If you’ve ever seen pictures of Mount Rainier in Washington State, you know the brilliance by which this mountain stands. The first time one lays eyes on this monster in person is unmatched. It’s a 14,410 foot volcano living in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Mount Rainier has shaped the landscape to include towering peaks, glistening waterfalls, and shimmering glaciers.
Mount Rainier National Park is a truly special place. But there is so much to see and experience that it might make your head spin. For all levels of nature lovers, these are the must-visit places in Mount Rainier National Park.
The Skyline Trail
This 5.5 mi round-trip is a favorite for park visitors. Hikers depart from Paradise parking lot and can find the trailhead behind the Jackson Visitor Center. With your map, water bottle, and snacks handy, follow the signs for the Skyline Trail. Be aware that the initial half mile is a steep incline, but will gradually even out the further you get into your hike. Over the next few miles you’ll pass the Nisqually Glacier on your way up to Panorama Point for an unforgettable view of Paradise Valley. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see neighboring Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams. Follow the signage to return down to the valley and you’ve completed the Skyline Trail!
Located on the road from Longmire to Paradise, Narada Falls is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the park. The falls have two tiers: the first at 159 feet and the second at 17 feet. You’re best bet for a great view is from below the falls. Watch your footing as this part of the path does tend to get slippery. If you manage to make your trip on a sunny day, you might even be able to spot a small rainbow where the bottom of the falls meets the rock below.
Since the 1880s, Longmire has been open to visitors. It’s open year-round and was the first visitor center in the park. It was founded by James Longmire in 1883 after he made the dangerous trek through the Cascades in a wagon. In the early 1900s, the park service constructed additional facilities including a service station, community kitchen, and admin building. Today, Longmire is a national historic district complete with a library, the National Park Inn, a popular visitor center, museums, shopping, and dining.
As the name suggests, the Reflection Lakes are some of the most iconic and fun sites to see in the park. In summer, the wildflower fields surrounding the lakes are in full bloom and in fall, the foliage creates a picturesque experience. As one of the most popular trails, you’ll want to arrive at the trail head early for decent parking. Some visitors have reported seeing large bears in the area so keep your eye out for one of the park’s most famous residents. Fishing is prohibited in these lakes, as is wading. Much of the land beside the water is closed off to foot traffic for restorative purposes.
Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center
Chances are that at some point during your trip to Mount Rainier you’ll find yourself at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. Located in the Paradise area of the park, it’s the takeoff point for several popular hikes as well as guided tours. Inside the visitor center you’ll find museum exhibits, films, ranger talks, a gift shop, book store, and snack bar. Inside the building is rustic, with deep brown leather seats and tall wood paneling. It’s where you can find information and maps about the park or take a largely earned afternoon snack break after your morning of exploration.
Naches Peak Loop
The Naches Peak Loop is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the park. At 3.5 miles round-trip, the hike will take visitors for a roughly 2-hour trek through the park’s beautiful landscape. Hiking clockwise grants the best views of Mount Rainier with glimpses of subalpine meadows and wildflowers. Hikers should park at Tipsoo Lake then follow the signage from the picnic area to Chinook Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail. For a peaceful afternoon under a bright sun and the shadow of the magnificent Mount Rainier, Naches Peak Loop is your best bet.
Like Narada Falls, there are two drops at Christine Falls: the first at 32 feet and the second at 37 feet. Every year, visitors are lured by the iconic picture of a historic stone bridge arching over the lower portion of the falls. The lower falls are viewed and photographed most often. Seeing the upper falls is slightly more challenging with the bridge stretching over the lower falls. For a nice view of the upper portion, continue up the road to Paradise and look for the signs. Keep in mind, parking for both falls is extremely limited.
Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
Hiking through the Grove of the Patriarchs is like stepping into a mystical storybook world. The forest is located on the east side of Mount Rainier of Stevens Canyon Road. Visitors will immediately notice the towering red cedars marking the trail entrance. After half a mile, you’ll meet a suspension bridge crossing the Ohanapecosh River. It’s a narrow trek, so crossing one-by-one is essential. Along the path are signs pointing out and describing various plants in the area. On the hike, you’ll encounter Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars in their grand virtuosity that have stood the test of time. They are truly a sight to behold. Round-trip, the trail is 1.5 miles and takes the average hiker one hour to complete.