One of the reasons I moved to Washington was because of the mountains and one of my favorite places is Mt. Rainier National Park. Mt. Rainier is the mountain you see on pretty much all Washington memorabilia and can see from Seattle and the surrounding area. The park is an awesome place to hike and get into nature. The first two times I went to Rainier, I drove pretty much the whole way through the park and I loved every second of it. Here is my guide to a road trip through Mt. Rainier and my experience doing it.
Mt. Rainier has only a view roads going into it. The main ones form a backward “L” that goes from the lower left-hand corner of the park up the upper right. Of course, there are other roads too, I’ve including them on my rudimentary map above, but this is the route I took through the park. You can find a map online or you can get one when you enter the park.
Twin Firs Trail
This is a 0.3-mile trail about half way between the Westside Road and Longmire. It’s a nice little jaunt through the woods that has only about 100 feet in elevation climb. It was a nice way for me to get out and stretch my legs, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Save your time so you can see some other things in the park.
I went on a very, very busy Saturday afternoon, so there was literally no parking available in Longmire. I’m sure if I had spent the time to drive around for a bit I would have stumbled upon something, but it didn’t seem worth it to me. What I really wanted to see was the Longmire museum and maybe take a short hike up the Trail of Shadows, maybe next time I go. There is also the National Park Inn here, that has food and lodging and the Wilderness Information Center that gives out all kinds of permits.
I drove a few miles to the pull out for Carter Falls which is across the road from Cougar Rock Campground. I decided to hike to the falls since it was a 3-mile roundtrip. The trail dips down to the Nisqually River and is clearly marked as you walk through the boulder field there. I was super excited to be able to see this, since I’d driven by it so many times. Then the trail goes over the river on a pretty rudimentary bridge, which I imagine gets swept away in the spring each year, so the trail changes each year. After that, the trail follows the Paradise River and climbs steadily for the next mile and a half. It’s a total gain of about 500 feet from the river valley. Finally, I got to Carter Falls, which was really cool to see. A fellow hiker told me to to walk about a minute further up the path for another falls and I did. This is Madcap Falls and was a lot easier to see through the trees, I would suggest going to see it as well, the walk is short and fast. Hiking back down was much easier than walking up (hallelujah). I really enjoyed this hike, especially being able to see the river up close.
Christine Falls and Comet Falls
Not very far down the road is the turn out for Christine Falls (which is right next to the roadway) and the trail to Comet Falls (a mile or so hike). I had really wanted to go see these falls, but both sides of the turn off were completely packed. I even tried to park in a tiny end spot, but I couldn’t get all four of my tires off of the roadway, so I had to continue on. If there is room when you go to the park, please go up this trail, I’ve heard it’s beautiful and it’s definitely still on my list.
I continued a few more miles down the road (and went by the one-way road that I wanted to drive, but was closed for construction, just my luck). I came to Narada Falls and pulled into the packed parking lot, thanks to my tiny car I was able to get a parking space. This was something I really wanted to see, so I was completely prepared to drive around a while until I found a spot. The parking lot is located above the falls and I followed a 0.3 mile roundtrip trail down to the other side of the river to see the falls. It’s a pretty steep path down, but it’s so short that it makes up for it. The falls are breathtaking! And the way the sun was falling there was a rainbow at the bottom of it while I was there. Definitely go and see this falls. It’s perfect for kids, since the trail is so short and the view so great.
Paradise and Reflection Lakes
The next two spots on the road I drove by. Paradise was packed, so I only looked around. I know there are several trails around the area. The next time I go, I’ll hike to Bench and Snow Lakes, but I didn’t have the time this trip. I also drove by Reflection Lake and Louise Lake. They are a epidemy of beautiful mountain lakes. Definitely worth a visit. I’ll be frank, I had to go to the bathroom, so I kept driving, so I could get to the next restroom. Lesson learned: go to the bathroom whether you have to or not. You never know when the next bathroom will be.
Stevens Canyon Road
This is probably my favorite part of the whole park (for driving that is). The road hugs the side of a massive canyon. There is no road on the other side of the canyon, so you get the feeling you are in the middle of nowhere, even though you aren’t that far off from civilization. There were a lot fewer people after Paradise so I took my time enjoying this part of the park. There are even two tunnels along this stretch of road which tickles the inner child in me.
Grove of the Patriarchs
This is the last stop before Stevens Canyon Road hooks up with 123. It’s a 1.3 mile round trip out to an island formed by the Ohanapecosh River that has some truly giant trees. The walk down to the suspension bridge is pretty easy and has a few beaches that you can walk out on. After you cross the bridge, you can go on a short, loop trail that wanders past many giant trees. It’s wonderful looking at them and learning about how they came to get so big. I really enjoyed this part of the trip.
It’s a relatively quick drive from Grove of the Patriarchs to Sunrise. There is a ton of really great hiking up there and an awesome viewpoint on the way. Definitely worth it as it’s own day trip or as a tack on to this road trip. I’ve been there several times before, so I decided to head home. Since there isn’t cell phone reception in the park, I would suggest looking up the way home before you leave so you know the general directions before you get back to service and can use your navigation.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of everything you can see in Mt. Rainier, but a way to see as many features as you can in a one-time trip. I have all the spots of interest I have gone to or want to go through on my Washington Google Map. Check it out for some more ideas for the Park. If you have been to Mt. Rainier, I would love to hear about it!