How to Get to Mount Rainier From Seattle - Everything You Need To Know
It can be great fun to visit the vibrant city of Seattle, Washington. But one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself while you’re in the Pacific Northwest is to also take advantage of the proximity of Seattle to the amazing wonder that is Mount Rainier.
In fact, on a clear day from the city, you can see Mount Rainier looming in the distance – and the enormity of it as it dwarfs the skyscrapers will steal your breath away!
It is highly worthwhile to visit Mount Rainier from Seattle. Located about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southeast of the city, Mount Rainier National Park offers:
- breathtaking beauty
- stunning wildflower meadows
- old-growth forests
- sparkling alpine lakes
- jaw-dropping vistas
- and plenty of rivers and waterfalls
Plus, that iconic mountain itself – an active stratovolcano and the tallest, most glaciated peak in the state of Washington.
Plan Your Visit
From Seattle, you can embark on a day trip, although if you want to see everything that this park has to offer and do some hiking, you’re better off spending at least two days there.
The Shaka Guide audio tour app of Mount Rainier National Park is highly recommended to help you navigate and provide you with the best stories and detailed information to make your visit successful.
Since there is very little wifi available at this park, you need an app like Shaka Guide that you can rely on.
Road Trip Warning
And here’s a warning you should note up front: If you think you can rely on your GPS when visiting Mount Rainier, think again.
It may very well lead you to an entrance that is not open for public access, and cost you hours of rerouting. (Did I mention this is a big park?)
And if you lose the Wi-Fi signal, you’re going to be in trouble without a nifty app that you can download ahead of time for navigational purposes.
From Seattle to Rainier, the drive takes about one-and-a-half to two hours. So if you’re planning to embark on this adventurous road trip, here’s a handy guide to help make your journey successful!
How to get to Mount Rainier from Seattle
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
There are several ways that you can get from the city to the mountain (and to different sides of the mountain).
Although it’s great to enter Mount Rainier from both the northeast and southeast entrances, the roads leading to those entrances aren’t open year-round.
So I’d recommend starting your Mount Rainier visit on the southwest side of the park at the only park entrance open all year long – the Nisqually entrance.
From there, you can drive to some of the most popular locations in the park. If you have enough time, you can drive across the park to the other side, if the east sections of the mountain are open when you visit.
Preferred Mode of Transportation
I highly recommend renting a car in Seattle and driving to Mount Rainier, and doing so with a driving app like Shaka Guide will be your best bet.
That’s because this is the type of park that you need to take in at your own pace, to do it justice.
Having said that, if you don’t want to rent a car and drive to Mount Rainier yourself, there are some tour options listed below. (FYI, there is no public transportation from Seattle to Mount Rainier.)
To drive from Seattle to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier, there are several routes you can take. You aim to reach Route 706 in the town of Ashford. Here are my suggested directions:
- Start by heading south on Interstate 5 (I-5) from Seattle.
- Continue on I-5 South for about 23 miles.
- Take exit 127 for WA-512 East toward Puyallup/Olympia
- Merge onto WA-512 East and continue for about 9 miles
- Take the exit onto WA-7 south toward Mount Rainier/Parkland
- Follow WA-7 South for about 24 miles until you reach the town of Elbe.
- In Elbe, turn left onto WA-706 East
- Continue on WA-706 through the town of Ashford for about 15 miles until you reach the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park
Tips Before Entering Mount Rainier
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
Fill Up Your Gas Tank
Once you start the drive through Ashford on Route 706, it's your last leg before entering the park. This is your final chance to stop and fill up your tank with gas.
Trust me, you’ll want a full tank because there are no gas stations inside the park, nor is there one near the entrances and exits on the other side once you drive across.
Ashford is also your last chance to pick up any other supplies you’ll need for a day or two at Rainier.
Snacks & Hydration
Keep in mind – if you’re not visiting in July or August, there will be very few opportunities to get food, snacks, and water inside the park. And if you’re doing any hiking, you must come prepared with food, snacks and especially water!
