The Complete Guide to Camping in Mount Rainier National Park

camping in Mount Rainier National Park

It’s hard to beat camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Over 2 million visitors flock to the park each year to marvel at the splendor of the 14,411 foot tall titular mountain, bask in the brilliantly colored wildflower meadows, and explore the seemingly endless expanse of old growth forest.

Five developed areas, including three car campgrounds and two historic inns, serve as a jumping off point to explore the vast network of Mount Rainier hiking trails as well as the rest of the national park.

But don’t let these developed areas fool you – several Mount Rainier campgrounds and campsites are located in backcountry areas for those that prefer a more remote, private camping experience.

Here is our ultimate visitors guide to help you plan your Mount Rainier National Park camping trip.

Index

  1. Highlights
  2. Park Layout
  3. Best Campgrounds in the Park
  4. Other Park Campgrounds
  5. Best Campgrounds Near the Park
  6. Free Camping
  7. Other Lodging
  8. Camping Gear Checklist
  9. Additional Camping Tips
  10. Must-See Destinations
  11. Hiking & Backpacking
  12. Other Park Activities
  13. Things to Do Nearby
  14. Plan Your Visit
  15. Sample Camping Itineraries

Mount Rainier National Park Camping Highlights

Mount Rainier is the prominent face of Mount Rainier National Park.

Sitting at 14,411 feet tall, this towering dormant volcano is not only the highest mountain in Washington State, but the highest mountain in the entire Cascade Range.

Mount Rainier National Park encompasses all of Mount Rainier as well as the surrounding waterfalls, alpine lakes, old growth forests, temperate rain forests, valleys, and wildflower meadows.

The whole of Mount Rainier National Park covers just under 370 square miles. It was founded in 1899, making it the fifth oldest national park in the United States.

Today, camping in Mount Rainier is one of the park’s most popular activities. Three car campgrounds, one walk-in campground, and dozens of backcountry campsites give visitors plenty of space to spread out.

Hiking is another popular activity. The 93-mile roundtrip Wonderland Trail that circles the mountain is widely regarded as one of the best hikes in Washington State. Complete a small section as a day hike or link the entire loop together as part of a multi-night backpacking trip.

In addition to hiking and camping, Mount Rainier National Park is perhaps best known for its climbing and mountaineering opportunities.

Roughly 10,000 people attempt the climb each year. Climbing Mount Rainier is notable not only for the length of the climb, but also the overall difficulty. Only about half of the 10,000 climbers that start out reach the summit each year.

Although two historic inns are available for lodging within the park, we strongly encourage you to opt for the full wilderness experience by staying in a Mount Rainier campground for at least part of your stay.

Not a fan of tent camping? The three main campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park are all suited for RV camping – you can even rent an RV or camper for your trip.

*Our round-up of the best RV rentals in Seattle will help you find the perfect RV for your Mount Rainier camping trip.

Mount Rainier National Park Layout

Mount Rainier National Park has a fairly straightforward layout.

Unlike some national parks, including Olympic National Park and Yellowstone National Park, the roads in Mount Rainier do not form a complete loop.

To see the entirety of the park, you must make sizable detours outside of the park to connect all of the roadways together.

Fortunately, only a small sliver in the northwest corner of the park near the Carbon River is separate from the rest of Mount Rainier’s roads.

The rest of the park, including the southwestern, southeastern, and northeastern sections, can be seen on a sort of half loop that attaches popular areas such as Longmire, Paradise, and Sunrise together.

This section of the park is far more frequently visited than the northwest corner. It’s also home to the best camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Visit these areas by entering Mount Rainier through the southwest Nisqually Entrance on SR 706, the southeast Stevens Canyon Entrance on US Highway 12 (White Pass Scenic Byway), or the northeast White River/Sunrise Entrance just off SR 410 (Chinook Scenic Byway).

The southeast Nisqually Entrance is the only Mount Rainier National Park entrance that’s open year-round. It’s easily accessible from major nearby cities including Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Yakima.

The least popular entrance, the northwest Carbon River Entrance, is accessed via SR 165 through the town of Wilkeson.

The best way to get an idea of the park’s layouts, roads, and locations of its campgrounds is to look at a detailed map of Mount Rainier National Park.

Best Campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park

There are four designated campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park.

Three of these Mount Rainier campgrounds accept vehicles, including RVs, while the fourth is a walk-in only campground. All three car campgrounds have flush toilets and running water. Both Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh accept reservations for some campsites.

Here are the best campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park.

Cougar Rock Campground

Cougar Rock Campground is the most popular place to go camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Located in the southwest region of the park, it serves as a perfect jumping off point for exploring Longmire, Paradise, and more. The spacious campground sits near the Nisqually River under the shade of an old growth forest. The 2.8-mile roundtrip Cougar Falls trail starts in the campground and finishes at the titular waterfall.

