Skyline Trail is rated the second-best hiking trail in all of Mount Rainier National Park — and for tremendous reasons. It’s not every day that you get to hike to the midway point of the tallest active volcano in the contiguous United States and the tallest point in the Cascade Mountain Range.
Its year-round snow-covered peaks and paths help make the Skyline hiking trail loop a one-of-a-kind experience. But it’s the views that truly set this trail apart from all others in the park.
Skyline Trail starts easily by taking you up a paved path, where those non-hikers to get a close-up glimpse of the behemoth 14,410-foot active volcano, before it abruptly turns into a well-worn trail of dirt, grass and snow — where the real hiking begins.
Some of the coolest parts of Mount Rainier’s Skyline Trail are that it’s located in the snowiest place on earth (the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park receives over 640 inches of snowfall each year, which is more than any other place on earth), the views at Panorama Point extend into neighboring Oregon and naturally flowing waterfalls seemingly spew from the sides of Rainier.
But the coolest thing? The peak of Skyline Trail is the highest peak of an established hiking trail on Mount Rainier without using an ice ax for the rest of the journey.
Hike Details: Skyline Trail
- Distance: 5.9-mile loop
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 1,788 feet
- Time Needed: 4 to 5 hours
- Location: Google Maps
Hiking the Epic Skyline Trail Loop in Mount Rainier National Park
Since Skyline Trail is a loop hiking trail, you can choose to go in two different ways. The more common route is going clockwise from the trailhead to Panorama Point, Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument and Myrtle Falls, you can go counterclockwise with the first viewing point at Myrtle Falls. I decided to go clockwise, but choosing to do it the opposite way is perfectly fine, too!
The Paved Path
The trailhead to Skyline is located directly outside the Paradise Visitor Center, so you’ll see a ton of people starting the trail that don’t even come close to finishing it. Kudos to Mount Rainier National Park for paving the initial 0.5 miles of trail. It gives those non-hikers and people who need accessibility a chance to get a taste of the trail and get a closer view of the majestic mountain.
This first section will be packed, but, since the paved section is pretty steep, so many people call it quits before getting to the end of the pavement. If you like desolate hiking trails or you’re a trekker, this isn’t your trail. But the best trails in national parks are always crowded.
Try hiking early in the morning to beat the crowds. But I highly suggest hiking Skyline Trail because it is the #2-ranked trail in Mount Rainier National Park and the views I’m going to describe and show you are spectacular!
Hiking the Snow (or Flowers)
After your hiking boots leave the pavement, you’ll hit the snow, which stays on this part of the trail until mid to late July. If you’re going in the small window of late July to August, you’ll be able to see some pretty spectacularly colored flowers. I went during early July, so the flowers were just beginning to pop through the snow off the trail.
During this part of the hike, you’ll pass through a sea of pine trees with a backdrop of the snow-capped Cascade Mountain Range peering over the pines. No matter what time of year you visit, there will always be some snow on the ground and a lot of it covering the mountains.
Experiencing Panorama Point
Panorama Point is about the midway point of Skyline Trail, so it’s the perfect place to stop for lunch or a snack since you’ve already hiked a cool 2.8 miles through dirt, stone and grassy hiking trails filled with flowing springs, wildlife and spectacular views.
Seeing Panorama Point is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park since the peak is the ultimate panorama shot of Mount Rainier, which stands tall behind you, and the mighty Cascade Mountain Range in the foreground.
Panorama Point in Mount Rainier National Park showcases a painter’s array of colors, dark snow-capped peaks touching the blue sky and white clouds, tan and brown dirt and rocks covering the ground with pine trees and grass poking out and displaying hundreds of shades of green.
Highest Point on Mount Rainier Without Ice Ax
One of the coolest things I mentioned earlier is that Skyline Trail presents the highest point you can climb or hike to Mount Rainier’s peak without using an ice ax.
After stopping at Panorama Point to enjoy the view, you’ll continue up the mountain and come to a fork in the trail, straight leading to the Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument and left leading to McClure Rock on the Pebble Creek Trail.
If you veer left, you can hike about 0.2 miles to the end of Pebble Creek Trail to get to the highest point of an established trail on Mount Rainier. Do it! It’s amazing!
Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument
The Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument isn’t much to see. It’s simply a manmade monument in the form of a couch that’s made from stones gathered in the area. It was built to honor P. B. Van Trump, who was an American mountaineer who made the first ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870.
Mount Rainier National Park is home to hundreds of waterfalls, including Myrtle Falls, a 72-foot fall that features snow-covered Mount Rainier in the background and a steep gorge in the foreground. If you choose to hike the Skyline Trail Loop in the opposite direction, you’ll only need to hike 0.3 miles before stumbling upon Myrtle Falls.
Skyline Trail Mt. Rainier Weather
The weather in Mount Rainier National Park is known to be pretty harsh nowhere rings truer than on the Skyline Trail and in the Paradise area of the park. Roads leading to the area are typically closed from Winter to early Spring. The best time to visit is from June to September, with the flower blooms occurring in late July to early August.