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Summary: Fire lookouts, backpacking, day hikes, lakes, 5 Favorite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park
It’s interesting that when I lived in Washington I didn’t visit Mount Rainier National Park very often. I met quite a few locals that have NEVER been. I would see Mount Rainier almost daily on my commute or from my apartment, so it always seemed right there. As you can guess, Mount Rainier National Park is quite popular and therefore quite busy, but absolutely worth seeing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see Washington’s most famous volcano? Here are my 5 favorite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
1 Panorama Point
Hiking, Snowshoe, Year Round, easy-moderate, mountain views
I have strangely only done this hike in the winter, but I know for a fact it is beautiful any time of year. Rent snowshoes at the Longmire General Store for $15 (I also recommend hiking poles – also available for rent). The great thing about this hike is that you don’t have to go far to see incredible sweeping mountain views. Snowshoeing is a lot of fun, but also really good exercise. Dress in layers for when you start sweating!
Stats: 4 miles, 1,263 ft elevation gain
Recommendation: Bring a sled for you or your kids right outside of the visitor center. I have also seen people split board up to the point and snowboard down. I prefer to glissade on my butt or a garbage bag haha.
Additional Note: on busier weekends, the snow is packed down enough that you can get away with just micro spikes on your boots instead of snowshoes. Check reports on AllTrails and ultimately ask a Ranger if you are unsure.
2 Mount Fremont Fire Lookout
Did you know there are almost 100 fire lookouts remaining in Washington?? This is one of my personal favorites. You get incredible views of Mount Rainer, and it is a stunning place to catch sunrise or sunset. I would absolutely go back to this spot over and over – definitely why its on my 5 favorite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
Stats: 5.6 miles, 1,145 ft
Recommendation: bring headlamps, warm layers, and catch sunset there! Bonus points if you bring stuff to make hot cocoa.
Additional Note: while you can stay overnight at some fire lookouts, this is not one of them due to it being on National Park land.
3 Wonderland Trail
Hiking, Backpacking, Difficult
The Wonderland Trail is a 93 mile trail that circles Mount Rainier. YEP. 93 miles. But hold up – you don’t have to do the whole thing. There are multiple entrance/exit points built into this trail. If you want to complete the whole trail, most people plan for 9-13 days. I did one night and got a taste of how wonderful and challenging it is.
Permits: Permits to camp in the backcountry on this trail are needed between May 15th and October 31st. Permits are obtained 2 different ways:
Option 1: Apply between February 15-29th. It is a lottery system, so you may get what you want or you may get an alternative itinerary that you may possibly customize. I truly believe it’s worth trying. I ended up getting an itinerary that I could cut down and shift around work to make it happen.
Option 2: Call the ranger station and see if there are any potential remaining permits. These need to be obtained in advance. See more HERE
My Trip: I started my backpacking trek at the same visitors center as the Mt Fremont Fire lookout. I had a permit to camp for a night at Granite Creek Campground (5 miles from the Sunrise Visitor Center). My coworker and I rolled into camp in the afternoon, dropped our packs and day hiked to Mystic Lake (another 4.5 miles) which was breathtaking, but buggy. It was an exhausting day. Ideally it would be spread into multiple days, but it was our only chance!
4 Tolmie Peak
Hiking, Moderate Difficulty
Another classic fire lookout for my 5 favorite hikes in Rainer National Park. This hike is closer to Seattle than some of the others, which makes it appealing. It is a great spot to hang out for lunch or catch a sunrise.
Stats: 6.4 miles, 1,522 ft elevation gain
Additional Note: Again, you are not able to camp in the fire lookout as it is park of National Park property.
5 Reflection Lakes
Hike, Wildflowers, Photography
One of the most photographed views of Mt Rainier happens at this location during every season. The parking lot for this area fills up very quickly. Get there early to park on Stevens Canyon road and hike the short distance down to a loop hike.
Stats: 2.75 mile loop, 850 ft elevation gain
Recommendation: Go in the summer to catch the wildflowers framing the lake or catch fall colors in the fall!
This is just a taste of what Mt Rainier National Park has to offer. I absolutely need to go back and do some more exploring. Let me know your favorite hikes here in the comments!
For more Washington National Park inspiration check out my other blog posts!
I haven’t come across the term fire-lookout before … is it what it sounds like – a place that rangers look out for fire? Are they usually turnings or just pieces of flat land?
Yes! They are usually placed on mountains or areas of high elevation so the rangers could spot fires below ! They don’t use them anymore so people can backpack/hike up and enjoy the views!
This is such a great little read! Every single hike looks so so beautiful and the tips are perfect! Reflection Lakes looks like an absolute dream!!! Unfortunately I haven’t seen much of America but I can’t wait to visit more and Mount Rainier is definitely on my itinerary now!!
Yay! Thanks for reading! I hope you get the chance to visit!
What stunning views! I’ve always wanted to visit Mt. Rainer myself – I’m just curious what a fire lookout is? I’m not an avid hiker so I’m not familiar with the concept. It sure does make for some beautiful shots though.
Fire Lookouts were used to locate fires!! Most of them are not active anymore, but they sit up in the mountains so that the rangers could have panorama views to spot the fires. Now they are typically available on a first come first serve basis where you can hike up to them and overnight camp in them. I highly recommend it if you get the chance 🙂
Such beautiful pictures! It’s an inspiring post, I have recently started hiking and Mt. Rainer National park just made it to the top of my list.. Thanks for sharing!
These photos are awesome. Which those views, it would be hard to choose!
I really want to go back here!
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