Cougar Rock Campground has 173 campsites plus 5 group sites. It has running water, flush toilets, and the only RV dump station in the national park. It’s open from roughly late May to late September (depending on weather). Reservations for some campsites are available online. 

Learn more about Cougar Rock Campground.

Ohanapecosh Campground

Ohanapecosh Campground is the second most popular place to go camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Instead of the more alpine environment of other Mount Rainier campgrounds, this one is nestled in a woodland atmosphere at a much lower elevation. It’s situated alongside the beautiful Ohanapecosh River. A short nature trail, the 0.4-mile roundtrip Ohanapecosh Hot Springs trail, serves as an excellent hike for young campers and their families.

Ohanapecosh Campground has 188 campsites plus 2 group sites. It has running water and flush toilets. It’s open from roughly late May to late September (depending on the water). Reservations for some campsites are available online.

Learn more about Ohanapecosh Campground.

White River Campground

White River Campground is an excellent choice for camping in Mount Rainier if you hope to explore the northeast section of the park.

This Mount Rainier National Park campground is tucked away in a quiet forest. Despite its size, there is plenty of space between campsites, promoting a sense of privacy. Thanks to its location alongside the Wonderland Trail, this campground is popular among backpackers and others setting out to explore Mount Rainier’s backcountry wilderness.

White River campground has 112 campsites. It has running water and flush toilets. It’s open from roughly late June to late September. No reservations are available, all campsites are first-come, first-served.

Learn more about White River Campground.

Other Mount Rainier National Park Campgrounds

Camping in Mount Rainer National Park doesn’t have to be limited to the three bustling car campgrounds.

A smaller and more peaceful option is to camp at Mowich Lake, the single designated walk-in campground in the park. Mount Rainier also offers a wide variety of wilderness camping at designated backcountry campsites. Those climbing the mountain also have the option to stay overnight in an alpine camping zone.

Here are the best additional campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park.

Mowich Lake Campground

For a more private, remote Mount Rainier camping experience, Mowich Lake Campground is an excellent option. Although getting to this walk-in only campground takes some effort, it’s 100% worth the trek. The beautiful lakeside campground has 10 campsites with 13 total tent pads, many of which have beautiful views of the mountain. There is a vault toilet but no running water. This Mount Rainier National Park campground is open from early July to early October. It’s completely free. 

Learn more about Mowich Lake Campground.

Backcountry Camping

Dozens of backcountry campsites in Mount Rainier serve as overnight destinations for backpacking and other wilderness campers. In addition to a greater sense of privacy, these campsites are an excellent way to explore the less-visited sections of the park. These backcountry camping areas are scattered throughout the park and require a wilderness permit for overnight stays.

Learn more about backcountry camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Alpine Camping for Climbers

The vast majority of those climbing Mount Rainier stay a night or more in the backcountry. Like all wilderness camping areas, the base camps at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman require a wilderness permit (a portion are reservable in advance) to limit the number of climbers. Many first-time climbers take a guided climb to minimize the logistics as well as to ensure safety and success.  

Learn more about alpine camping while climbing Mount Rainier.

Best Campgrounds Near Mount Rainier National Park

Camping in Mount Rainier National Park doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay within the park itself.

There are a ton of camping opportunities just outside the park’s borders. Many of these serve as an excellent jumping off point for exploring Mount Rainier and surrounding natural areas.

Here are a few of the best campgrounds near Mount Rainier National Park.

Big Creek Campground

Big Creek Campground is one of the best alternatives to camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, this Mount Rainier campground is notable for its creekside location, forested atmosphere, and proximity to the national park. It has 29 campsites including 3 double sites. RVs and trailers (with a maximum length of 22 feet) are welcome, although no RV hookups are available.

Learn more about Big Creek Campground.

Bumping Lake Campground

Bumping Lake Campground near Naches, Washington is an excellent staging point to explore Mount Rainier and surrounding national forests.

The campground is located in the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest. It has 45 campsites, many of which accommodate small RVs. It’s location just off the lake makes it a popular place for boating and fishing.

Learn more about Bumping Lake Campground.

The Dalles Campground

Few campgrounds near Mount Rainier are as beautiful as the stunning Dalles Campground.

Located along the White River in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the campground is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the national park. It contains 45 widely spaced campsites, many of which are able to accommodate RVs and trailers. Many visitors also use this campground as a base to explore North Cascades National Park.

Learn more about The Dalles Campground.

La Wis Wis Campground

Possibly the most popular Mount Rainier campground that’s not in the park itself, La Wis Wis Campground is a magical place.

The campground has 115 total campsites plus 25 double campsites. It’s located just 4 miles from the town of Packwood alongside a burbling confluence of three waterways. This Gifford Pinchot National Forest campground is also a popular destination for those camping for weeks at a time.

