Visit Paradise Mt. Rainier: A Locals Guide to Get the Most out of a Day Trip

I have lived in the shadow of Mt. Rainier for nearly 20 years. I try to make a point of visiting at least once a year because it's such a beautiful National Park literally in my backyard. Many people make it a point to visit Mt. Rainier in the summer, but they aren't quite sure how to make the most of the park. I've got some tips on how you can visit the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier and get a real taste of the beautiful National Park.

Visit Paradise Mt. Rainier: A Locals Guide to Get the Most out of a Day Trip

Paradise or Sunrise on Mt. Rainier?

The Paradise area of Mt. Rainier is probably my favorite part of the park. It is a bit more crowded with tour buses and out of state visitors, but it's easy to get some distance from them as you start to explore some of the trails in the area. Sunrise is the highest elevation you can reach on the mountain by vehicle and totally different experience when you visit Mt. Rainier. If you have time to visit only one, I'd suggest taking the time to visit Paradise. However, if you have the opportunity to visit both, absolutely, do that! But I wouldn't recommend trying to fit them both in if you only have a day to explore. I'm of the mindset that it's better to go deeper in your exploration rather than shallow just to check a box off to say you did it.

Getting to Paradise Mt. Rainier

The Paradise Visitors Center and surrounding trailheads are about a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle. You'll take I-5 S to SR 512 (exit 127). Then head east on SR 512 to SR 7. Go south on SR 7 to SR 706 in Elbe. Head East on SR 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance. Once you pass through the Nisqually Entrance, it's about 18 miles up to Paradise Visitors Center. 
I always suggest heading straight to the visitors center, even though you will probably be tempted to stop and look around at other turn-offs and viewpoints, but parking can get difficult the later you arrive, so get there early {before 11} and plan on making a mental note of those other stops on the way back.

Visiting Mt. Rainier National Park

You will need to pay for an entrance fee into the park. It's $30/car or $15/person walk-in or bike. The fee is good for 7 days. You can also purchase an annual pass for $55 that will provide entrance into Olympic or Mt. Rainier National Park, or if you plan on visiting a lot of National Parks in a year, you can purchase the American the Beautiful Pass for $80. It provides entrance to any national park, forest service or federal site for one year. If you are a senior, the best deal you can get is to purchase a lifetime pass for $80. 

Where to Hike on Paradise

There are several trails departing from Paradise for all skill and ability levels. Keep in mind, you are on a mountain, everything is fairly steep as you head up. A 1-mile hike may not seem like a lot, but with a steep elevation gain, it can leave you winded.

Nisqually Vista Loop {easy}

The Nisqually Vista Loop is 1.1 miles near the Paradise Inn. You'll see beautiful wildflowers during the summer and be rewarded with a stunning view of the Nisqually glacier. There is no real need for hiking boots on this trail, though sturdy shoes are advised. This is a great trail for all skill levels.

Alta Vista Loop {moderate}

This mostly paved trail is 1.5 miles roundtrip with a 600-foot elevation gain. It can feel quite steep and you can get winded, but if you are in average shape, you shouldn't have any issues with hiking this trail. 
There are several ways to extend the hike {intentionally and unintentionally}, so make sure you are watching for signs along the trail. On this loop, you'll be rewarded with beautiful views of the mountain and you will see plenty of wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for marmots that will often be sunning themselves on rocks.
Veer left at the end of the loop to head towards Myrtle Falls. It's an easy way to end your hike with an amazing view.

Skyline Trail Loop {experienced}

The Skyline Trail Loop is the main route for hiking out of Paradise. It isn't for everyone though. It's a 5.5-mile roundtrip hike with 1500 feet of elevation gain. It can be quite steep and will take around 4-5 hours to complete. The hike follows the hillside, so it's mostly exposed to the sun, so bring water and sunscreen.
This hike does require a bit more planning, and I wouldn't recommend it for small children or older adults that aren't in shape. Check out the description of this trail here to get a better idea of how to prepare yourself for this hike. 

Where to Eat on Paradise

I'm a big fan of packing my lunch and snacks for the day, however, if you aren't prepared, head into Paradise Lodge. There is an espresso shop you can grab a light snack or lunch at or a dining room that would allow you to order a meal.

Picnic around Paradise

You will find plenty of picnic tables around the Visitors Center at Paradise, but for a quieter experience, head over to the Paradise Lodge. there are patio tables and chairs outside the lodge that are a bit more hidden from the crowds. 
You could also drive from the parking lot at Paradise, round the corner as you head out, and you will see a pull-off parking lot about a mile from the visitors center. There is a staircase trail that heads up towards a creek. If you are a bit more adventurous and don't mind hiking in, you can find a few lovely secluded spots to enjoy a meal at. Just make sure you pack all your trash out.

Reflection Lake

After a quick refueling for lunch, head down the mountain to Reflection Lake. You can easily find parking in one of the two lots by the Lake. Take a short walk down a dirt trail to the lakeside and enjoy the beautiful reflection of the mountain on the water. 

Have more time on Mt. Rainier?

Stop at some of the viewpoints and overlooking vistas. There are several very short hikes to waterfalls and overlooks. You can also spend some time at the visitors center and learn more about Mt. Rainier. 

Extra Tips for Visiting Mt. Rainier

  • dogs are not allowed in National Parks
  • the bathroom lines at the visitors center can get quite long. There are overflow restrooms in the ranger station as well as in the Paradise Lodge
  • bring a refillable water bottle. There are several water bottle refill stations available
  • weekends are most busy, but weekdays are too, so plan accordingly as you plan your visit
Enjoy your visit to Mt. Rainier. I know you will love the area as much as I do!

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