Seattle has plenty of landmarks, from Pike Place Market to the Space Needle. But the most marvellous and recognizable is Mt. Rainier, the highest peak in the Cascade Range, a glacier-capped monolith towering over the city. Whether you are in the area for a weekend or a few weeks, an Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle is an absolute must while in Western Washington.
Mt. Rainier National Park is easily one of the nation’s most beautiful (I’m not at all biased), containing a virtual cornucopia of natural wonders, including brilliant wildflower meadows, sparkling alpine lakes, imposing old-growth forests, and, of course, the majestic mountain itself.
Encompassing 369.3 square miles, wandering into the Park without a plan would likely be intimidating for even the most spontaneous seat-of-the-pants traveler. To ensure you hit all the most noteworthy (and Instagrammable) sights, use this Mt. Rainier National Park itinerary.
How to Get to Mt. Rainier from Seattle
Seattle to Mt. Rainier by Car
The distance from Seattle to Mt. Rainier’s summit is 60 miles as the crow flies. But assuming you’re driving and not helming a private helicopter, you’ll traverse a little over 80 miles.
The trip from the city center to the Park takes about two hours, depending on which route you take. As with any Seattle-based adventure, avoid rush hour if possible, and get there early (like, really early). The Park (and car parks) fill up fast, especially in summer.
The Nisqually entrance is the most popular of the four and the only one open year-round to vehicles. To get there, you’ll take Interstate 5 South toward Portland and Sea-Tac airport. Then merge onto Highway WA-512 E. After exiting on Steele Street, you’ll continue on Spanaway Loop Road to WA-704 E. Follow the highway to WA-706 E and continue on this road to the park entrance. This route takes about two hours.
Alternatively, you can take I-5 S to exit 127, then turn onto WA-512 E. Proceed to the Steele Street Exit and Spanaway Loop Road, which will take you to WA-704 E and WA-7 S. Continue on WA-706 to Paradise Road E.
This trip, which encompasses about two-and-a-half hours, will take you to the Longmire entrance, which is typically a bit less crowded. If you’re making your day trip to Mt. Rainier in peak season and don’t care for crowds, going the long way could be worthwhile.
If you need to rent a car for your Mt Rainier day trip from Seattle, then browsing on Rentalcars.com will show you the best deals across major providers. Alternatively, if you’re visiting Mt Rainier as part of a longer road trip such as from Seattle to Portland or even to San Francisco, you also can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy.
Seattle to Mt. Rainier by Bus
Unfortunately, it is not really possible to get to the Park by bus (yet). The only way would be to take a bus to Enumclaw, then take a taxi or rideshare 20 miles to the Park.
That would take a few hours and, with taxi fare, could be pretty expensive. While walking is the best (and only) way to access many parts of the Park, you will need a vehicle to get from one region to the next on your Mt. Rainier itinerary, unless you plan to spend several days hiking.
Mt. Rainier Tour from Seattle
If you don’t have your own transport or prefer not to make your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle solo, you can join a tour group.
One option is this best of Mount Rainier small group tour that is led by an award-winning naturalist who will guide you through the Park, providing commentary and discussion. Depending on the season, you’ll hike or snowshoe (gear provided). The tour takes approximately 10 hours 30 minutes, and they will pick you up from your Seattle accommodation.
One cool thing about this small-group tour is they are permitted to venture one mile off the main hiking trails (thanks to the guide’s credentials), whereas most tour companies must stick to the primary pathways. Click here to check availability
Another option is this small group guided tour that spans 10 to 12 hours and includes pick up from select Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport hotels. The tour’s Mt. Rainier itinerary begins at Alder Lake Park and Eatonville before heading into the Park for a day of hiking or snowshoeing in winter.
Like the tour mentioned above, this one hits all the highlights, including Narada Falls, Paradise Valley, and Reflection Lakes. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other tour options to Mt Rainier.
Mt. Rainier Day Trip from Seattle Itinerary
An Mt. Rainier day trip has something for everyone, from mountaineers to photographers and families to solo adventurers. Depending on the season, you can hike, swim, snowshoe and sled. If you’re really adventurous (and fit), you can even summit the mountain, ascending more than 9,000 feet over eight-plus miles.