Learn more about La Wis Wis Campground.

Packwood RV Park & Campground

RV campers rejoice – Packwood RV Park & Campground is an excellent place for RV camping near Mount Rainier National Park.

In addition to 87 RV campsites, there is a large grassy area for tent camping. The campground is located in a heavily wooded area just minutes from Packwood. This RV Park boasts full RV hookups, free Wi-Fi, and a laundry area. Many campsites are spacious enough to accommodate the largest RVs and trailers.

Learn more about Packwood RV Park & Campground.

Looking to purchase an RV? Check out our RV Buyer’s Guide.

Rainier View RV Park

Another comfortable option for RV camping near Mount Rainier, Rainier View RV Park boasts breathtaking views of the mountain in its own right.

The RV park is located just outside of Graham, Washington. It has 55 total RV campsites all with full utilities. About half of the campsites are pull-thru while the others are back-in. Free Wi-Fi is available. While pets are allowed, do note that Rainier View RV Park is an adult RV park only – no children are allowed.

Learn more about Rainier View RV Park.

Rocky Point Campground

Rocky Point Campground is part of Alder Lake Park, run by Tacoma Public Utilities in Pierce County.

The campground has 25 reservable campsites, all with electric and water hookups. An RV dump station is also available. Many of the campsites are located just off the shores of Alder Lake.

Learn more about Rocky Point Campground.

Sand Flats Horse Camp

Anyone looking to explore the area surrounding Mount Rainier with stock should look into Sand Flats Horse Camp.

Although this Mount Rainier camping area is set up to accommodate horseback riders, it’s open to campers of all types. Although there is running water, a vault toilet, and food lockers on site, this campground is primitive. In addition to many established campsites, there is a large dispersed camping area.

Learn more about Sand Flats Horse Camp.

Free Camping Near Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier’s central location in Washington makes it an excellent destination for free camping.

Start your search by heading over to FreeCampsites.net. This intuitive website remains one of the best research tools to find free camping anywhere.

Key areas to focus your search are the national forests surrounding the national park, including Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

Do note that the majority of free camping near Mount Rainier National Park, including on the surrounding national forest land, is dispersed camping.

This means that the camping is primitive and usually private. The campground doesn’t always have established campsites. Although there’s sometimes a vault toilet, many free campgrounds don’t have any facilities.

For RV campers, this means you’ll be boondocking, also known as dry camping. Don’t expect any water/electric hookups or an RV dump station.

Both tent and RV campers must typically pack out what they bring in due to lack of garbage services. If you’re a tent camper, consider investing in a camping toilet and/or a camping shower – and read up on proper camping hygiene.

Our complete guide to free camping in the United States has more detailed tips and tricks.

Specific free campsites near Mount Rainier to look into include a dispersed area on the Carbon River just before the northwest entrance to the park, the Ranger Creek Airstrip near the Buck Creek Recreation Area near the northeast entrance, and Soda Spring Campground (not Soda Springs Campground!) near the town of Randle.

Nisqually River Campsite along the Nisqually River is another private and peaceful free campsite near Mount Rainier.

*Please let us know if you’ve gone free camping near Mount Rainier National Park – we’d love to hear from you!

Other Mount Rainier National Park Lodging Options

Camping in Mount Rainier National Park isn’t for everyone.

If camping isn’t your idea of a fun vacation, you’re still in luck. You have a choice between two historic inns within the national park itself as well as a number of Airbnb rentals, cabins, hotels, and motels just outside the park.

Here is the best lodging in Mount Rainier National Park.

National Park Inn

The National Park Inn is one of two hotels in the national park. It’s located in the Longmire historic district. The inn boasts 25 rooms, restaurant, and general store. Be sure to make advance reservations for the busy summer season.

Learn more about National Park Inn.

Paradise Inn

Few national park lodges are as historic as the Paradise Inn, built in 1916. Appropriately named, the inn is located in one of the most beautiful sections of Mount Rainier National Park. It has 121 rooms plus a café, dining room, gift shop, and post office.

Learn more about Paradise Inn.

Nearby Hotels, Cabins, Airbnb’s

There are a wide variety of hotels, cabins, and guest houses near Mount Rainier.

Check out the Alpine Inn, the Village Inn, and the Quicksilver Inn at Crystal Mountain Resort in Crystal Mountain for easy access to the park.

The Dancing Bear Lodge is another option near the Nisqually Entrance as is the Nisqually Lodge in Ashford. Those coming from Enumclaw might prefer the Guesthouse Inn Enumclaw.

Airbnb is another option for finding guesthouses, cabins, and other lodging near Mount Rainier.

Specific Camping Gear You’ll Need

Make the best of family camping in Mount Rainier National Park by packing the proper camping equipment.

In addition to all the basic camping gear, including a sleeping bag and tent, make sure to pack weather appropriate clothing.

Even during the summer, Mount Rainier, like the rest of Washington State, is prone to sudden changes in weather, including heavy rain.

Familiarize yourself with camping in the rain. And, at the very least, pack a waterproof rain jacket and a few changes of clothing.

Although bears are still present in this national park, they’re not as much of an issue as in Olympic National Park or North Cascades National Park.

Food storage in a bear box isn’t required in the major campgrounds, although proper camping food storage, including the use of a bear-proof canister, is strongly recommended while backcountry camping.

Finally, camping in the winter has its own set of equipment requirements, including a winter tent, winter sleeping bag, winter hiking boots, and possibly a winter tent heater.

*Use our family camping checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything important!

Additional Camping Tips and Information

Use the following resources to help better plan your Mount Rainier National Park camping or backpacking trip.

Do I Need Camping Reservations?

All four Mount Rainier National Park campgrounds provide first-come, first-served campsites.

While White River Campground and Mowich Lake Campground are entirely first-come, first-served, some of the campsites at Cougar Lake Campground and Ohanapecosh Campground can be reserved online.

We recommend making reservations at Cougar Lake or Ohanapecosh Campgrounds during the summer months, especially if you plan to go camping in Mount Rainier on the weekend or during a holiday.

Many Mount Rainier backcountry campsites can also be reserved in advance. About 70% of these overnight permits are reservable while the remaining 30% are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Because backcountry camping in Mount Rainier is so popular, we advise looking into a wilderness permit reservation if backpacking in the summer. 

Note that climbers that wish to stay overnight must also secure a wilderness permit before starting their climb.

First-Come, First-Served Camping

All of the campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park have first-come, first-served campsites available, although it’s smart to make reservations ahead of time (at Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, and backcountry campsites) during the summertime.

RV Camping

All three main Mount Rainier campgrounds are well-suited for RV camping.

Cougar Rock accepts RVs up to 35 feet and trailers up to 27 feet, Ohanapecosh accepts RVs up to 32 feet and trailers up to 27 feet, and White River accepts RVs up to 27 feet and trailers up to 18 feet.

Although there are no RV hookups at any of the campgrounds in Mount Rainier, Cougar Rock is home to the national park’s only RV dump station.

Reservations are available – and are recommended during summer – for RV camping at Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh.

Several campgrounds and RV parks with full hookups are available just outside of Mount Rainier National Park – many of these accommodate larger rigs. Packwood RV Park is one of the best.

*Check out our recommendations of the best RV rentals in Seattle for a unique family camping trip!

Camping in the Summer

Summer is the best time to go camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

In fact, the main Mount Rainier campgrounds are only open from roughly late spring to early fall.

Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh are open from late May to late September, White River is open from late June to late September, and Mowich Lake is open from early July to early October.

Of course, the exact dates that these campgrounds open and close depend largely on the weather and road conditions.

Because the summer is the busiest season for camping in Mount Rainier, it’s advisable to make reservations well in advance.  

Camping in the Off-Season

Even though no official campgrounds are open, winter camping in Mount Rainier National Park is totally possible.

Almost all backcountry areas in the park are open for camping in the winter. Intrepid campers can pitch their tents in wonderfully scenic areas including Reflection Lakes, Panorama Point, and Glacier Vista.

Do take note of all current winter recreation regulations while planning your trip.

Most of the winter, camping is allowed almost anywhere with a snow depth of at least two feet as long as you’re at least 300 feet away from plowed roads and parking lots. Snow depth must be at least five feet in the Paradise area.

Because of the accessible camping and miles of trails, many winter visitors combine their winter camping trip with snowshoeing in Mount Rainier.

Camping for Pacific Crest Trail Hikers

Roughly 18.5 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail passes through Mount Rainier National Park.

This portion of the 2,653-mile PCT starts near Laughingwater Creek and continues to Chinook Pass.

The National Park Service doesn’t allow camping along the portion of the PCT that passes through Mount Rainier.

Thru-hikers must apply for a permit to camp overnight in another backcountry section of the park.

Because backcountry camping is also allowed in the bordering national forest land, most thru-hikers simply complete the Mount Rainier portion of the hike in a single day.

Camping with Pets

Camping in Mount Rainier with pets is difficult.

Pets are only allowed in campgrounds, parking lots, and on paved roads. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails, in backcountry areas, inside buildings or amphitheaters, or in other natural areas.

One big, and somewhat strange, exception is the Pacific Crest Trail. Pets are allowed to hike on the section of the PCT that passes through the park.

Pets must be under control (on a leash or in a cage) and under the supervision of their owner (not left in the car alone) at all times.

