Only got one day to explore Mount Rainier National Park? Hey, that was me last month when I went to Rainier with my husband! We only had one day in Mount Rainier but I left feeling like I did it justice for the short time we had.
If you are also short on time, or maybe or planning a day trip from Seattle, this travel guide is for you. I’m sharing all the top hiking trails, waterfalls, photo spots and other things to do in Mount Rainier in one day, along with other handy tips (like where to eat and what to bring with you.) Let’s go!
Can You Really See Mount Rainier In A Day?
YES! You can see tons of highlights in one day. Granted, there are countless stunning trails that alone take a day or more to hike, so if you want to tackle one of those trails, you’ll need a 2 day Mount Rainier itinerary instead. But you’ll be able to squeeze in tons of amazing sights in the park in just one day. I know because I did it in one day!
See, my husband, Robin, and I have been itching to do a road trip around the Olympic Penisula for years. After two derailed years in a row (first a wildfire and then, well, 2020 happened), we finally got to explore the Olympic National Park. And because we love road trips, we decided to tack on a quick visit to Mount Rainier, too. They’re only 4 hours away from each other.
We booked a last-minute cabin outside the park – literally, right outside, our cabin was about 10 feet from the entrance – and arrived from Forks in the late afternoon. The next morning we got up early to spend the whole day in the park.
Alternatively, you may choose to skip the hotel and do a day trip to Mount Rainier from Seattle, or somewhere else nearby. The drive will take you about 2 hours from Seattle without crazy traffic, and I recommend you leave your house by 6am to stay on track. No matter if you are staying in a cabin nearby or day tripping in, the key is to start your Mount Rainier One Day Itinerary early to avoid the crowds.
Mount Rainier Quirks To Know
I’ve been to national parks all over the United States and like every park, each spot presents its own unique set of challenges to work around. Here’s what you need to know about Mt. Rainier
- The mountain won’t always be out: t’s not guaranteed, actually, it’s probably more likely to see a wall of cfog than the mountain. The weather will change fast, too, so if the mountain is out and you want an epic photo, you gotta take it fast.
- Limited Services In The Park: There’s one restaurant, no gas stations and limited bathrooms. Prepare with a full tank, packed lunch, snacks and water.
- Visitors Centers May Not Be Open: Sunrise visitor center is closed, Make sure to grab a map from the park entrance staff and ask them any questions.
- Download maps offline: We get cell service at the top of the mountain, but no bars on the lower levels.
Winter snow chains may be needed: always check weather and chain requirements prior to heading into the park!
- Weekend Are More Crowded: As with most national parks, weekends attract more crowds so mentally prepare or head on a weekday.
- Late Summer is high season: so basically prepare for parking at mount rainier to be more difficult, but the weather will be *chef kiss* and all the restaurants outside the park will beopen. Expect limited dining options in the fall-early spring.
There Are 4 Park Entrances – I Recommend The Ashford / Nisqually Entrance
Since Mount Rainier is a mountain, and the park is around the mountain, there are a few different park entrances. I recommend you take the Ashford entrance aka the Nisqually entrance, as this one is the nearest to most of the spots you’ll visit in a day trip and thus the best entrance to Mt Rainier from Seattle.
It’s also the one that’s open year-round. The Stevens Canyon entrance and White River are seasonal in the summer, and the Carbon River entrance is currently closed indefinitely due to flooding in the whole Carbon river area. Ashford also has tons of cute cabins and hotels (my favorites are listed below if you want recommendations!)
What To Do In Mt. Rainier In One Day: My Favorite Hikes, Waterfalls & Photo Spots
Ok, now only exactly what to do and in this exact order for the best day trip to Mount Rainier National Park!!
1. 8am Breakfast at Copper Creek Inn + Lunch To Go
A few miles outside the park entrance in Ashford is Copper Creek Inn & Restuarant. They open at 8am and are THE place to fill up on a huge breakfast before hitting the park. It’s a classic breakfast food menu with large portions. I adored my salmon omelet and my husband scarfed down his pancakes were which as big as his head.
2. Myrtle Falls Hike
Distance: .8 miles, easy
Location/Trail: Myrtle Falls Viewpoint via Skyline Trail
Myrtle Falls is a large, beautiful waterfall that is framed with Mount Rainier behind it just perfectly. Well, on a clear day that is (you can see photos above, the morning was so foggy we couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead. By afternoon it was clear!)
Most people think the best way to See Mt. Rainier is to start from bottom to top in order, so to avoid the traffic and crowds, I recommend you do top to bottom. And, Myrtle Falls Viewpoint via Skyline Trail is at the top! Drive right up to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center located at Paradise Inn, there’s a large parking lot here.
Then, find the Skyline Trail trailhead behind the buildings and hike the .8 route to the falls. In the spring and summer, this trail usually is lined with wildflowers and green grass. We went in late October and it was covered in snow, so it’s smart to bring hiking poles and shoe spikes just in case you also encounter snow.
This is an EPIC Mount Rainier photo spot if the mountain is out. That’s why it’s best to go first thing in the morning (or even for sunrise if you are a real go-getter!) because you can enjoy the waterfall and mountain in peace without crowds.
3. Further Along Skyline Trail to Panorama Point
Distance: 6.2 miles round trip
Trail: Skyline Trail to Panorama Point
If you are up for it, and don’t mind skipping other parts of the itinerary, you can continue hiking along the Skyline Trail Mt Rainier to Panorama Point. It’s 6.2 miles in total and starts easy but gets hard at the end. Most people stop at Myrtle Falls and tackle other shorter and easier trails (that’s what we did).
But it’s called Skyline Trail view a reason – you’ll be treated to stunning views of the mountains and Panorama Point is especially epic. BUT you still get those epic views from the trailhead and hike up to Mrytle Falls, so for the purpose of this one day in Mount Rainier, it’s ok to let this long hike slide in exchange for other spots.
4. Nisqually Vista Trail
Distance: 1.1 miles
Trail: Nisqually Vista Trail (trailhead at Paradise Inn)
This short loop is right next to the Mrytle Falls / Skyline Trailhead so head here after viewing the waterfall! No need to move the car. This trail is paved and pretty easy, and extra beautiful in the springtime when all the wildflowers come out in bloom. In the late fall and winter you’ll need shoe spikes as a part of the trail is a bit steep and you’ll probably slide around.
After you finish your second hike, take some time in the parking lot area to snap photos of the views. I mean hey – what to do at Mt Rainier?! Look at mountains! And the peaks are breathtaking from up here.
5. Inspiration Point
Location: Stevens Canyon Road
After your hike and photos, hop back into your car and head down the mountain, turning left onto Stevens Canyons Road. This is closed in the winter, by the way, and the next few stops on the itinerary are on this road, so if you are visiting in the winter skip to Narada Falls.
Assuming the road is open, you’ll quickly come upon Inspiration Point. This is a small parking lot and viewpoint with epic views that make for great photos. We pulled over on a foggy morning and I felt like Edward Cullen was going to jump out from a tree (so moody and perfect PNW vibes!)
6. Reflection Lakes (Bring Your Lunch!)
Location: Stevens Canyon Road
After you snap photos at Inspiration Point, keep driving about 15 minutes and you’ll hit Reflection Lake!! On a clear day, you can get a stunning reflection of Mount Rainier in the water here which makes for beautiful photos.
It was snowing during the hour we pulled up, so alas, no reflection. But is was still a great spot to pull out our packed lunch from the restaurants and have a bite with a view, even if it’s a foggy one.
7. Bench Lake Trail
Distance: 2.2 miles roundtrip
Location: Steven Canyons Road
After lunch, keep driving down the road towards the Bench Lake Trailhead, there’s a small lot to park in. This hike isn’t far, but does have some elevation to climb. But it’s totally worth it since this like takes you along not one, but two lakes! First to Bench Lake, then to Snow Lake. It’s kind of a local secret, as it doesn’t attract as many visitors as other parts of the park.
