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The Sunrise Section of Mount Rainier National Park


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Mount Rainier Introduction

Mount Rainier is a true rock star of the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State. Not far from Seattle, on a clear day, you can see it looming over the city skyline!

This 14,410-foot volcano is topped with icy glaciers year-round. It is nothing short of spectacular to experience up close, from inside Mount Rainier National Park.

Whether you’re coming for the wildflower meadows, waterfalls, rivers, old-growth forests, lakes, or hiking (phew, that’s a lot!) this picture-perfect volcano that towers above it all will steal your breath while touching your soul.

Early autumn’s colors here rival spring and summer’s. So you simply can’t go wrong with a visit to this very special place.

Around every turn, the stunning vistas of all that’s below you and around you, and those volcano views, make each mile simply jaw-dropping.

Plus, there’s no shortage of hiking trails to choose from — about 130 in all. They cater to every level from beginner to expert.

Mount Rainier from Sunrise Area

But there’s one section of Mount Rainier National Park that’s arguably even more inspiring than the others. And that’s the Sunrise section of the park.

Here, you can drive nearly halfway up the mountain and feel like you’re — literally — on top of the world.

You'll be above almost all of the other Cascade peaks. It’s on the northeast flank of the volcano.

You can reach it by driving south from Enumclaw, through Greenwater, and entering the park via the White River/Sunrise entrance.

Navigating the Wilderness 

Mount Rainier National Park is out in the wilderness, you can't count on accessing wifi. You also can't rely on your own GPS to get around this great big park.

My recommendation is that you download the Shaka Guide driving app tour of Mount Rainier National Park before you head there.

It'll give you detailed directions and information throughout your road trip. Additionally, it offers history, stories, and even entertaining music along the way.

Most of all, you’ll feel a lot safer knowing you won’t get lost or disorientated over such a huge expanse of landscapes.

The Drive to Sunrise

Once you pass the White River Campgrounds (and, believe me, you’ll want to stop there on your way back from Sunrise to take a walk down to the White River), you’ll drive along a rollercoaster of switchbacks. Don’t look down if you’re afraid of heights.

The road winds all the way up to Sunrise Point, the highest and most heart-stopping 360-degree-view overlook in the entire park.

A woman walking down a mountain path, surrounded by breathtaking scenery.Cascade Range/ Lizzie Gerecitano

On a clear day, you can see two of the other volcanoes in the Cascade Range, including Mount Adams.

Aptly named for being the first place to see the sun each morning in Washington, Sunrise Point sits along a hairpin turn. It's located just before you reach the actual Sunrise section of the park.

There's plenty of parking at this overlook, so make that your first stop. Chances are you'll want to stop here a second time on your way back down the mountain.

Reaching the Summit

Majestic Mt. Rainier in Washington State, USA.Mount Rainier from Sunrise/ Lizzie Gerecitano

Once you reach Sunrise, you’ve officially driven as far up the mountain as you can, at 6,400 feet elevation. You’ll quite literally feel as if you can reach out and touch the Emmons Glacier.

It's a smack-dab in front of your face on that active volcano. Even though you’re still a good 8,000+ feet away from the peak. Taking the summit in this great volcano is risky, to say the least.

You’d need major qualifications as a professional mountaineer if you want to tackle the peak of this active volcano! Put it this way: many climbers who dream of reaching the top of Mount Everest do their training on Mount Rainier!

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Limited Seasonal Access

What makes Sunrise even more special is that it’s only got a guaranteed window to visit for three months out of the entire year!

You see, since it’s so high up on the mountain, the snow and ice don’t even melt enough to safely make the drive until around July!

And then, by the end of September or the beginning of October, all bets are off. The minute it gets icy or starts to snow up there, that section of the park closes for the season. 

This is what makes it such a popular place to visit (rivaling only the Paradise section of the park, on the other side of the volcano, in terms of the amount of visitors).

Due to the extreme crowds, in fact, there is now a new timed-entry reservation system in place. You can make a reservation in advance. Alternatively, you can wait until 7 pm the night before you want to go to Sunrise to nab your entry time.

There are lots of details and some exceptions that you’ll want to check on regarding this system. Or, for an even more detailed explanation, see our Shaka Guide article about all the ins and outs of this relatively new system.

Best Things To Do in Sunrise At Mount Rainier

Now, once you reach Sunrise, here are some recommendations on things to see and do:

1. Explore the Wildflower Wonderland

A picturesque sunset over a mountain, illuminating a field of vibrant wildflowers in full bloom.Shutterstock Image

First of all, wildflowers abound here in both summer and fall. The colors are absolutely magical and magnificent from any trail. It’s truly a heavenly sub-alpine landscape.

