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Mount Rainier National Park is the summer trip that finally gets everyone off their devices.
Surrounded by small towns that border the park’s parameters, Mt. Rainier National Park is located 100-miles south of Seattle and 60 miles east of Tacoma, making for an easy day trip from either city, or a stand-alone vacation spot.
After spending a few weeks in the pacific northwest (PNW) exploring Mt. Rainier, we’ve put together a family travel guide for your next family vacation. Below you’ll find the best ways to visit one of the country’s favorite national parks, where to stay, and ways to see the area.
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Best Mt Rainier Entrance
Standing tall in the PNW, Mount Rainier looms over Washington state at an impressive 14,000 ft. The park is blanketed in hundreds of wildflower species, even in the summertime, making summer the optimal time to visit the trailside meadows. Let’s not forget the distant Cascade Range, always in view, full of evergreen conifer trees.
To make the most of your family trip to Mt. Rainier, it helps to understand the different sections of the park. Mt. Rainier is divided into five main sections, Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River. Check out this brochure and park map to view where each section and entrance is located.
One of the best places to start your adventure is at the Sunrise Visitor Center. Open from July to mid-September, this is a great place to get information from rangers and exhibits about the park. Kids can also pick up their Junior Ranger packets here. Check out all the fun educational programs the rangers at the park put together for kids. These are great discussions to have on your road trip up to the park!
To get there, you’ll enter through the Sunrise/White River Entrance off State Hwy 410; one of the four main park entrances. The Sunrise area is also where your find the highest point accessible with a vehicle at Mt Rainier National Park. Once you drive through the park gates at this entrance, you’ll follow the road to find the base of multiple trailheads where you can park your car in a parking lot and pick up a park map. You’ll find that most of the hikes are on dirt trails. But, there are six partially paved paths starting from the Visitor Center. However, this entrance is closed during the winter.
A photo-worthy spot to enter is the Nisqually Entrance. When you think of entering Mount Rainier National Park, you’re probably thinking of this noteworthy gate park entrance. The road is open year-round and leads to the Longmire and Paradise areas of the park which are some of the best for lacing up your family’s hiking boots because of their proximity to trailheads!
This park map will help your family orient themselves with each section of the park to find your best hike.
The Mt Rainier National Park has 18 old-growth forests. These collections of trees and vegetation are considered old-growth once they’ve developed a healthy and diverse ecosystem that has been established for hundreds of years. As one of the oldest parks in the National Park Service, most forests you’ll find around Mount Rainier are definitely old-growth, with some over 1,000 years old.
One option for hiking in an old-growth forest is located in the Sunrise area of the park. Here you can hike sections of the 12-mile-long Summerland Trail to Panhandle Loop.
In the Ohanapecosh area of the park, you’ll find a 3.4-mile hike on the Silver Falls Loop trail which winds through an old-growth forest. We love the Ohanapecosh area for hiking because it has some of the oldest trees in the entire park, which never fail to amaze us with their size!
One of the most highly acclaimed trails to begin your family adventure is the Myrtle Fall Viewpoint hike. This easy hike is the best option for families with smaller children because of its distance and ease. The 0.8 miles of out-and-back paved trail will take an average of 25 minutes to complete.
For families with teens or those with an advanced hiking skill level, the Wonderland Trail might be your best bet for a longer hike. In its entirety, this gorgeous hike circles 95 miles of Mount Rainier. It’s safe to say every step could result in a photo opp. If you do plan on taking your family into the backcountry, you’ll need a Wilderness Permit for any overnight camping.
If your family is looking for something more challenging, but not as intense or potentially long as Wonderland, the Bench and Snow Lake hike, among the wildflower meadows, is a great choice. The trail is just over two miles and on average takes 1hr 15 minutes to complete.
Our family opted for the 2.4-mile out-and-back Narada Falls Trail for a chance to see the beautiful waterfall. Since the 6.2-mile Skyline Loop Trail in the Paradise area of the park is difficult due to quickly increasing elevation, I had to persuade my family to hike some of it. The hike began on paved trails and slowly transitioned to dirt paths. We most enjoyed walking through fields of wildflowers and were able to see incredible views of the park. It’s one of my favorite memories from our trip!
