Take a day trip to Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier is the highest volcanic mountain in Washington and the Cascade Mountain range. It stands at 14,411 feet and on sunny days is clearly visible from Seattle. Locals simply call it “The Mountain”.
Mt. Rainier has 26 major glaciers and is the heaviest glaciated mountain in the Lower 48 states. It is considered an active volcano with the most recent eruptive activity occurring in the 1800’s. Thousands of people attempt to climb Mt. Rainier each year, with the majority climbing the Camp Muir and Disappointment Cleaver route.
Mount Rainier National Park has numerous campgrounds and 2 visitors centers – Paradise and Sunrise. The best way to see the mountain is up close. You can take a scenic drive with beautiful vistas of the mountain, numerous waterfalls, colorful wildflowers, and old growth forest. For the more adventurous, you can hike around the park, go camping in the backcountry, or even embark on a climbing expedition to the summit of the mountain.
Here’s what you’ll see:
Mount Rainier is the most visible and spectacular landmark in Seattle.
If you are in Seattle for a few days and are interested in viewing natural wonders, then a visit to Mount Rainier is a must. While the mountain is picturesque from the city, it is even more stunning when you are up close. You need to plan a full day for your excursion to the mountain. You can get there easily if you have a car, otherwise Grey Line offers day-long bus tours that leave from downtown Seattle to Paradise lodge at Mount Rainier.
The best time of year to visit the mountain is in late Spring, Summer, or early Fall when the roads are cleared of snow. From downtown take I-5 south. Take exit 142A to highway 18 east. Then take highway 164 (Auburn Highway S) east towards Enumclaw. When you arrive in Enumclaw, take highway 410, which will take you into the park.
photo credit to Afagen
If you happen to be in Seattle during the winter, Mt Rainier still offers many stunning vistas. However, because most of the roads in the park are not plowed in the winter, access is spotty and your only option is to go straight to Paradise Lodge through Longmire on State Route 706 (National Park Highway). Be sure to call the Ranger station at Paradise (360-569-2211) ahead of time to check road status.
Make sure that you get an early start to beat the crowds and allow you to capture views of the mountain at different times during the day. As you enter the park, you will be driving through Old Growth forest with beautiful trees. Your first stop will be at the Visitors Center at Sunrise. This is the lesser known of the two visitors centers, but gives you a fantastic view of the north side of the mountain. This visitors center is closed in Winter and early spring until the snow has melted enough to more easily plow the roads. There are a number of hiking trails that begin at Sunrise, and the park rangers can make recommendations.
After you have had a chance to visit Sunrise, head back down the way you came and turn right on highway 410, then another right onto highway 123, which is a very windy road and has many turnouts and different views of the mountain. Take your time and pull off the road to take pictures of the mountain from the various angles.
Turn right onto Stevens Canyon Road. You can show the Ranger that you already paid the entry fee at Sunrise and you can proceed into the park. The very first thing you will see is a parking lot for the Grove of the Patriarchs. Stop there for a short one and a half mile round trip hike – it is well worth it. The Grove features numerous Douglas Firs, Western Hemlocks and Red Cedars that are over 1000 years old with trunks that are nearly 50 feet in circumference.
After your short hike, proceed up the highway into the park. You will eventually arrive at the Paradise Lodge and Visitors Center. We suggest that you visit the visitors center and take one of the quick hikes around Paradise. You can also stay overnight at the classic Paradise Inn, which has recently been remodeled.
After you have spent some time admiring the South side of the Mountain at Paradise, start heading west down the road out of the park. You will eventually meet up with Interstate 5 for the return trip to Seattle.