Where to Stay in Mount Rainier
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
If you’re realizing that you’d rather not have to squeeze Mount Rainier National Park into one day, and would like to spend a night or two near the park, there are lots of lodging options in Ashford. There are also some lodging options on the east side of the park, but they are not as plentiful.
Keep in mind where you plan to end up on day one because it could take hours to get back to a lodge if you didn’t realize you’d be so far away from it.
If you’re planning to spend a day seeing the Longwood and Paradise sections of the park near the Nisqually entrance, and then planning to drive across the park, you might want to secure a lodge over on the other side, like:
- the Alta Crystal cabins in Greenwater (the closest small town to the Sunrise area on the northeast side of Rainier) or,
- a cabin rental in Packwood, on the southeast side of Rainier
..so that you could do everything on the east side of the park on Day 2.
This way, you can avoid driving back to Ashford on night one, only to have to drive back across the park to start day two.
National Park Lodges
There are also two National Park lodges inside Mount Rainier National Park. One is close to the Nisqually entrance (The National Park Inn) and the other is in the same area of the park, up the mountain in Paradise (The Paradise Inn, which is only open during the prime summer season.)
Best Areas to Visit Inside Mount Rainier National Park
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
I am going to list these in the order that you can see them all if you’re starting your journey at the Nisqually entrance.
- Area: Longmire, National Park Inn, General Store, Museum
- Hike: Trail of the Shadows
- Waterfall: Carter Falls
- Waterfall: Christine Falls
- Overlook: Ricksecker Point
- Waterfall: Nerada Falls
- Area: Paradise, Visitor Center, Paradise Inn
- Waterfall: Myrtle Falls
- Hike: Alta Vista Trail
- Hike: Nisqually Vista Trail
- Overlook: Inspiration Point
- Lake: Reflection Lakes
- Hike: Bench and Snow Lakes Trail
- Hike: Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (via the Eastside Trail)
- Area: Ohanapecosh, Visitor Center, Nature Trail
- Hike: Silver Falls Loop East Trail
- Lake: Tipsoo Lake
- Hike: Tipsoo Lake Trail
- Hike: Naches Peak Loop Trail
- Overlook: Sunrise Point
- Area: Sunrise: Visitor Center, Day Lodge
- Hike: Sourdough Ridge Trail
- Hike: Silver Forest Trail
- Hike: Mount Fremont Trail
- Area: White River Campground Loops and White River
- Hike: Glacier Basin Trail
- Hike: Emmons Moraine Trail
- Ride: Mount Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
Make note of these official Mount Rainier Websites for important updates on park road closures. Mount Rainier National Park has frequent road closures due to weather conditions and maintenance.
Some of these closures could affect your ability to get around or across the park or prevent you from entering some locations. There are also potential closures at some of the most popular park sites due to construction or renovations. So know before you go!
Also, keep in mind that there is only one road that runs across Mount Rainier National Park (Stevens Canyon Road) that can get you from the west side areas of the park to the east side sections.
If that road is closed for any reason, it could take you about three hours to drive around the entire outside perimeter of the park just to reach the other side! So it’s really important to know your road closures and plan accordingly.
Seasons of Rainier and When to Visit
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
Mount Rainier National Park has one of the shortest windows for visiting – if you want to see the entire park.
Snow and ice on the more treacherous roads leading to the most beautiful areas can close from as early as October through as late as early July.
This happens in years when the snow starts early in the fall and doesn’t melt until the heart of summertime.
Busiest Season of the Park
The months of July and August when the weather is at its warmest and driest and the school’s not in session, is the busiest season for the park.
As it stands, if you’re heading to Mount Rainier in peak season on a weekend, you’d best get an early start.
Otherwise, you could find yourself in an hour-long line at the entrance, just waiting to get in, and then have to struggle to find parking spots at the most popular sites inside the park.
A park reservation system is currently under consideration, but for now, your best bet – if you’re going to visit in the heart of summer – is to go early on a weekday morning.