Learn more about visiting Mount Rainier with pets.

*Our guide to backpacking with dogs outlines the top tips and tricks to camping and hiking with dogs.

Food Storage and Wildlife Safety

Mount Rainier National Park is home to black bears and mountain lions.

Although few visitors see them, it’s important to always use caution around these animals and to never approach them.

One of the most important things you can do to avoid encounters is to practice proper wilderness food storage when camping and backpacking.

It’s equally important that you know what to do in a black bear encounter and what to do in a mountain lion encounter.

Just because these two large mammals are the most dangerous in the park, doesn’t mean that other animals aren’t dangerous as well. It’s important to respect all wildlife and to view all animals from a safe distance.

Bear poles are provided at all backcountry campsites to hang your food. The National Park Service strongly recommends using a bear-proof canister while backpacking.

Where to Buy Groceries/Supplies

There are a number of general stores, gift shops, and restaurants in Mount Rainier National Park.

Chief among them is the Longmire General Store, the Paradise Inn Restaurant and Camp Deli, and the Sunrise Day Lodge snack bar.

Also notable is the restaurant at the National Park Inn in Longmire. It’s the only Mount Rainier restaurant open year-round.

Like most national parks, buying groceries and supplies is much more expensive inside Mount Rainier National Park than doing your shopping beforehand.

When camping in Mount Rainier, we recommend buying supplies in one of the small communities surrounding the national park.

Options include Blanton’s Market in Packwood, DeWitt’s Elbe Junction in Elbe, Fischer’s Market in Randle, Mineral Market in Mineral, Morton Country Market in Morton, and Mountain Community Co-op in Eatonville.

An even more affordable idea is to stock up on supplies in one of the larger cities slightly farther away from the park. Depending on the direction you’re coming from, these include Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Yakima, and Ellensburg.

Also note that there are no gas stations in Mount Rainier National Park, although many are available in the small towns surrounding the park.

Mount Rainier National Park Must-See Destinations

The major must-see destination in Mount Rainier National Park is obvious – it’s the mountain itself.

But, in addition to Mount Rainier, there are a variety of other beautiful outdoor areas that all visitors should attempt to visit, including old growth forests, waterfalls, wildflower meadows, and more.

Here are the top must-see destinations in Mount Rainier National Park.

Carbon River

For a remote Mount Rainier camping experience, visit the Carbon River area. Accessible through the northwest entrance, this section of the park is home to a unique inland temperature rainforest as well as the walk-in Mowich Lake Campground. Don’t miss out on some of the best hiking in Mount Rainier, including the beautiful 7.5-mile roundtrip hike to Tolmie Peak Lookout, a historic fire lookout tower.

Grove of the Patriarchs

Something about the name “Grove of the Patriarchs” is enticing in itself. Step into this magical region of the national park to experience some seriously big trees. The 1.5-mile roundtrip Grove of the Patriarchs loop is among the easiest hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.

Longmire

The Longmire area of Mount Rainier is located in the southwest corner of the park, just minutes from the Nisqually Entrance. In addition to its scenic beauty in an old-growth forest near the Nisqually River, Longmire is notable for its historic value. It was one of the first areas of the park to welcome visitors and still has several historic buildings. One of these still exists as the National Park Inn, a small hotel for those visiting Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainier

This must-see destination is obvious – but Mount Rainier is the crown jewel of the titular national park. It can be seen in different forms from various places in the park, including up close and personal at Paradise. Its size makes it readily visible from nearby cities, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Yakima. Marvel at its bulk and beauty as well as the way different weather conditions seem to change the mountain’s mood.

Narada Falls

One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the national park, Narada Falls is a popular tourist stop among visitors thanks to its easily accessible location along the main road from Longmire to Paradise. At 176 feet tall, the waterfall is best viewed by taking the very short 0.2-mile Narada Falls hike down below the road. Or embark on the longer 5-mile Narada Falls to Reflection Lakes hike to connect two beautiful Mount Rainier attractions.

Paradise

Perhaps the most popular destination in Mount Rainier National Park, Paradise serves as a hub for visitors in the summer as well as the winter. In summer, it’s a popular stop thanks to its proximity to miles of hiking trails, beautiful wildflower meadows, and location of the historic Paradise Inn. In winter, it serves as a jumping off point for snowshoeing, sledding, cross-country skiing, and more. Paradise is also the hub for all climbing related activities in the national park.

Reflection Lakes

Stop at Reflection Lakes to bask in the beauty of the mountain reflected in the clear water of this alpine lake. The view is perhaps the most iconic and popularly photographed in the park. Take a trek on the 5-mile Narada Falls to Reflection Lakes hiking trail while you’re at it.