2. Sunrise Visitor Center and Day Lodge

A rustic wooden house perched atop a majestic mountain.Lizzie Gerecitano

The two obvious places you’ll want to check out if they’re open, are the Visitor Center and the Day Lodge. They’re both only open July through Labor Day, although sometimes the Visitor Center will remain open on weekends through September. (Either way, the restrooms are on the outside of the building, so no worries there!)

At the Sunrise Visitor Center, you’ll find:

  • exhibits
  • interpretive programs
  • national park rangers on hand to answer questions
  • maps
  • books and
  • a picnic area

The Sunrise Day Lodge offers food and a gift shop. There are no overnight accommodations at this elevation, hence its appropriate name.

But when the lodge is open during the summer, it’s a nice place to relax, inside or out, over a meal after a challenging hike. 

It’s also important to note that you’ll want to plan to finish up your time here at Sunrise before dark.

This ensures you have a good view of the treacherous road with all its twists and turns before it gets dark.

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Most Popular Hiking Trails at Sunrise

1. Silver Forest Trail

A scenic trail leading to a majestic mountain, under a clear blue sky.

My personal favorite hike in Sunrise is the Silver Forest Trail, a 3-mile round-trip, family-friendly hike. This trail begins from the south side of the Sunrise parking lot.

2. Mount Fremont Lookout Trail

Majestic view of Mt. Rainier from the summit, showcasing snow-capped peaks and surrounding landscape.

The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail gives you a chance to climb one of the four remaining fire lookouts. It's situated on a knoll 7,181 feet above sea level.

It’s the highest of the park's lookout towers. Follow the Sourdough Ridge Trail to the trailhead of the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail.

Sourdough Ridge to Dege Peak. It’s 3.4 miles round trip and will take you about two hours. 

Trail Suggestion

There are several other trails, including the ones I mentioned, that you can take through the meadows and further up the mountain. However, many of them are well over five miles long.

My suggestion is to talk to the rangers and pick up maps so that you’re well-informed about the trail that is right for you.

Also, my hiking hack is that you can always take just a portion of a trail. This allows you to sample more than one trail in a day.

It also ensures you don’t find yourself too far from the Visitor Center at any given time. Plus, this will give you the chance to view several different scenes around Sunrise.

Nearby Adventure at Crystal Mountain Resort

A group of skiers enjoying a snowy slope on a winter day.

Now, another attraction you’ll find near the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park is actually ‘across the street and down the block’ from the White River/Sunrise park entrance.

This place is also featured on the Shaka Guide Tour. It’s Crystal Mountain. And here’s why you’ll want to visit.

Crystal Mountain is actually a ski resort in the wintertime. This is handy, since Mount Rainier National Park closes the entire northeast side of the park, including all the roadways in and around the park, during wintertime.

Additionally, there’s not any actual ski resort inside Mount Rainier. So Crystal Mountain’s got that covered. 

But there’s something even more special about Crystal Mountain in the winter and summertime. And that’s the Mount Rainier Gondola ride!

Yep — it’s a gondola ride with a view of Mount Rainier that you won’t find anywhere else. And once you reach the top, you can enjoy a meal at the Summit House.

It holds the title of being the highest restaurant in the entire state of Washington. And you can’t beat that view of Mount Rainier atmosphere-wise, whether you sit inside or out!

Planning Your Visit to Crystal Mountain

You’ll find all the details about visiting Crystal Mountain, including driving directions, on Shaka Guide’s Mount Rainier National Park Tour, or you can check Crystal Mountain's website.

But just know that the gondola ride itself is open during the high summer season, as well as during the winter ski season. And you’ll need to purchase a ticket for this ride.

Also, if you’re planning to visit Mount Rainier for more than a day trip, you’ll also find lodging options at Crystal Mountain. It's located here on the northeast side of the park.

Explore Mount Rainier with Shaka Guide

A couple standing by a car, holding a cell phone, possibly using the Shaka Guide app for navigation.

So, now that your interest has been ‘piqued’ (see what I did there?) about the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park and some of the awesome things to see and do in that area, don’t just daydream about it. Get out there and start experiencing it for yourself!

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Sunrise over Mount Rainier in the National Park, showcasing the majestic beauty of nature's first light.

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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 aloha@shakaguide.com.

For more detailed information to help you plan, check out our Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary and Know Before You Go article.


Mt Rainier National Park Hikes

Things To Do In Mt Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier Volcano Eruption History

How to Get to Mount Rainier From Seattle

Mount Rainier National Park Waterfalls

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