The Perfect Seattle to Mt Rainier Day Trip Itinerary

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by Kate Daniel

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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 Mountain Range, a glacier-capped monolith towering over the city. Whether you are in the area for a weekend or a few weeks, a Mt Rainier day trip from Seattle is an absolute must while in Western Washington. 

Mount 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 Mount Rainier National Park itinerary. 

How to Get From Seattle to Mount 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 downtown Seattle 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 and is easily accessible from the Seattle area.

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, then browsing on will show you great 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 Glacier National Park, you also can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy.

Mount Rainier
Beautiful Mount Rainier

By Tour

If you don’t have your own transport or prefer not to make your day trip solo, you can join a tour group.

One option is this small group tour that is led by an award-winning naturalist tour guide 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 and 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.

Another option is this small group guided day 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 if visiting Washington in winter.

Like the tour mentioned above, this one hits all the highlights, including Narada Falls, Paradise Valley, and Reflection Lakes. You will also visit a panorama point where you can get incredible mountain views on a clear day.

You can also organise a private tour if you have a large group or prefer travelling in privacy.

Narada Falls in Mt Rainier
Narada Falls

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, unless you plan to spend several days hiking. 

Mount Rainier Day Trip Itinerary

Mt. Rainier has something for everyone from the minute you enter the park, 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 a trip from Seattle to Mt. Rainier. 

Longmire Museum

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. 

Paradise Valley

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. 

Paradise Overlook in Mount Rainier
Paradise Overlook in Mount Rainier

Reflection Lakes 

Reflection Lakes is another stop no visitor should miss on their day trip to Mount 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. 

Iconic view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes
Iconic view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes

Narada Falls  

You will likely see a lot of waterfalls on your day trip to Mount Rainier from Seattle (such as Christine Falls). 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. 

Nisqually Glacier 

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. 

Nisqually Glacier at Mount Rainier
Nisqually Glacier

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. 

Bench Lake in Mt Rainier
Bench Lake

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. 

Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier
Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier


The next stop 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. 

Both Paradise and Sunrise are beautiful areas and essential to include when you visit Mount Rainier National Park.

Note this portion of the Park is only open in summer.  

Sunrise Trail in Mt Rainier
Sunrise Trail

Have More Time? 

If you have more time and want to do some more exploring, 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 you visit Mount Rainier, 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 Moing Rainier NP 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 before heading back to Seattle, but there you are.

Washington State Capitol in Olympia
Washington State Capitol in Olympia

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

Mt. Rainier

Mountain Meadows Inn – Situated close to the Park entrance, this inn is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring Mt Rainier. Well-located in Ashford, there are several lovely rooms to choose from among other amenities.

Alexander’s Lodge – This Ahsford hotel is located within walking distance from the entrance of the park. They also have countless lovely rooms, an on-site restaurant and plenty of other amenities for guests.

Private Rental – There are also several self-catering options near the Park – such as this cosy cabin in the woods – that can be a great option for those looking for something a bit different from traditional accommodation options.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Seattle!

Seattle's Iconic Skyline
The Seattle skyline at sunset

Planning the perfect Mount 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 Park. Plan your time wisely and you will have a trip to remember for years to come.

Are you visiting Mt Rainier? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Kate Daniel is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Washington State, she is a slow traveller and digital nomad who loves exploring both her own backyard and far-flung destinations. When she isn't writing, she is most likely befriending stray cats or daydreaming about the next adventure.


  1. Hi,
    I plan on driving from Seattle to Portland on a in two weeks on a Wednesday with my 3year old. I have a hiking backpack and am very in shape, however she is 3!! Lol. I was wondering what you thought would be the best route for maybe 3-4 stops along the way? Is Mt St. Helens a stop? Then MT Rainier? And then maybe a coastal town? And then to Portland? Also at Rainier, what is the best small joke to do? She loves waterfalls. But then there’s the lake….super confused, lol. Any thoughts to help plan would be amazing! Thanks,

  2. WA-7, between WA-702 and the town of Elbe is twisty, narrow, and dangerous. Watch your speed. I’ve found that some places the caution speed is just guidance, but not here. Another way to go is through Eatonville, but please be respectful as you drive through my neighborhood.


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