You can totally choose to hike just to Bench Lake if you are running behind schedule, that’s the fun part about this hike. But Snow Lake is a stunning color that is gorgeous to see in person. It should take under 2 hours if you visit both lakes.
8. Patriarchs Grove (Optional)
Distance: 1.5 miles
Location: Patriarchs Grove at Eastside Trail
Ready to witness 1000-year-old trees? Grove of Patriarchs is a mix of ancient Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars. The grove is on the East side of the mountain and about 30 minutes from Bench Lake without traffic, so it’s an optional stop. Only head here if you are running ahead of schedule.
But if you make it, get ready for some serious tree magic, and a fun suspension bridge for photos! Patriarchs Trail is paved as a boardwalk so be careful if it’s wet. This grove is also close to Silver Falls if you wanted to squeeze in another waterfall, but there are a few left to see on your way back down the mountain so it’s not your only chance!
November 2021 Update: The suspension bridge over the Ohanapecosh River which connects visitors to the grove was washed out in a flood. The grove is currently closed up expected to reopen in 2022, but check the park website first.
9. Narada Falls
Distance: .2 miles to falls viewpoint
One of my favorite things to do at Mt Rainier National Park is Narada Falls on a clear afternoon day since you’ll probably get bits of rainbow action in the waterfall!! Alltrails labels this as a 2.2 mile hike, but the walk down to the waterfall viewpoint can’t be longer than .2 miles (I’m not exactly sure, but around there somewhere.)
As noted before, visitors tend to visit this in the morning on their way up the mountain so the goal is hitting it when it’s less busy in the afternoon / early evening on your way down. Heads up, it can get a tad muddy since the water is so strong so wear boots you can get wet!
10. Carter Falls & Log Bridge
Distance: 2.6 miles round trip (under a mile to Rainier viewpoint)
Location: Longmire to Paradise Road via Wonderland Trail.
Robin and I randomly pulled over there since I saw a car and loved this little hidden gem of a spot. Carter Falls is a small waterfall that’s super hidden and guaranteed you’ll have all to yourself. It’s also a little hard to find – currently the trail marked with stones. We didn’t have Alltrails downloaded back then so we turned around halfway but if you want to hike this, just download the maps and you’ll be able to find it.
BUT even if you don’t want to hike to the fall, I urge you to stop here and walk to the log bridge in the riverbed (a 10 minute walk). This is a super cool and unique view of Mount Rainier and the landscape and makes for fun photos, or just a private spot to have an afternoon snack.
11. Christine Falls
Distance: Right by parking lot
Last stop of the day inside the park is an easy one at Christine Falls, where the view point is just a few steps down from the parking area. Christine Falls are 69 feet tall and the pools below are an extra sort of beautiful. They are framed by Christine Falls Bridge and look extra stunning. in the warm glow of evening light.
We had the whole area to ourselves since we visited around 5pm. Earlier that day is was swarming with people on the bridge. You can find the trailhead to Comet Falls just past the bridge. This trail takes you behind Christine Falls and up 3.3 miles to Comet Falls, another waterfall.
From here, the drive out of the park is a fast one (under 20 minutes) but your adventure doesn’t stop there!!
12. Cannibal Hot Tub
Location: Paradise Village Hotel in Ashford
Price: $100 per hour (private!)
How cool is this woodfire soaking tub?! Yes, it really is called the Cannibal Hot Tub, but no creep vibes here. After a day hiking around Mount Rainier, I loved coming here to soak my sore muscles. This tub isn’t exactly a hot spring, but has all the vibes of a natural hot spring and is totally private since you reserve a time slot to visit.
You need to book online in advance, though I called day-of and got a booking. This is especially a fun thing to do in Mount Rainier in the winter when the ground would be covered in snow but the water is hot. It’s truly one of the most unique things to do near Mt Rainier National Park.
