The Skyline Trail Mount Rainier – Paradise
Distance: 10km / 6.2 miles Elevation Gain: 545 metres / 1,788 ft Time: 3.5-4.5hrs Dog Friendly: No Toilets: At the trailhead and halfway on the trail
The Skyline Trail (or the Skyline Loop Trail) is one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier. It is also one of the popular hikes in the park and for good reason. For the entire length of the hike, you are given the best views of Mt Rainier. When you reach Panorama Point, on a clear day, you will be able to see all the way to Mount Hood in Oregon as well as lots of other iconic mountains!
The trail is also really beautiful with wildflowers in the Summer and lots of wildlife to look out for! If you do one hike in Mount Rainier, this should be the one because it is extremely beautiful!
The Skyline Trail is of moderate difficulty and is 10km / 6.2 miles with an elevation gain of 545m / 1,788ft and will take you about 3.5 – 4.5 hours to complete.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about hiking the Skyline Trail in Mt Rainier, including tips on which direction to do the hike in.
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Where in Mt Rainier NP is the Skyline Loop Trail located?
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The Skyline Trail is located in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park. You can park in the Visitor Centre’s parking lot, however please note that it does fill up extremely early especially on the weekends. There is an overflow parking lot not too far away from the main one, however this also fills up fairly quickly so plan to get there early. We arrived at about 8am on a Saturday and found that the parking lot was already almost completely full.
The Skyline trailhead is located next to the Visitor Centre and the Paradise ranger station. This is where you will start and end the loop. The start of the trail is actually paved which we were surprised to find.
Best Time to do the Skyline Trail Hike
The best time of the year to do the Skyline Trail hike is Summer or early Fall. The wildflowers along the trail are gorgeous during Summer, however the trail is quite exposed and so it gets quite hot in the Summer. The cooler weather in the Fall makes the hike more bearable and the Fall colours are really awesome along the Skyline Trail.
I recommend starting the hike first thing in the morning as this is the most popular hike in Mount Rainier. Alternatively, you could try to get a parking spot later in the afternoon once the morning hikers have finished.
Is the Trail Dog Friendly?
Dogs are not allowed in Mount Rainier National Park’s wilderness areas or on the trails. The reason for this is to protect the wildlife and fragile vegetation or sensitive archaeological sites in the park. Service animals are the exception to this rule, however must be kept on a leash at all times.
Dogs are allowed in certain areas of Mt Rainier with restrictions. For more information about having pets in Mount Rainier check out this website.
How Hard is the Skyline Loop Trail?
The Skyline Loop Trail is steep in sections and fairly long so is rated as moderate. Don’t worry though, because the epic views are definitely worth the incline. We are seasoned hikers and found the trail pretty easy.
Should I hike the Skyline Loop Trail clockwise or counter clockwise?
Whichever way you choose the to hike the Skyline Trail, you will enjoy but I have listed some pros and cons on each direction below.
Pros and cons of hiking clockwise
If you choose to do the hike clockwise, you will hike up up a pretty steep section to Panorama Point. This is the way that we hiked the trail and didn’t find the uphill too bad as it didn’t last too long. While you hike, views of Mount Rainier will be right in front of you the entire way which is pretty amazing. We found that we were stopping so much to take photos that we barely noticed the steep section.
Once you have reached the highest point of the climb, the way back down will be much more steady which is nicer on the knees.
Pros of hiking counter clockwise
The hike up to Panorama Point is much more gradual but a longer hike. Instead of being short and steep like the clockwise direction, the counter clockwise is long and a gradual incline. You will still have amazing views of Mt Rainier, but slightly further away.
If you hike in this direction, you will be hiking down the steeper section rather than up and you will also reach Myrtle Falls earlier in the hike.
The Skyline Loop Trail
The trail itself is very easy to follow. There is a well maintained path that is actually paved for the first section of the hike and then turns to dirt/gravel. There are a few points of interest along the hike to check out. These are Myrtle Falls, Mount Rainier and Panorama Point.