Sunrise

The Sunrise area is notable as the highest point in Mount Rainier National park that you can reach in a vehicle. It sits at 6,400 feet. Enjoy breathtaking views of the mountain, especially at dawn with the early morning light coloring the mountain pink. 360° of the surrounding area are available. A visitor center and a day lodge with food services make nice stopping points for travelers.

Tipsoo Lake

This alpine lake is a popular spot for photographers. In addition to the brilliantly blue lake surrounded by a variety of vibrantly colored wildflowers, you can see the mountain peeking out from above the trees in the background. There is a short hiking trail that circles Tipsoo Lake,

Hiking & Backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is home to some of the absolute best hiking in Washington.

Trails range from just one mile to multi-night backpacking trips. You can find hikes for all skill levels, ranging from family friendly to seriously strenuous. Washington Trail Association is an excellent resource for finding hikes in Mount Rainier and the rest of Washington State.

Here are some of the best Mount Rainier hikes for all skill levels.

Best Short Hikes

The 1.5-mile roundtrip Grove of the Patriarchs Loop is the perfect Mount Rainier hike for families with young children. The flat trail travels through a forest of huge old-growth trees, crossing a suspension bridge over the Ohanapecosh River in the process. The wooden boardwalk makes this a decent hike even when other trails are muddy with rain. 

Best Day Hikes

The 5.5-mile roundtrip Skyline Trail Loop starts in Paradise. It’s a great option for exploring the park’s alpine meadows and wildflowers, all the while marveling at Mount Rainier in the distance.

Hikers that want a more strenuous workout can hike up to Tolmie Peak Lookout, a historic fire lookout tower with fantastic views of the mountain. Eunice Lake below is a popular stopping point for those that prefer a shorter Mount Rainier hike.

Another classic hike in Mount Rainier is the Summerland trail to Panhandle Gap. At 12 miles roundtrip, the hike is long but worth it. The trail starts in old-growth forest, passing over several small streams, before opening up into wildflower meadows. Several backcountry campsites are available along this trail, making it a perfect Mount Rainier backpacking destination.

These recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg for hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. Check out the WTA’s list of best Mount Rainier hikes for more.

Best Overnight Backpacking Trips

You simply can’t beat the Wonderland Trail when it comes to backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park.

This 93-mile roundtrip hike loops around the entirety of the park. It’s a good mix of all the terrains you’ll find in Mount Rainier, including lowland forests and alpine meadows.

There are 18 places to camp along the Wonderland Trail. This gives you flexibility when choosing how many nights to take to complete the trip. Remember that you’ll need a backcountry permit before starting your trip.

REI has an excellent resource for beginners to hike the Wonderland Trail.

Our extensive guide also has numerous tips and tricks on how to plan a backpacking trip.

Other Activities in Mount Rainier National Park

Hiking and backpacking are just a small sampling of the many activities to check out while camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Here are some additional ways to enjoy the park that the entire family can enjoy.

Art & History

Mount Rainier National Park is home to several historic buildings. Most notably, the historic inns at Paradise and Longmire. The Longmire Museum is also a must for history buffs. Just as interesting is the history of the mountain itself, including its many past volcanic eruptions.

Learn more about the geologic history of Mount Rainier as well as the native peoples, early explorers, and foundation of the park.

Bicycling

The roads around Mount Rainier are a challenging, yet beautifully scenic, challenge for bicyclists of all skill levels. September and October are the most popular times for bicycling in the park as crowds thin drastically. Do note that off-road bicycling on park trails is not allowed, except for certain trails in the northwest Carbon River area.

Learn more about bicycling in Mount Rainier National Park.

Canoeing & Kayaking

Canoeing and kayaking are among the best ways to explore some of Mount Rainier’s many lakes. Do note that some lakes are off limits to all watercraft (including Frozen Lake, Ghost Lake, Reflection Lakes, Shadow Lake, and Tipsoo Lake). Mowich Lake is a popular boating destination. Canoe and kayak camping are allowed at some backcountry campsites. Note that no motorized boating is allowed in the national park.

Learn more about canoeing and kayaking in Mount Rainier National Park.

Climbing

Mount Rainier is a climber’s paradise. The titular mountain soars over 14,400 feet above sea level, making it one of the tallest mountains in the contiguous United States. Of course, reaching the summit requires extremely good physical fitness and plenty of training – this isn’t an activity most visitors will participate in.

Learn more about climbing in Mount Rainier National Park.

Eating & Drinking

There are several options for dining in Mount Rainier National Park. These include two restaurants, two snack bars, and one café. A small general store is also available to stock up on extra supplies. There are countless dining options just outside the park.

Learn more about eating and drinking in Mount Rainier National Park.

Fishing

Mount Rainier isn’t exactly known for its fishing, but it’s possible to spend a day angling if you know where to look. Rivers and lakes are usually open to fishing through late May through late October, although it largely depends on when they’re ice free. Remember to check all Mount Rainier fishing regulations, including which areas are off limits and which species are restricted.

