In 2011, I was fortunate enough to visit Mount Rainier twice, about a month apart. The first visit was in late August, the second was in late September. On my first visit, I only spent two days in the park, with one night spent in Packwood, Washington (on the park’s southeastern side). During this trip, I hit a lot of the quick and easy destinations in the park — short trails, waterfalls that are right beside the road, etc. On the second trip, I spent a week in Packwood, and devoted entire days to longer hikes.
I combined both visits into the Guide to Mount Rainier National Park, and if you’re planning any kind of visit, I’d highly suggest you check it out. If, however, your visit will be quick, and you just want to see a few of the park’s easy-to-access highlights, here are my top 5 suggestions.
5: Tipsoo Lake/Chinook Pass
Unfortunately, I missed this viewpoint on my first pass through the area, but I’m glad I discovered it on the second visit. Washington Route 410 heads over Chinook Pass on the way to Yakima. Just before the road reaches its peak, you can look back for a splendid view of Mount Rainier. You can stop along the side of the road and wait for the mountain to light up as the sun rises, then take a walk around Tipsoo Lake, which sits just below the pass. There’s also a 3-mile loop hike that begins and ends here.
4: Sunrise: Sourdough Ridge
Just like Chinook Pass, Sunrise is a great place to visit in the morning hours. Before noon, Mount Rainier is beautifully lit, but you can also visit in the evening (as I did, when I took this picture before sunset). Later in the day, the big mountain will be too heavily backlit for good photos, but everything else that surrounds it will be beautiful. A quick loop hike takes you from the parking area at Sunrise to the top of Sourdough Ridge, where you can peer over to the other side at the valley and mountains to the north. Or, you can set out on a much longer hike, towards destinations like Frozen Lake, the Fremont Fire Tower, and Burroughs Mountains.
3: White River Campground (even if you’re not camping)
If you like to rough it, White River would be a great place to camp. I don’t, but thankfully, I drove out here anyhow. The White River Campground is below Sunrise (you can hike from one to the other, with a big elevation change). Park at the restrooms and walk down the trail to the river, and you’ll enjoy this great view of the mountain, as you look upstream. Visit in August, and you’ll see an impressive display of wildflowers growing amongst the rocks.
2: Christine and Narada Falls
I’m cheating a little, and mentioning two places at once. Christine Falls (pictured) and nearby Narada Falls are two of Mount Rainier’s many stunning waterfalls. Both are within easy walking distance of Paradise Road (in between the Nisqually entrance at Route 706 and the Paradise area). Christine Falls’ most photographed portion plunges 37 feet, and is perfectly framed by a stone bridge. For a longer hike, you can follow Van Trump Creek upstream to Comet Falls.
Drive a bit further towards Paradise, and stop at Narada Falls, where a bridal-veil-like cascade of water plunges 159 feet.
1: Paradise: Myrtle Falls
There are numerous trails to hike in the Paradise area, on Mount Rainier’s southern side. But if you are in a hurry, head directly to Myrtle Falls. Here, Edith Creek seems to pour directly out of Mount Rainier, then plunge down the mountainside. The hike is only 3/10 of a mile from the Paradise Visitor Center, and the cushy comforts of Paradise Inn. I’d strongly suggest hiking further, as much as time allows, either on the Golden Gate Trail or Alta Vista Trail, which are both nearby.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise: