Planning a Day Trip to Mount Rainier From Seattle – For the Fast Paced Adventurer
Mount Rainier is a beautiful national park full of amazing views and epic hikes so how in the world do you decide on what to do in Mt Rainier in one day and is it even possible to do a day trip to Mount Rainer?
It is definitely possible and also worth it to spend one day in Mt Rainier. If you are anything like us, you will want to pack as much into your Mt Rainier itinerary as possible, making sure you see the best sights! I am here to help you do this.
As the park is so massive, I recommend sticking to one section of the park. There are 5 different areas that make up Mount Rainier but the best to focus on in a day trip from Seattle to Mount Rainier would be either via the Ashford / Nisqually Entrance or the or the White River Entrance.
The Ashford entrance takes you into the Paradise area of Rainier and is home to the most popular hike in Mount Rainier, the Skyline Loop Trail. The White River Entrance takes you to the Sunrise area of Rainier which is where the beautiful Mount Fremont Hike is located.
This guide will help you plan one incredible day in Mount Rainier, with the best Mount Rainier hikes, the best waterfalls in Mount Rainier and the best viewpoints. You will be provided with 2 different itineraries each based in our favourite sections of the park, the Sunrise and Paradise areas.
I will also touch on the best restaurants in both the Paradise and Sunrise areas of Mount Rainier in case you would prefer going somewhere to eat rather than bringing along your own food and also list the best tours that go from Seattle in case this is something you would prefer.
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How to get to Mount Rainier From Seattle
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
Driving from Seattle to the Paradise area of Mount Rainier will take you around 2.5 hours one way. You will need to take the I-5 S and WA-7 S until the WA-706 which you will turn onto when you get nearer to Mount Rainier.
If you are driving to the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier, it will also take you 2.5 hours to reach the Sunrise visitors centre. You will need to take the WA-410 E.
If you would prefer not to drive yourself, I recommend this tour which takes you to some of the best viewpoints and hikes in Mount Rainier National Park!
If you are looking to also visit Washington State’s famous Olympic National Park, you could book this 2 day Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park tour!
Map of Mount Rainier National Park
For this one day Mt Rainier itinerary, I am going to concentrate on the Paradise and Ohanapecosh areas of Mount Rainier NP, however it is useful to know how the park is set out for future trips. As I mentioned above, there are 5 areas of Mount Rainier National Park. These are Paradise, Longmire, Ohanapecosh, Carbon River and Sunrise.
Sunrise and Paradise
The two main areas of Mount Rainier that people will visit are Sunrise and Paradise and the itineraries in this guide will be mainly planned around these areas. Both Sunrise and Paradise have their own visitor centres and lots of hikes with amazing views of Mt Rainier, some campgrounds and viewpoints to check out.
Longmire is located slightly west of Paradise and when Mount Rainier National Park was established in 1899, Longmire became the park’s headquarters. Now it is designated a National Historic District and you can visit the Longmire Museum which is open daily all year-round. In Longmire, there is also the Wilderness Information Centre, which is open late May to early October and closed in winter. This is where you can obtain wilderness permits and hiking and backcountry camping information. Lastly there is the National Park Inn, which is a concessioner-operated hotel, restaurant, and gift shop and is usually open every day all year-round.
Ohanapecosh is home to some really ancient forests containing Douglas-firs, western red cedars, and western hemlocks. This section of the park is located in the southeast corner. There is a campground which is open from late May to early October.
Carbon River is located in the park’s northwest corner and is the part of the park that consistently receives high amounts of rainfall. The climate and plant life in the Carbon River area of Mount Rainier resemble that of a temperate rainforest.
National Parks Pass
To access Mount Rainier National Park, you will need a national parks pass. You get purchase an America the Beautiful pass from the REI website here which covers loads of national parks in the USA for a year.
Mount Rainier Day Trip Packing List
When you are choosing what to pack for Mount Rainier, just remember that you will be having a day of adventure. With this in mind, I recommend bringing along a spare pair of clothes in case it rains or you just want to freshen up later in the day. I am also included layers and warmer clothes such as a beanie as Mount Rainier’s weather can be extremely unpredictable and it is always better to be prepared for all weather conditions.
- Snacks for the whole day.
- Water! There are places in the visitors centres for you to fill up your drink bottle.
- Option to bring breakfast, lunch and dinner or buy when in or just outside the park. More information on food options is located in the itineraries below.
- Hiking Boots and comfy shoes – I don’t know about you but if I’m not hiking all day, I like to have a pair of comfier, more casual shoes to wear for the rest of the time.
- Merino t-shirt and an extra one to change into just in case.
- Hiking Pants, shorts or leggings.