Learn more about fishing in Mount Rainier National Park.

Horseback Riding

There are numerous opportunities for horseback riding near Mount Rainier. While not in the park itself, many of the area horse trails have excellent views of the mountain. Check out EZ Times Outfitters for guided horseback riding tours.

Learn more about horseback riding in Mount Rainier National Park.

Ranger Programs

Mount Rainier is home to a number of ranger-led programs in the summer. These are perfect for children and adults alike. Programs range from campfire talks to ranger walks to evening stargazing and so much more.

Learn more about Mount Rainier National Park ranger programs.

Scenic Drives

Many of those that visit Mount Rainier do little more than drive around the park. Although the park is best experienced by hiking and exploring off the beaten path, a scenic drive is a great way for all visitors to get a feel for the essence of the park and see many of its most famous attractions.

Learn more about Mount Rainier National Park scenic drives.

Skiing & Snowboarding

Mount Rainier is a paradise for winter recreation during the winter months. In addition to cross-country skiing, adventurous explorers have miles of backcountry skiing and snowboarding trails to explore throughout the park. Nearby Crystal Mountain Resort is best for those that prefer a more structured winter recreation experience.

Learn more about skiing and snowboarding in Mount Rainier National Park.

Sledding

Sledding and other types of winter snow play are permitted in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier. Typically, this area is open for sledding from late December through mid-March, although it varies depending on snowfall and weather. The surrounding area is dangerous in the winter, so make sure to stay within the snow play area’s boundaries.

Learn more about sledding in Mount Rainier National Park.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling is another popular winter activity in Mount Rainier. Only certain sections of the park are open to snowmobiles, so familiarize yourself with these before your trip. Most of these areas are unplowed roads – backcountry snowmobiling isn’t allowed.

Learn more about snowmobiling in Mount Rainier National Park.

Snowshoeing

Mount Rainier offers fantastic opportunities for snowshoeing, including ranger-guided snowshoe walks. Snowshoe rentals are available at several locations around the park. Here’s a list of the best snowshoe trails in Mount Rainier

Learn more about snowshoeing in Mount Rainier National Park.

Wildlife Viewing

A wide range of animals call the area around Mount Rainier their home. These include a huge variety of reptiles, amphibians, fish, and birds. Mammals include black bears, mountain lions, deer, elk, and coyote. Remember to never approach or feed any wildlife in the park.

Learn more about viewing wildlife in Mount Rainier National Park.

Wildflowers

Don’t plan a visit to Mount Rainier without setting aside some time to see the wildflowers. In bloom from roughly mid-July to late August, Mount Rainier wildflowers are brilliant and colorful.

Learn more about Mount Rainier National Park wildflowers and where to find them.

Other Things to Do Near Mount Rainier National Park

Don’t forget to explore the surrounding area while camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Washington State is filled with a huge variety of beautiful natural areas as well as its fair share of interesting towns and cities. Many of these nearby areas of interest can be connected into a larger family camping road trip.

Here are some nearby attractions to visit on your Mount Rainier camping trip.

Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain Resort is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Washington State. In the summertime, it’s a wonderland of hiking and biking trails. Numerous campgrounds and dispersed camping areas are close at hand. Take a ride on the Mount Rainier Gondola for breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and more. 

Gateway Communities

Several small towns are located near Mount Rainier. Most of these communities have a selection of restaurants, gift shops, grocery stores, and more. Check out Ashford, Carbonado, Eatonville, Elbe, Enumclaw, Wilkeson and more on your Mount Rainier camping trip.

Mount Saint Helens

Most famous for its 1980 volcanic eruption, Mount Saint Helens is located just three hours south of Mount Rainier. Explore the area’s geologic past. Be sure to check out the 2.8-mile roundtrip Ape Caves hike through an ancient lava tube.

North Cascades National Park

Roughly three hours north of Mount Rainier, North Cascades National Park is another of Washington State’s three national parks. Among the most rugged and remote in the United States, the park is a wonderland for camping, backpacking, and hiking. Check out Ross Lake Resort, a series of floating cabins on Ross Lake, for a unique national park experience.

Olympia

Notable as the capital of Washington State, Olympia is a somewhat small city with an eclectic and bustling art and music community. Check out the weekend Farmer’s Market near the waterfront and take a walk around Capitol Lake (up to 5.7 miles roundtrip if you connect with surrounding forest trails).

Olympic National Park

Roughly two and a half hours from Mount Rainier (depending on which part of the park you visit), Olympic National Park is the gem of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Famous for its unique mixture of ocean coastline, temperate rainforest, and alpine wilderness, many out-of-state travelers visit Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades national parks as part of the same Washington road trip.