Best Month to Visit Mount Rainier
The best month of all to visit Mount Rainier National Park is, hands-down, September because:
- many of the tourists have gone home
- school is back in session
- the weather is still warm and the snow hasn’t hit yet
- and the fall wildflower meadow colors are just as fabulous as the summer blooms!
The only downside is that some of the Visitor Centers and lodging may have closed for the season. The restrooms – thankfully – remain open.
Keep in mind that Spring at Rainier is still likely to be covered in enough snow that all the roads haven’t yet reopened.
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
I already mentioned making sure you have a full tank of gas in your car and plenty of food, snacks, and water in case you’re not coming to the park during peak season when all of the visitor centers are open.
But also, make sure you have:
- sturdy hiking boots,
- a waterproof jacket
- layers of clothing (it gets cool and windy up on the mountain, and the Pacific Northwest is always prone to rain, so better to peel off some layers than to not have enough warm clothing),
- insect repellent
- a hat for shade
Also, if you’re ever hiking alone, make sure someone knows where you’ll be, and carry a personal locator beacon.
Safety Tips for Hiking and Exploring
Image by Lizzie Gerecitano
It’s important to know your limits when it comes to hiking at Mount Rainier. And if you’re not well adapted to elevation, be aware that you may find yourself a bit more breathless at higher altitudes in the park.
But also keep in mind that these trails are in rugged forests and on winding mountain cliffs with very little in the way of manmade protection.
Translation: there are no fences or barriers (whether you’re driving or hiking) so your eyes need to stay on the roads and on the trails at all times. Pay attention. One wrong move could be deadly.
That means you should also be careful at assessing the hiking skill level of any child you might want to bring along on a trail. And if a trail starts to become too challenging for you, turn around and head back.
This reminds me to tell you that some of the most popular trails at Mount Rainier National Park are hours long. So I’d recommend hiking just part of each trail, simply so that you’ll be able to see more of the park during your visit.
Mount Rainier isn't a dog-friendly park
Mount Rainier is not a dog-friendly park. And for good reason. Aside from the damage a pet could do to the precious, delicate meadows, it’s challenging enough to watch out for yourself and your fellow travelers to be safe on the trails.
Pets are not allowed on trails or in buildings at Rainier. And you never want to leave a pet unattended in a car in a parking lot while you hike.
Important Info on the Wildlife
From deer, Cascade red foxes, Pacific fishers, and brazen birds like gray jays and blue grouse, to bigger and more dangerous creatures like black bears and cougars, Mount Rainier is exploding with wildlife.
This park is home to:
- 54 species of mammals
- 126 types of special birds
- and 17 kinds of amphibians and reptiles
But the star of the show – the cutest little creatures you’ll want to see – are those chunky marmots that some describe as miniature-looking bears. They just love to hang out in the meadows during the warmer months.
Marmots are the largest member of the squirrel family, can weigh 10 pounds or more, and hibernate in the winter. They’re sometimes called ‘whistle pigs’ because of the warning sounds they make when they sense danger.
Keeping Wildlife Wild at Mount Rainier
Now, even if you think you know all of the reasons that it’s important to “keep wildlife wild” and “leave no trace,” there may be some you haven’t thought of. Which is why I’d like you to indulge me here.
The natural behavior of the wildlife at Mount Rainier is very concerning to biologists. They say that too many animals are becoming ‘food-conditioned’ by humans.
That means many wild animals now seek out ‘people's food.’ They’ve learned to steal from picnic tables, and trash cans, and will forage through your belongings.
Even if you’re not offering wildlife a direct bite of your lunch, leaving your food or garbage exposed teaches wild animals that humans equal food.
And I know you don’t want to be responsible for animals dying off because they forgot how to hunt!
So here’s a short list of the pretty awful things that can happen when a wild animal is tempted by human food.
- The animal loses its natural fear of humans and public places and may bite someone.
- Feeding a wild animal attracts even more of them, which could lead to disease spreading.
