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5 Best Day Hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park

5 Best Day Hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park

Looking for the best hikes on a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park? With over 260 miles of maintained trails, the park has plenty to offer — sweeping views, subalpine meadows, lakes and glaciers. In this post, we pare down our favorite day hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park to help you make the most of your trip. 

Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington state is easily one of our favorite national parks in the U.S. Its unparalleled beauty, Mt. Rainier’s towering omniscience, and the top-notch hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park make it a hiking paradise. In fact, the park’s beauty is so stunning and majestic that it is hard to believe that you’ve gone willingly to an active volcano!

“Of all the fire mountains which like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.” – J. Muir

Top Day Hikes in Mt. Rainier

1. Burroughs Mountain

Mt. Rainier - Burroughs Mountain Trail

Burroughs Mountain is by far our favorite hike in Mt. Rainier. With a constant view of Mt. Rainier that only looms larger as you approach, there is no day hiking trail that will get you a closer view of the volcano. Starting out of the Sunrise parking lot, the hike is a strenuous one as you climb steadily up and down 3 mountains in total (First Burroughs, Second Burroughs, Third Burroughs). 

Burroughs Mountain – Hike Details

  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,500 ft.
  • Length of time: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

2. Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail in Mt. Rainier

The Skyline Trail is arguably the most popular trail in the park — and for good reason. In the summer months, once the wildflowers come into bloom, this trail is absolutely stunning. However, be prepared for a crowd on this hike unless you plan to hike extra early or extra late!

The Skyline Trail hike starts directly behind the Paradise visitor center in Mt. Rainier. It starts off with a gentle stretch to get to the trail, then climbs almost immediately before leveling off. The trail network is complex in this area so a map can be handy. Along the way you’ll pass by Glacier Vista and Panorama Point, which offer some of the best views on the trail.

Skyline Trail – Hike Details

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,700 ft.
  • Length of time: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

3. Alta Vista Trail

Mt. Rainier - Hiking the Alta Vista Trail

Also located in the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier National Park, the Alta Vista Trail offers a gorgeous day hike and much easier, shorter alternative to the Skyline Trail. It’s best done in the summer (late July to late August) for stunning wildflower views, where you can find displays of Cascade asters, lupine, and subalpine daisies. Similar to the Skyline Trail, you can expect crowds during peak season.

Alta Vista Trail – Hike Details

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 ft.
  • Length of time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

4. Naches Peak Loop

Mt. Rainier - Naches Peak Loop Trail

Beginning at Tipsoo Lake, Naches Peak is an easy, short hike that offers a little bit of alpine everything, from hillside strolls to a view overlooking a lake to wildflower displays in July and August. As a result, it’s one of our favorites to recommend, especially for hiking with parents or families. We recommend hiking this loop clockwise for the best views of Mt. Rainier along the way. 

Naches Peak Loop Trail – Hike Details

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 ft.
  • Length of time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

5. Fremont Lookout

Fremont Lookout is another hike out of the Sunrise area of the park with remarkable views of Mt. Rainier, Grand Park, Redstone Peak, Skyscraper Mountain, and Berkeley Park. The hike actually starts off on the same trail (Sourdough Ridge Trail) as Burroughs Mountain, but eventually breaks off via a junction to the right. This is actually one of the reasons why we love this trail. Despite a shorter and less strenuous trail, you still get to enjoy the beauty of the Sunrise area, a measure of thrill found on the Burroughs Mountain trail, and rewarding, close-up views of Mt. Rainier once you reach your destination.

Fremont Lookout – Hike Details

  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 ft.
  • Length of time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Getting to Mt. Rainier

To best explore Mt. Rainier, you’ll need a vehicle — either a car rental or as part of a guided tour (see this Mt. Rainier + wine tasting tour, for example). Here are the approximate drive times and distances from nearby locations in Washington to the visitor center in Paradise, Mt. Rainier:

  • Seattle: 100 miles, 2.5 hours
  • Tacoma: 80 miles, 2 hours
  • Spokane: 230 miles, 5 hours

How much time do you need at Mt. Rainier National Park?

We recommend spending 2-3 days to fully enjoy the park, although you could easily spend up to a week and still have so much to see. Mt. Rainier National Park is relatively large, with 5 distinct areas: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh,  Sunrise, and  Carbon River & Mowich. Given the time it takes to travel between each area (Paradise to Sunrise alone can take up to 2 hours), it’s best to dedicate 1 full day to each “group” of areas. Even then, you can see how 2-3 days would still mean you’d have to skip some sights.

On an aggressive schedule, we’d break up our park exploration like so:

  • 1st day – Longmire, Paradise, and Ohanapecosh
  • 2nd day – Sunrise
  • 3rd day – Carbon River & Mowich

Best time to visit Mt. Rainier

Summer, summer, summer — although that means you won’t be alone. July and August are peak months for the park when the wildflowers are out in full force and the weather is warm. After all, PNW locals wait year-round for the warm summer months. Some areas of the park also close down during the winter due to snow.

Mt. Rainier - Paradise
Find wildflowers carpeting the valleys of Mt. Rainier in the summer months.

Where to stay

There are a not a lot of choices to stay close to Mt. Rainier (short of camping or backpacking inside the park itself), but there are a few spots that will be get you close enough to the park that it is an easy drive in. For example, Enumclaw is one of the bigger towns in the area, with a lot of guest house and ranch options. Crystal Mountain is another popular area that operates as a ski resort during the winter months.

Below are some of our Mt. Rainier lodging picks within a short distance of the park:

Tips for visiting Mt. Rainier

  • Always practice Leave No Trace when visiting.
  • Check out our hiking gear list for what to bring for your hikes in Mt. Rainier.
  • Always check trail conditions before heading out.
  • Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Mt. Rainier, so it is best to leave your furry friends at home (unfortunately) or stick with hikes on national forest land instead.
  • Given that you will be hiking in high elevation, it’s important to wear sunscreen and bring layered clothing. Temperatures can change dramatically within a day, even on a hot summer day.

Summary

In summary, Mt. Rainier is a hiker’s paradise, with dramatic views, wildflower displays, lakes, and waterfalls that can’t be missed. Here are the best hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park (according to us!):

  1. Burroughs Mountain
  2. Skyline Trail
  3. Alta Vista Trail
  4. Naches Peak Loop
  5. Fremont Lookout

Best Day Hikes in Mt. Rainier

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