Seattle

The largest city in Washington, Seattle serves as a hub for exploring North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier National Parks. It’s home to the SeaTac airport as well as a bustling dining and entertainment scene. Be sure to check out the iconic Space Needle during your visit.

Plan Your Visit to Mount Rainier National Park

Here are some additional resources to help plan your Mount Rainier camping trip as well as the rest of your visit.  

How to Get There

Most visitors reach the park from Seattle.

Seattle is just one and a half hours away from Mount Rainier National Park. This makes it an extremely popular camping destination with visitors and locals alike. 

Other visitors reach Mount Rainier from Portland, just two and a half hours away. Tacoma and Yakima are other major cities within 200 miles of the national park.

Remember to check road conditions during the winter months as many roads are closed due to heavy snow. In the summer, expect heavy traffic near the more popular entrances to the park.

Here’s more information on directions to Mount Rainier National Park.

When to Visit

The best time to go camping in Mount Rainier National Park is in the summer.

The majority of Mount Rainier campgrounds are open from late May or early June through late September.

Not only is summer the best time for camping, but it’s also the best time for hiking, backpacking, and exploring the rest of the park’s natural wonders.

As one of Mount Rainer’s top attractions, many visitors plan their trip around the Mount Rainier wildflower season, which typically runs from late June through August.

Remember that the middle of summer is the busiest time in the park. Visit in late May or late September for smaller crowds (but remember to expect colder temperatures and rainier weather).  

Fees & Passes

It costs $30 to enter Mount Rainier National Park in a single vehicle.

This excludes commercial vehicles but does cover all vehicle passengers (up to 15). This single vehicle pass is good for seven days.

Walking or bicycling into the park costs $15 per person and is good for seven days. Motorcycles cost $25 for one motorcycle for seven days.

Buy a Mount Rainier annual pass for $55 to visit the park as often you as you like for one calendar year (includes drivers and passengers in registered vehicle).

The $80 America the Beautiful Pass is an annual pass that allows unlimited entry to all national parks and other federal sites.

The America the Beautiful Pass is an excellent option for those embarking on a family camping road trip across the Pacific Northwest or across the country.

Note that additional backcountry fees are required for those interested in overnight wilderness camping or backpacking. Mount Rainier climbers must also pay an additional climbing cost recovery fee.

Visit Recreation.gov to make reservations for camping in Mount Rainier (but remember that first-come, first-served campsites are available).

Here’s more information about Mount Rainier fees and passes.

Maps & Guidebooks

The best Mount Rainier National Park maps and guidebooks include Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West and Hiking Mount Rainier National Park: A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures.

Mount Rainier National Park Camping Itinerary

It takes roughly two hours to reach Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle.

This convenient location in Washington makes it a popular daytrip or overnight destination for Seattle locals, other Washingtonians living nearby, and visitors from out of state. It’s central location almost makes it the perfect stop on your Washington State road trip.

Here are three popular road trip itineraries for camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

Circle Mount Rainier National Park Loop

If you have the time, there are few better ways to see Mount Rainier than to circle the entire mountain.

Although many visitors simply see the southwestern region of the park, it’s more than worth it to continue the drive to the southeast before heading up to the northeast.

Here is where it gets tricky. To see the entire national park, you must then leave the park before entering it again to see the northwest corner. Many visitors camp at all three Mount Rainier National Park campgrounds during their trip.

Research the most popular Mount Rainier driving tours to decide on the scenic loop that best suits your preferences.

Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens

Roughly three hours of driving separates Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens, making them the perfect destinations for your family camping road trip.

Start in Mount Rainier by camping a night or two (or more) and exploring the park. Next make the drive to Mount Saint Helens and camp for a night or two at one of the best Mount Saint Helens campgrounds.

Those that prefer a more luxurious camping experience might prefer to stay at the Longview North/Mount Saint Helens KOA.

Many visitors continue their road trip down to the Columbia River Gorge. This area has some of the most beautiful river scenery in Washington as well as excellent camping and hiking opportunities. It’s also a good chance to hop over into Oregon to explore Washington’s southern neighbor.

Washington State National Parks

Perhaps the best way to explore the great outdoors in Washington State is to connect all three national parks into a single Washington national parks road trip.

Naturally, the possibilities are endless for such a trip. Many people spend just a week connecting Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier National Parks while others spend a week in each.

In addition to camping in each national park, many visitors branch out on side trips and explore other outdoor areas in Washington, including the best hikes in Seattle.

Additional Resources

At Beyond The Tent, we want to give you all the tools for a perfect Mount Rainier National Park camping trip.

Here are some of our most helpful additional resources:

Make sure to check out these other excellent resources from around the Internet:

And, please, don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions – we’re here to help make camping in Mount Rainier National Park as enjoyable as possible!

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