The Myrtle Falls Trail is a small offshoot of the Skyline Trail. Myrtle Falls is a beautiful waterfall which you can view from a bridge and is not too far from the beginning of the hike, if you do the hike counter clockwise. As we did the hike clockwise, we reached Myrtle Falls at the end when we were tired and there was a HUGE line to get onto the bridge in front of the waterfall so we decided to skip it. Next time we will try to get to Myrtle Falls first thing in the morning to try to get ahead of the crowds.
One of the best things about the Skyline Loop Trail is its epic views of Mount Rainier for the majority of the hike! These views are the reason that the Skyline trail is the most popular hike in Mt Rainier. After all, aren’t you planning to come to Mount Rainier to SEE Mount Rainier?
Panorama Point, Mt Rainier is the viewpoint that you hike up to and approximately halfwayish in the loop. It is the highest point on the Skyline Trail and from it on a clear day, you can see Mt. Adams in Washington, Mt. St. Helens in Washington and Mount Hood in Oregon.
After you have taken in the awesome view of the mountain range from Panorama Point, look behind you. You are now so close to Mount Rainier that you will hear the glacier cracking!
Wildlife to look out for on the Skyline Trail
Even with the crowds of hikers, the Skyline Loop Trail has lots of wildlife. When we did the hike in late Summer, we saw deer and a marmot and hundreds of tourists hiking the trail. You should also look out for mountain goats on the trail.
Mount Rainier is also home to black bears and mountain lions so always make sure you are up to date with wildlife safety and carry bear spray with you.
Can you Camp along the Skyline Loop Trail?
There are no designated backcountry campsite on the Paradise Area Trails which includes the Skyline Loop Trail.
Other Must-Do Hikes in Mt Rainier National Park
If you are already in Mount Rainier National Park, you may as well make the most of your time there and do more than one hike. A few must do-hikes nearby the Skyline Trail are listed below.
Mount Fremont Lookout Trail – The Best Hike in Mt Rainier
Distance: 8.6km / 5.4 miles | Elevation: 274m / 900ft | Time: 3hrs | Level: Easy-moderate
The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail is located in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier NP and is a couple of hours drive away. This was our favourite hike in Mount Rainier and we actually did it twice because we loved it so much!
The hike takes you to an amazing fire lookout at the end of the trail with insane views and is a one of the best Mount Rainier hikes to do at sunrise or sunset. You might even be lucky enough to get a cloud inversion which, if its not on your Bucketlist already, you need to add it on there!
Comet Falls Trail
Distance: 5.1km / 3.2miles | Elevation: 390m / 1,279ft | Time: 2 – 2.5hrs | Level: Easy-moderate
If you love waterfalls, you are going to love this hike! Comet Falls is a huge waterfall located not too far from the Skyline Loop Trail. It is a great alternative hike for bad weather or if the parking lot at the Paradise Visitor Centre is full.
We did Comet Falls on a really foggy day instead of the Skyline Loop Trail and the fog made the whole hike so mystical! We felt like we were in another land and were definitely surprised at how much we loved this hike!
The hike is pretty short but quite steep and the trail is very easy to follow. A great option if you are looking for an amazing waterfall to check out in Mt Rainier!
Naches Peak Loop Trail
Distance: 5.3km / 3.2 miles | Elevation: 194m / 636ft | Time: 1.5 – 2hrs | Level: Easy
The Naches Peak Loop Trail is another great hike located around a 45 minute – 1 hour drive from the Skyline Loop Trailhead. It is located at the beautiful Chinook Pass. This was a Mt Rainier hike that was on our list for when we were there but we just didn’t have enough time to do it which we really regret because it looks absolutely gorgeous! The trail has the most incredible views of Tipsoo Lake surrounded by wildflowers.
For those who love an early start, the Naches Peak Loop trail is a great hike to do at sunrise. Even if you don’t want to do the hike for sunrise, the parking lot is quite small so getting to the trailhead early is definitely a good choice either way.
Even though the Skyline Trail is pretty touristy, we are glad we did it. It is definitely a hike that you should not miss when visiting Mount Rainier National Park. We recommend making a full day of it and bringing along a packed lunch and snacks to enjoy at Panorama Point. The Skyline Loop Trail is definitely a must-do hike in Mount Rainier!
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