- Puffer Jacket
- Bug Spray
- Bear Spray
- Hiking Poles – If you usually hike with poles.
- Camera! There will be plenty of photography opportunities! We have a guide on camera gear here.
Mount Rainier 1 Day Itinerary – Paradise Area
We spent 3 days in Mount Rainier and were able to do loads of hikes, see some amazing views and eat at a few different restaurants. I have put together the following 1 day Mt Rainier Itinerary using our favourite hikes, waterfalls, viewpoints and restaurants as well as by doing a bit of extra research on other must-see spots in Mt Rainier that we didn’t have time for. By compiling all of this together, I have come up with the perfect 1 day Mt Rainier itinerary.
If you are coming to Mt Rainier from Seattle or anywhere else that is a bit of a drive, I recommend leaving nice and early in the morning so that you can make the most of your one day in Mount Rainier! It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle to Mount Rainier.
Option – Breakfast at (5-45 mins)
You could even plan to have breakfast and coffee when you arrive. If you like coffee, I can recommend the Rise and Grind, which is a small drive through take out coffee place which also serves some snack and breakfast items. If you are looking for somewhere to sit down with a larger breakfast menu, try The Trailhead Bar and Grill.
Hike the Skyline Loop Trail (2 hours)
Distance: 10km / 6.2 miles | Elevation: 545 metres / 1,788 ft | Time: 3.5-4.5hrs | Level: Moderate
After breakfast, it is the perfect time for your first hike. The best trail to do to make you feel like you have really seen and made the most of Mount Rainier, is the Skyline Loop Trail. This Mount Rainier trail, has views of Mt Rainier the entire way and you can get so close to the epic mountain, that you can hear the cracking sounds of the glacier! How crazy is that!
The Skyline Trail is a pretty time consuming hike, so with only one day in the park, you may want to just do part of the hike to get a general feel and intro of Mount Rainier National Park. Unless you really want to reach Panorama Point, which is a viewpoint looking out over Paradise and the mountain ranges in Washington and Oregon, you can do a quarter of the hike and still have amazing views of Rainier.
If you choose to do the entire hike, you this will probably be the only hike you have time for unless you are a super fast hiker.
Reflection Lakes (30-40 mins)
After the Skyline Trail, drive down to Reflection lakes, take some photos and enjoy the view. You are probably going to be hungry after the Skyline Trail and it is probably reaching lunchtime so if you brought a packed lunch, eat it at this viewpoint. Reflection Lakes is a beautiful lake with Mount Rainier sitting behind it. At various times of the day, you can get Mount Rainier’s reflection in the lake so it is a great photo spot!
From the Paradise Visitor Centre’s parking lot to Reflection Lakes, it is only an 8 minute drive, even though Reflection Lakes is located in the Ohanapecosh area of the park.
If you didn’t bring along lunch and would prefer to eat out, we went to a lovely little restaurant just outside the park which I can 100% recommend. It is called Wildberry Restaurant. I can recommend the Sherpa Stew. It was delicious! They serve Himalayan-Sherpa Cuisine as well as some classic American pub food such as burgers and fish and chips.
Keep in mind that this will take longer than if you bring along your own lunch. Allow for about an hour at the restaurant.
Hike to Comet Falls (2 hours)
Distance: 5.1km / 3.2miles | Elevation: 390m / 1,279ft | Time: 2 – 2.5hrs | Level: Easy-moderate
After lunch, it’s time for hike number 2! Drive to Comet Falls trailhead which should take about 10 minutes from Reflection Lakes. Comet Falls is 301 feet / 91m tall and is a beautiful waterfall in Mount Rainier National Park. The hike should take you around 2 hours return and there is an awesome photo spot at the viewpoint!
Photo Tip: Once you reach the 2nd tier of the waterfall (this is the tallest section of the waterfall), there is a little mound of dirt which is the perfect spot to stand for a photo! If you are visiting in Summer, there should be a bunch of gorgeous yellow flowers if you look to your right whilst facing the waterfall. See if you can place your tripod or get a friend to take your picture with the flowers framing the photo like the one below.
For sunset, you will have to pick one spot and stay there and enjoy it. Sunset is our favourite time of the day and so we always have trouble choosing a spot. I will leave you with 3 solid suggestions of where to spend your sunset during your one day in Mount Rainier.
Pinnacle Saddle – After your full day of hiking the last thing you are probably going to want to do is another hike, but I’m going to leave this here just in case. This hike is 4km / 2.5 miles return with 304m / 1,000ft of elevation gain.
Ricksecker Point – This is a road pull out with amazing views of Mount Rainier and one of the best spots for sunset in Mount Rainier.