- Food that attracts a small wild animal then attracts larger predators who want to feast on the smaller ones. Which puts your pets at risk.
- A wild animal seeking human food is more likely to run out in front of a vehicle and may get hit.
- Human food attracts large numbers of jays and ravens, which then prey on precious little songbird eggs and hatchlings.
- Wild animals store food to survive during winter months. But human food can go bad, leaving an animal with food poisoning.
So, let’s all do everything we can to help wildlife hang onto their natural survival skills!
Wildlife Awareness at Dusk in Mount Rainier
Oh, and one more thing for your safety. Remember that once dusk hits, the bears and cougars come out to play.
Now, wildcats are a lot more shy than bears, and will probably just stay away from you, hidden where you can’t even see them.
But the problem with bears is that they’re super curious, and they have one of the most highly developed senses of smell. So keep your food and toiletries locked in your car.
Make sure you’re not wearing any clothing that you cooked in because you don’t want to smell like food and tempt a bear to get a closer look!
Important Info on the Meadows and Trails
Mount Rainier National Park is famous for its wildflower meadows. These mountain plants have to endure long, harsh winters between blooming seasons.
Once spring arrives (or summer, by the time the snow melts) and the wildflowers begin to blossom, they face an even greater threat: humans.
With over two million visitors coming to the park each year, the meadows feel the impact of all those feet stomping on fragile soil. When the meadows are trampled on, the dirt can become packed too hard for the plants to grow.
Protecting Fragile Ecosystems
So to protect the meadows, hiking is restricted to trails only. Stepping off of a trail, even for a second, can cause permanent destruction to delicate flower buds that may never again grow back.
The meadows are especially vulnerable when the trails are wet, so don’t step off a trail even if your path is muddy or slippery. Keep in mind, too, that these delicate flowers have a very short lifespan.
Some bloom for only a few weeks. So they need all the help they can get to grow, produce seeds, absorb nutrients, and then get pollinated.
Ranger-led Activities at Mount Rainier National Park
Image from Flickr by Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier offers a variety of ranger-led activities and programs during the peak summer season to enhance your experiences and provide educational opportunities. Here are some of them:
Rangers lead hikes on various trails within the park, providing information about the natural and cultural history, geology, flora, and fauna. These hikes range from easy walks to more challenging treks, allowing you to explore different areas of the park.
Park rangers host campfire programs where they share stories, facts, and insights about the park’s history, wildlife, and conservation efforts. These programs take place at designated campgrounds and provide an interactive and educational experience.
Junior Ranger Program
Geared toward children, the Junior Ranger Program offers engaging activities and educational materials to help young visitors learn about Mount Rainier National Park. Children can participate in ranger-led programs, complete activity booklets, and earn badges.
Rangers conduct evening programs at park Visitor Centers or designated areas, offering presentations, films, and interactive discussions about various park-related topics. These programs cover a wide range of subjects, such as wildlife, glaciers, wildflowers, and mountaineering.
Wintertime Snowshoe Walks
During the winter months, the Nisqually entrance is the only one that remains open and is usually plowed at least as far as Longmire, and sometimes up to Paradise. But that changes daily based on snow and icy conditions, so you have to check before you go.
But sometimes, rangers will lead snowshoe walks through the snowy landscapes of Mount Rainier National Park. These guided walks provide an opportunity to explore the park’s winter beauty while learning about the unique challenges and adaptations of plants and animals in the snowy environment.
For ranger-led activities, inquire at the Visitor Centers for the most up-to-date information, including schedules, availability, and any specific requirements or reservations that may be necessary.
- Evergreen Escapes has a full-day tour of Mount Rainier from Seattle.
- Tours Northwest provides tours of Mount Rainier from Seattle.
- Customized tour offers a Mount Rainier day tour from Seattle.
So, there you have it. Your comprehensive guide to traveling from Seattle over to Mount Rainier, and what to do once you get there. Now get out there and make some magical memories!
Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Mount Rainier National Park Tour!
We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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