The Lake You Won’t Want to Miss
Located in the Paradise section of the park, Reflection Lake is a great spot to get beautiful views of Mount Rainier. The hike to the lake is a bit challenging, due to its steep elevation gain, but if your kids could push through the three miles, it’s definitely worth it. The trail leads to a picturesque area where the snow-capped active volcano is reflected in the glassy water. Taking this photo is one of the best things to check off your list when you visit the park.
After making the trek, we can attest that it is worth it! This is the hike that inspired my family to add Mt. Rainier to our ‘to visit again’ list.
The best way to get a clear view of Reflection Lake is by taking the Lake Trail. This three-mile loop takes hikers down dirt paths to view the Tatoosh Range and endless scenes of Mount Rainier. From the lake, more trails head further into the park. This allows you to choose whether you’d like to continue hiking or rest at the lake, making Reflection Lake the perfect spot to either end or begin a day at the park.
Mount Rainier National Park is the summer trip that finally gets everyone off their devices. Surrounded by small towns that border the park’s parameters, Mt. Rainier makes for a perfect day trip from WA’s big cities.
When You Go
To get the best of Mount Rainier, plan a visit in the summer months. Though it’ll be a bit more crowded, you’re almost guaranteed to have clear days to view the Cascade Range and the beautiful wildflowers along every trail.
Getting To Mt. Rainier From Los Angeles
Delta, Alaska, United, and American fly nonstop from L.A. into Seattle/Tacoma.
An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia!
If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find new deals. Try out their free 7-day membership to save BIG money on flights. I’m not kidding. They have the best deals out there and we’ve tried them all, or so it seems. There’s no need to buy a membership (you’ll still have access to great deals with their free trial).
Once you’re ready to explore Mount Rainier, you’ll need a car. A great rental company that searches for the lowest deals is rentalcars.com – they’ve saved us tons of money on many trips.
Where To Eat For A Mt. Rainier Road Trip
If you’re craving comfort food on your way to Mount Rainier, make a pit stop at Black Diamond Grill. This restaurant offers classic American cuisine making it a great family-friendly spot to eat brunch or lunch before heading out for a full day of hiking.
Another great place to grab a large lunch or pizza along your route is at Main Street Bistro. Here you’ll find a family-friendly atmosphere and excellent selection of sandwiches where you can fuel up before continuing your road trip.
Nestled on the outskirts of the park you’ll find Mount Rainier Railroad Dining Co. Before hitting the trails you’ll want to visit the converted train cars.
By far the coolest place to grab a bite is at Summit House Restaurant. You’ll dine at over 6,000 ft which is Washington’s highest restaurant. Not to mention the stellar views of Mount Rainier and the gondola ride you can take to its front doors.
Where to Stay Near Mount Rainier
If you’re looking for a more secluded adventure, staying close to the park might be the perfect option for your family. Here are some properties for every budget.
For accommodation close to the park, you can’t go wrong with National Park Inn. Nestled in the trees, you’ll find a cozy cabin that features views of Mount Rainier. Not to mention, the Inn has an outdoor area where you can relax. After a morning hike in the Paradise area of the park, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the library.
A similar option is Paradise Inn. Here you’ll be met with hiking trails on your doorstep and pine trees outside your window. The Inn does not provide TVs, or wifi so you can truly escape in the mountains. The best part is that it’s close enough to the park for short half-day adventures.
Don’t miss Almost Paradise Lodging if you want to live in luxury. This popular destination has an array of private guesthouses and cabins based on your family’s size. After a long day of exploring Mount Rainier just up the road, relax in a private hot tub or take advantage of the parking, outdoor fire pit, or cozy up by the fireplace.
It’s important to note that you will have to sacrifice proximity to the park to snag cheaper deals on places to stay. Even in a small town outside of Mount Rainier, the accommodations can become pricey. If you want to spend your vacation budget splurging on experiences rather than places to stay, the Hampton Inn & Suites, closer to Tacoma, may be the best option.
After a few weeks in the region, I can confidently say that Mt. Rainier National Park kept its promise of a (mostly) screen-free adventure. The natural beauty of the mountains and trees kept them looking up instead of down. With summer the perfect time to go, don’t miss your chance to connect with nature and your family.
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