Whatever your style, here are a few stops you won’t want to skip on your Mt. Rainier National Park itinerary.
If you’re starting at the Nisqually entrance, stop by the Longmire Museum to learn about the area’s Native American inhabitants, European expeditions, and natural history.
Across from the nearby National Park Inn is the trailhead for Trail of the Shadows. Like many other places in Washington state, its sinister name belies its beauty. It’s a brief 0.7-mile trek that passes old-growth spruce trees to a replica of the Longmire’s 1888 cabin.
You’ll also pass the mineral springs once touted for their healing properties.
The aptly named Paradise Valley is one of the most picturesque and magical areas of the Park. Scottish-American naturalist John Muir said the meadows were “the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountaintop wanderings,” and surely few would disagree.
In the summer, the valley is a sea of stunning, sweet-smelling wildflower meadows with the glacier-capped mountain in view on the horizon and wild animals hopping about feasting on wild berries. There are even cascades at Myrtle Falls. It is truly like something out of a fairytale. While Pacific Northwesterners talk a lot about Bigfoot (aka Sassy), I’m genuinely surprised there’s not more talk of wood nymphs and elves around here.
There are a few hiking trails to choose from, depending on your fitness level and how much time you want to spend. But the Skyline Trail is one of the best for moderately fit trekkers. This is a 5.5-mile loop that ascends to 1,450 feet above sea level and takes about four hours without stopping. You can make the entire loop or stop at Glacier Vista 3.5 miles in.
While in the Paradise region of the Park, stop by the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, where you’ll find interpretive exhibits explaining various aspects of the Park.
Reflection Lakes is another stop no visitor should miss on their day trip from Seattle to Mt. Rainier. It is easily one of the most stunning areas of the Park, which is saying a lot considering the place is overwhelmingly gorgeous.
From the lakeshore, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the mountain as well as its glistening reflection in the crystalline lake. The view is one of the most recognizable depictions of Mt. Rainier, one you’ve probably seen at least a dozen times on Instagram.
From the Paradise Valley, you can reach Reflection Lakes via Stevens Canyon Road. Again, try to get there early if you don’t want to be boxed in by crowds. Head down to the lake and hike the trail loop in either direction.
In warmer months, you’ll find wildflowers like rose spirea and lupine lining the shores, while in autumn, the deciduous trees are cloaked in leaves of various shades of red, yellow, and orange.
You will likely see a lot of waterfalls on your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle. But Narada Falls is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular. Cascading 176-feet down a mossy cliffside, these falls are viewable from the parking lot. But you don’t have to walk far to get a better view.
Bear in mind the trail down to the falls connects with the Wonderland Trail, so head back once you’ve seen the falls unless you want to continue.
The Nisqually Glacier is one of the mountain’s largest (there are 25!) and the source of the Nisqually River. From the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, you can take a 1.2-mile trek on the Nisqually Vista Trail to get a closer look.
Be sure to stay on the trail to protect the ecosystem and keep an eye out for deer, chipmunks, and deer between the stalks of evergreen.
Bench Lake & Snow Lake
A short drive from Reflection Lakes is another pair of lakes with fewer crowds but competitively lovely views and an equally magical atmosphere. Bench Lake is the first you’ll come upon. Hike down the trails from the parking area to get to the shore for a lovely view of the peaks reflected in the water.
Not far from Bench Lake is Snow Lake, which is a bit bluer, fed by a massive glacier. From the shore, you’ll see jagged mountaintops, including that of Unicorn Peak (I told you this place was fantastical). The 2.5-mile hike here is a bit more strenuous and often snowy, as the name implies, even in summer.
Note: these trails are less well-kept compared to some of the more popular ones, so be prepared to catch a few snagging branches.
Grove of the Patriarchs
On a small island in the Ohanapecosh River lies the Grove of the Patriarchs, a 1,200 old-growth forest with mammoth Douglas firs and western red cedars. The island, on the east side of the mountain off the Stevens Canyon Road, is only accessible by a bridge in summer. But if you can get there, you’ll take an easy 1.3-mile hike through this otherworldly wonderland.