Where To Eat In / Around Mount Rainier
You’ll need snacks and a packed lunch for one day in Mount Rainier national park so you don’t leave the park during the day and drive back in, wasting time.
For dinner, you have a few options. If you are driving right back to Portland, Seattle or your home, then do that. Otherwise, I recommend you cook in your cabin rental or head into Ashford to a restaurant. There is limited dining there, to begin with, and those options are narrowed down even more in the fall-spring during the offseason.
The best places to eat in Ashford are:
- Rainier BaseCamp Bar & Grill: a fun outdoor beer garden and pizza spot, open seasonally
- Paradise Village Restaurant: Polish cuisine! Their pasta is amazingly creamy. Take home some locally made honey, too.
Mt Rainier National Park Map
Use my Mount Rainier Map to help navigate and plan your trip! Download this offline to use inside the park.
Altnerative Mt Rainier One Day Trip
Alternative to going in and out the same entrance, you could instead drive around the mountain through the park, starting on the west and popping out on the east. You can only do this in the summertime when all roads are open.
How long does it take to drive through Mt Rainier National Park? Well that depends on the weather traffic and how many stops you make, but you can get it done in a day if you start early. For fun, I looked up the Wonderland Trail, which is a hiking trail that wraps around the entire mountain. That takes 10-14 days to hike. Not sure I’ll ever be in shape enough for that, so driving is for me right now.
If you choose to start the at West/Nisqually Entrance and end at the East Entrance, you have the ability to modify the above itinerary to include some of these additional waterfalls, trails, and other things to do at Mount Rainier.
- Mt. Rainier Gondola: Located at Crystal Mountain Resort, this gondola takes you up their ski hill. At the top you’ll get rewarded with a stunning view of Mount Rainier, no hiking required!
- Tipsoo Lake Hike: An easy .8 mile hike to Tipsoo Lake, which is best at springtime with wildflowers.
- Naches Peak Loop (springtime): 3.3 miles round trip, another hike that is extra stunning in the spring.
- Mowich Lake/Tolmie Peak Trail: Saphire blue waters!! 5.6 miles for full trail, but you can stop at the lake.
The 3 Best Mount Rainier Hotels
As you can imagine, there are countless cabins and hotels around Mount Rainier. If you are choosing to spend the night in the areas we did (vs driving from your home), these are the spots I recommend you book.
- Gateway Inn: We booked these cabins. They’re super affordable and literally right next to the park entrance.
- Paradise Village Hotel: This is the hotel with the Cannibal Hot Tub! Centrally located near Ashford proper and has modern rooms.
- Stormking Cabins & Spa: Upscale yurts with private hot tubs. I want to stay here next time we visit!
Mount Rainier National Park One Day Itinerary To Screenshot
Screenshot my Mt. Rainier 1 day itinerary to have on the go!
- Breakfast at Copper Restuarant outside the park (or breakfast at home)
- Park at Skyline Trail parking lot and hike to Myrtle Falls
- Nisqually Trail loop
- Inspiration Point for photos
- Reflection Lake + Lunch
- Bench Lake Hike
- Grove of Patriarchs (optional)
- Narada Falls
- Carter Falls stroll
- Christine Falls
- Cannibal Hot Tub soak
- Dinner in Ashford or at home.
Is is my perfect Mount Rainier day! I hope this helps you visit Mount Rainier and soak up all the mountain goodness, even if you don’t have a full weekend. You’ll love it!
If you have anything to add to my Mt. Rainier national park itinerary or more mt rainier tips to share, drop a comment below so everyone can see! If you have questions, comment or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll try to help out.
Next time I visit, I want to set aside a whole day to hike the Fremont Lookout Trail to Sourdough Ridge Trail. This ends at a fire lookout tower with sweeping views so it’s epic at sunset. As you can imagine, it has high elevation gains and is only open in the summer months. Worth it for the wildflower meadows and views but it will absolutely take all day for me.
Until next time… stay adventurous friends!