kind of wildlife lives among the trees on Mt. Rainier.

Afternoon – I recommend taking the afternoon of your day trip to Mt. Rainier to slowly stop at all the viewpoints and waterfalls on the way back. You could stop at the Longmire Museum on the way out, or visit Reflections Lake closer to sunset for some beautiful photos.

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.


2 thoughts on “How to Plan the Perfect Day Trip to Mount Rainier

  1. Cynthia Milstein says:

    Thank you for your article. It is very detailed and informative for someone that is not local. Unfortunately, we only have a day between driving from Seattle to Portland. It will be a long a day for us, but we want to get up there early, do a short hike with 2 tweens, something like Silver Falls sounds good, but seems a bit far from Seattle. What would you recommend? A short hike in the morning, lunch at Paradise you recommend sounds good, and then driving out a different way to head to Portland and stopping anywhere that looks scenic sounds the best to me. What can you recommend? Thank you so much!

  2. Marissa says:

    I’m glad this article was helpful! To be honest, that sounds like a very exhausting day to go from Seattle to Mount Rainier to Portland, so I would suggest spending more time in the park. You can also check out Grove of the Patriarchs or Naches Peak Loop for additional hikes that are scenic but not too hard. There are not many scenic places from the park to Portland, as you’ll mainly want to get back on the freeway to save time. However, Moulton Falls is a beautiful place to stop before you hit Vancouver/Portland.

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