Before visiting Mount Rainier National Park on a long July weekend, I hadn’t done much research. I didn’t know when the best time to visit was nor did I have any amazing Mt. Rainier tips to take with me on the trip.
My personal Mount Rainier National Park travel guide was that I found the best views, trails, sights and scenery along the way. But my lack of research is also what led me to hike through two feet of snow in shorts and a pair of Nike running shoes. What an experience that was.
At least I was smart enough to bring a lightweight Columbia fleece that did a great job keeping me warm through three days of hiking, which was mostly concentrated on trails that were heavily packed down to muddy slush.
With all that being said, when I go back to Mount Rainier National Park — which I surely will sometime in my life — I’ll return to this extraordinarily beautiful park properly prepared, packed and well-rested.
If you want to show up to the park and hike through a few feet of snow in shorts and tennis shoes, go for it! You’re still gonna have a lot of fun! However, for all of you folks out there who like to be comfortable, you may want to take the following Mount Rainier tips and adhere to them!
1. Pack the Proper Attire
visiting Mt. Rainier in April seems to be quite popular, but no matter what time of year you visit, you’ll be able to see some kind of snow during your trip to Mount Rainier National Park. That’s a given. It can be pretty cool, too, because hiking to heights snow doesn’t melt in mid-July is an experience in itself.
The presence of snow means that you’ll probably be hiking through some as well. And if you plan on hiking any trails in Paradise (which I highly recommend you do), you’ll be glad to know that snow never melts on some of those trails.
I recommend bringing a pair of ankle-high waterproof hiking boots, long pants, a mid-weight jacket, warm socks and a beanie if you get cold easily. Many parts of the park aren’t cold enough to warrant gloves, but you may want to bring a pair if you plan to go north of Panorama Point to push the rugged boundaries of Mt. Rainier.
2. Bring Your Lunch (And a Beer)
With the few restaurants throughout the park, you can expect to pay an exorbitant amount of money on food and drinks — if you’re even able to stop at one of the very few restaurants in the main part of the park.
If you’ve read more than two articles on this website, you probably know by now that I try to save as much money on certain things so I can indulge in other activities that create meaningful memories, such as more time in a specific location. In addition to saving money, packing your food allows you to be more flexible with your time, schedule and the different trails you intend to hike.
Don’t forget to pack a beer (or a few) to enjoy once you summit a peak or simply stop for a spectacular vantage point! That’s probably the best Mt. Rainier tip on the list!
3. Read Lots of Articles from People Who Have Actually Visited
The one thing I wish I would’ve done was read more blog articles written by people who had actually been to Mount Rainier National Park during the time I was there. I would’ve learned so much more about the trails, flora, fauna and everything in between.
So as your Mount Rainier National Park travel guide, I’ll tell you that the beautiful and colorful wildflowers you may have seen don’t start blooming until late July and into mid-August. It’s a short season for flora lovers, so plan your trip wisely.
I also went into the park with extremely high ambitions as to how many trails we’d hit and how to maximize our time on each. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that some parts of the park are snowy and extremely dangerous to hike — even for experienced outdoors people.
I wanted to take a 10-mile hike that saw entrances and exits on several different trails. But even though Google Maps allowed me to plan the entire thing, it never told me how dangerous and unmarked each trail was. Thankfully, the nice park ranger was kind enough to tell me how stupid I’d be if I even tried my planned route.
It sounded simple enough.
I wanted to take the Skyline Trail entrance from the Paradise Visitor Center to Glacier Vista, then merge back onto Skyline before venturing to Panorama Point (we did that trek and it was worth every step!!). From there is where it got sketchy. We’d go to Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument, continue on Skyline to Myrtle Falls, turn back and trek (what I now know to be an extremely dangerous and unmarked) Mazama Ridge.
After making it across unscathed, we’d make a right onto Wonderland Trail and take that to Reflection Lake, where we’d continue across Stevens Canyon Road to Narada Falls trail. Then we’d continue on Lower Lakes Trail through the Paradise Valley and wind up back at the Paradise Visitor Center.
Got all that?
OK, now please forget it because the park ranger asked who told me to take that route. When I told her I planned it out through Google Maps, she simply responded, “you can do that if you want to die.” Ehhh, certainly not today.
What we wound up doing was hiking to Panorama Point and up the side of Mt. Rainier until we decided it was too far, which was when we passed a guy through a sheet of fog who was in full winter gear with a tent and cooking materials strapped to his backpack. At that point, I turned my Nikes back toward the Paradise Visitor Center and went back to the bottom.
4. Map Your Hiking Routes Based on Clearly Linked Trails (And Stick to Them)
After reading the last few paragraphs, you probably don’t need any further explanation about this tip. But I highly recommend you pick trails that clearly connect and stick to them. Many of these different trails may look like they’re connected on a map, but they don’t match up perfectly in real life.
For instance, the first day we hiked the Silver Falls Loop and connected with Grove of the Patriarchs Trail midway through. The trails look like they connect, but we had to walk on the side of the road and guess which way to turn to make it to the other side.
By no means at all am I saying don’t try to jump from trail to trail. But, if you do, do some research and be extremely careful.
5. Print a Map or Have One Saved to Your Phone
While this should be common knowledge for anyone diving deep into the depths of dark, wooded, or even well-lit trails, it’s always smart to have a map. There is very little cell service in the park and almost none on the trails. Printing out a map or snapping a photo of one on your phone is a very wise and safe thing to do.
Each trail usually has a map at the entrance that guides you through real-time updates. The maps online may not be the most updated version, so be sure to snap a photo on your phone just in case. If you get lost out there, it’s very tough to find your way back.
6. Get an Early Start
We wound up getting a decently early start one day and a semi-late start the next. Although the park was fairly busy, the crowds weren’t the issue. Cloud coverage is the main reason you want to get an early start.
We were lucky enough to get a perfectly clear morning and afternoon on one of the three days before the clouds began rolling in, but don’t plan your trip around clear skies all day. Clouds typically begin rolling into the park and covering the beautiful peaks of Mt. Rainier around 11 a.m. to noon each day. They can last all day long, so it’s better to get a jumpstart!
7. Slow Down and Take It All In
This is just common knowledge that I always try to abide by, but it means even more in Mount Rainier National Park, where waterfalls run with glacier water and grace the snowy cliffs, mountains can be seen from an entire state away, and year-around snow stays on the most beautiful peaks in the park.
It’s truly a paradise in which you’ll certainly want to return to. A mere minutes after exiting the park to a serene sunrise, I instantly wanted to go back. Go back to see the sight for a few more hours, a few more days, even a few more months. I just simply didn’t want to leave.
Adhering to These Mt. Rainier Tips
These are the best tips for visiting Mount Rainier that I could think of after my amazing trip to what remains one of my favorite National Parks in the U.S. From going at the right time to having fun on your trip, I hope these tips help you have an awesome time!