The next stop on your day trip to Mt. Rainier is Sunrise. At 6,400 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point in the Park that is accessible by car. And the views and atmosphere are just as phenomenal as you’d expect, including nearly 360-degree views of Mt. Rainier, the Emmons glacier, Mt. Adams, and surrounding valleys teeming with lush, colorful flora or, in winter, boundless snow.
If you have time, take the Sunrise Nature Trail, which stems from just outside the Sunrise Day Lodge. The Sunrise Visitor Center also offers telescopes for a closer view of some of the surrounding sights.
Note this portion of the Park is only open in summer.
Have More Time?
If you have more time and want to do some more exploring on your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle, consider stopping by some of the lesser-visited areas of the Park, including the Carbon River-Mowich Lake, Ohanapecosh, Comet Falls, Tipsoo Lake, and the Sourdough Nature Trail.
If you have quite a bit more time (and energy), you could hike the Wonderland Trail, which winds around the entire mountainside. Accessible from all the major park centers, the trail connects to all regions of the Park. Of course, there is no rule saying you must hike the entire route. Even a single day of hiking and camping in this natural wonderland can be a rejuvenating experience. A few days on the trail can be transformative.
After your Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle, as you watch the mountain fade into the distance in the rearview mirror, you might find yourself yearning for more. You’re in luck, as the Pacific Northwest is chock full of natural treasures.
Not far from Mt. Rainier National Park and easily accessible from Seattle is the Olympic Natural Rainforest just outside of the state capitol (and artsy college town) Olympia. It’s not often you can visit a snowy glacier-capped mountain and a temperate old-growth rainforest in one weekend, but there you are.
From Olympia, you can also continue south to the stunning Oregon Coast, visiting locations like Astoria, Seaside, and Cannon Beach, as well as quirky metropolitan Portland.
Alternatively, you can head the opposite direction from Mt. Rainier National Park to explore more of the Puget Sound area. Not far north of Seattle are several spots residents and visitors alike turn to for a break from the big city. These include Vashon Island, Whidbey Island, and the San Juan Islands, all of which provide a peaceful seaside escape complete with quaint small towns, gorgeous ocean views, and whale-watching (in season).
Where to Stay near Mt. Rainier & Seattle
Mountain Meadows Inn – Located in the town of Ashford very close to the Park entrance, this inn is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a bit more than a day trip to this beautiful natural area. They have a range of rooms to choose from and a stunning location, as well. Click here to see their availability
Alexander’s Lodge – Situated within walking distance of the Park entrance, this lodge is another fantastic option to stay near Mt. Rainier. Located in Ashford, as well, they have a myriad of rooms available and a restaurant on site. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d rather have your own private place to stay rather than a hotel or inn, then a private holiday rental may be a good choice for you. There are countless options available near the national park, such as this cosy cabin in the woods. Click here to browse private rentals near Mt Rainier
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to see more options near Mount Rainier!
The Mediterranean Inn — Situated within spitting distance of the city’s iconic Space Needle, this is a great hotel choice in the Emerald City. They have a number of great rooms on offer — all including a small kitchenette — and a great location for exploring Seattle. Click here to see their availability
Inn at the Market – Located at the famous Pike Place Market, this boutique hotel is a fantastic choice for those looking for a bit more of a high-end option in Seattle. There are countless wonderful rooms to choose from and a chic rooftop bar to enjoy an unbeatable view of the Seattle skyline. Click here to see their availability
HotelHotel Hostel — If you want to try and pinch some pennies in this notoriously expensive city, then this hostel is a great option. Also perfect for solo travellers, they have a range of both dorm beds and private rooms on offer and some good common areas to make it easy to meet other travellers. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental — If you’d like a unique stay or even just your own apartment in the Emerald City, then a private holiday rental is an excellent option for you. There are tons of great and interesting places to choose from in Seattle, from cool apartments to unique stays like this urban treehouse. Click here to find the best private rentals in Seattle!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Seattle!
Planning the perfect Mt. Rainier day trip can be a daunting task when you consider just how many wonderful places there are to see and do in this iconic National Park. Plan your time wisely and you will have a trip to remember for years to come.
Are you searching for the perfect Mt. Rainier day trip itinerary? Have any questions about planning your visit? Let us know in the comments!