Reflection Lakes – you may have already been here if you’ve followed this itinerary but the light on Mountain Rainier and reflection on the lake during sunset is just magical!
Mount Rainier 1 Day Itinerary – Sunrise Area
There might be a specific hike or viewpoint that you are dying to see that is located in the Sunrise area rather than Paradise. If this is the case, I recommend making the most of your day and rather than driving around the entire park, plan your itinerary around staying in the Sunrise area of the park.
If you plan on spending your one day in Mt Rainier NP in the Sunrise area, we highly recommend bringing along breakfast, lunch, snacks and even dinner as there are not a lot of food options. The Sunrise Day Lodge does have a cafeteria with a snack bar and some hot food options such as burgers but otherwise there aren’t any other options unless you drive quite a way out of the park. The itinerary below should help you plan your perfect one day in Sunrise, Mt Rainier.
Pack breakfast and coffee to go and drive from Seattle to Chinook Pass. It will take you around 1hr 45 minutes driving time.
Hike the Naches Peak Loop Trail
Distance: 5.3km / 3.2 miles | Elevation: 194m / 636ft | Time: 1.5 – 2hrs | Level: Easy
Head straight to the Naches Peak Loop Trail first thing in the morning. The parking lot is fairly small, so try to get there as early as possible. This is a great hike to do for sunrise but if you can’t make it by sunrise, early morning will still be fantastic! The Naches Peak Look trail has the most incredible views of Tipsoo Lake surrounded by wildflowers and is graded as easy in difficulty.
Before preparing for your sunset hike, you should have time for to have lunch at a viewpoint and a short hike.
Drive to Sunrise Point Lookout. From the Naches Peak Loop Trail this will take you about 30 minutes. There are not a lot of food options in this area of Mount Rainier. I recommend bringing a packed lunch with you so that you don’t waste precious exploring time looking for food. Have your lunch at the lookout whilst enjoying the incredible views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains including Mount Hood. Alternatively, you could have lunch at the Sunrise Day Lodge.
Once you have finished your lunch, do the short walk to Emmons Vista Overlook, which is a short 5 minute drive from the Sunrise Point Lookout. The trailhead for the Emmons Vista Lookout is located in the main Sunrise Visitors Centre parking lot.
Sunrise Point Lookout is also an amazing spot to watch the sunrise as the sun lights up Mount Rainier and turns the mountain bright orange and red. You could come here for sunrise if you are not feeling like doing a super early hike and do the Naches Peak Loop Trail after.
Sunrise Nature Trail
Distance: 2.4km / 1.5 miles | Elevation: 113m / 370ft | Time: 0.5-1hr | Level: Easy
The Sunrise Nature Trail is one of the easiest hikes in the Mount Rainier Sunrise area and has beautiful views of Mt Rainier along a trail surrounded by wildflowers during Summer. The trailhead is located from the Sunrise Visitors Centre parking lot which is also where your sunset hike will start from so you don’t have to go anywhere else after.
TIP: If you do the Sunrise Nature Trail loop counter clockwise, you will have slightly smoother incline.
There are plenty of hikes in the Sunrise area that you can do for sunset but the Mount Fremont Lookout trail is one of the best sunset views in Mount Rainier.
Mount Fremont Lookout Hike (3 hours)
Distance: 8.6km / 5.4 miles | Elevation: 274m / 900ft | Time: 3hrs | Level: Easy-moderate
Mount Fremont Lookout was our favourite hike in Mount Rainier and one of the best Mount Rainier sunset hikes! The trail is pretty easy and takes you to a fire lookout on the edge of the mountain. The views of the surrounding mountains including Mount Rainier from the lookout are incredible. You might even be lucky enough to get a cloud inversion like we did! It took us about 1 hour to reach the lookout but I recommend allowing for 1.5 hours just in case.
For any sunset hike make sure you bring along your headlamps for hiking back in the dark.
Tours to Mount Rainier from Seattle
If you don’t want to drive yourself to Mount Rainier or are looking to meet other people or just enjoy going on tours, this full day tour takes you all the way from Seattle to Mount Rainier and back. The tour has options to walk a little, hike a lot of not at all and also includes your national parks pass.
Alternatively I recommend joining this hiking tour, which takes you from Seattle to some of the best hikes in Mount Rainier!
You might be asking yourself the question, is it really worth it to spend only one day in Mount Rainier? Yes, it absolutely is! You will not regret it and it will be one absolutely awesome exhausting adventure that you will remember forever! Should you spend more than one day in Mount Rainier? Yes! If you have the chance, I recommend spending around 3 – 4 days in the park, exploring the different areas and making the most of every sunrise and sunset!
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