Reflection of Mount Rainer off Reflection Lakes

Visiting Mount Rainier National Park

Stunning barely describes what awaits a mere 10 minutes into Mount Rainier National Park.

Hardly the tallest of peaks, this mammoth rises just 14,411 feet, but your seat at the table serves an unlikely dish of a heavenly sight.

Mount Rainer is the tallest peak in Washington State and this national park system offers a near immediate look into its majesty. A relatively quick drive from Portland or Seattle, Mount Rainer National Park has three entrances, two which bookend each another.

Entering from the Nisqually entrance off Route 706, Mount Rainer overwhelms upon first viewing within 10 minutes of entering the park. Looming overhead, drive just a few miles further and find pull-outs in the road to get some breath-taking views leaving you scrambling for the perfect shot:

  • The full unobstructed view
  • One offering a border of trees
  • A foreground of the rising forest that abruptly ends giving way to the fullness of the mountain
  • Close-ups of the summit or anything else that stands out
Mount Rainer in late afternoon

Understand, nothing you capture on film translates to the real thing.

Mount Rainer National Park has plenty of trails for hiking. Pull over within minutes of entry and get started. Or drive a mile or two further and discover another. Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but find the beginnings of a trail every few miles, or less. Some more popular than others, you can tell, by the number of “stranded” cars. Few people litter about, the rest no doubt lost somewhere in the woods.

No Dogs Allowed

Don’t bring your dogs if hiking fills your bucket, canines can enter the park, even stretch their legs in any of the various parking lots, but fur babies cannot walk any of the trails. Plenty of dog friendly trails exist outside Mount Rainier National Park, allowing you to enjoy the sights that await inside the gates with the “kids” while giving them some adventure too. But if experiencing all the mountain offers makes your day then leave them at home.

Clear view of Mount Rainer in the afternoon
Mount Rainier in the afternoon

Arrive early (around 9 a.m.) or head in late (after 5 p.m.) to avoid long lines especially around holidays. Expect an hour, even just a mile out, slow crawling towards the entrance during peak times. The Nisqually entrance seems most popular but you can find better wait times on the other side at Stevens Canyon Entrance. The separate White River Entrance suffers from one way in, one way out, meaning the line of cars trying to get in get held up by the line of cars leaving and vice versa. Therefore, enjoy views of the north face by hitting one of the turn-outs on Route 410 if the entrance to White River leaves you idling for extended periods.

A crater in Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainer
A close-up of a crater on Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier

Parking for the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor center fills up very quickly so much in fact you’ll wonder where all the cars came from, even when an early arrival ushers you past the entrance with little trouble.

The main road and route from Nisqually to Stevens Canyon takes more than an hour, if you drive straight through and don’t get stuck behind slow drivers, but plenty of viewing areas require a stop so take your time and enjoy all that life has to offer. Reflection Lakes needs little explanation but finding the right spot and time of day to clearly see Mount Rainier manifest from the waters only begins an internal debate of whether the real thing looks better than its reflection. (See top photo.)

The North Face of Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier’s North Face

Tips for Enjoying Mount Rainier National Park:

  1. Arrive early morning or late afternoon to avoid lines
  2. Stop and look around! Take your time and hit the pull-outs
  3. Arrive with a Full Tank – No gas stations inside
  4. Leave the dogs at home if you want to hike
  5. Take your camera

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10 thoughts on “Visiting Mount Rainier National Park

  1. It’s a gorgeous mountain and park. I visited Mt. Rainier N.P. in summer 1979. It had rained heavily in the area the day before, with snow on the higher elevations of the park, and on the morning we were to visit, it was overcast and gloomy. Still, we were determined to see the park, so headed out and within minutes after entering the park, the clouds started breaking up and the mountain came into view. It was spectacular, and the skies continued to clear up and we were able to enjoy the mountain and park in all its glory.

    Fun fact: At one of the view points, I ran into one of my college professors from San Jose State University, where he taught and I was still a student. What were the chances of that?!

    1. wow, great story! Thanks for sharing. having been there I could totally visualize the breaking of the clouds. must have been awesome.

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