Free Things To Do in Mount Rainier National Park
- #1View all PhotosfreeParadise#1 in Mount Rainier National ParkHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Paradise, which is located at an elevation of 5,400 feet, is a great place to start your park visit and where you'll find the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, the main visitor center for the park. It offers general information, exhibits, a park film, guided ranger programs, a gift store and a cafeteria. In the summer, this area is ideal for wildflower viewing, and in winter, this is the main area for activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing. The historic Paradise Inn, which is usually open from mid-May to early October, is also located in this area, as is the Guide House, where climbers can obtain permits and hiking and backcountry camping information.
Visitors call the area "breathtaking" and "gorgeous," especially in peak wildflower season (July to August). Paradise also gets high marks for its visitor center and ranger programs. The only downside is that since it is so popular, parking can be hard to come by and you may experience long waits, according to some previous visitors.
- #2View all PhotosfreeSunrise#2 in Mount Rainier National ParkHiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
From its elevation at 6,400 feet, Sunrise offers breathtaking, 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys. From this perch, travelers will have views of Mount Rainier and other volcanoes in the Cascade Range, such as Mount Adams. Sunrise is also the highest spot in the park that can be reached by vehicles. The spectacular views, coupled with a varied trail system, make Sunrise the second-most visited location in the park.
Two short hikes are quite popular here, including the Sunrise Nature Trail and Sunrise Rim Trail. The 1 ½-mile Sunrise Nature Trail starts from the Sunrise picnic area and is a self-guided loop tour that weaves through meadows with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades along the way. The 1-mile-long Sunrise Rim Trail leads to two overlooks of Emmons Glacier.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Mount Rainier National ParkHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This 1-mile loop trail, which is located west of the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the Ohanapecosh River, takes you to an island where 1,000-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees tower over you. Visitors call this a "beautiful loop trail" and say the old growth trees are "amazing." Travelers also said they loved the swinging suspension bridge. Self-guiding signs are posted along the trail.
According to the park service, the Ohanapecosh area, named for a Taidnapam (Upper Cowlitz) Indian habitation site along the river, is thought to mean "standing at the edge," which seems appropriate. The park service also says that the east side of the park is somewhat drier and sunnier than the west side, making it a good destination when Paradise and Longmire are wet and foggy. Ohanapecosh is not open in the winter.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Mount Rainier National ParkHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This 3-mile round-trip trail, which begins from the Ohanapecosh Campground, takes visitors to gorgeous Silver Falls and is relatively flat and easy to hike, making it popular with families. The trail follows the river to the falls, crosses a bridge and then loops back to the campground. Visitors call the view of the falls "spectacular" and "beautiful."
There are two other shorter trails visitors can take to get to the falls. If you park at the pullout on the west side of Route 123 (a little less than 2 miles north of the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center), a half-mile walk leads to the falls. There is also a 1-mile trail from Stevens Canyon Road, which begins west of the Stevens Canyon Entrance, across from the Grove of the Patriarchs trailhead.
- #5View all PhotosfreeSkyline Trail#5 in Mount Rainier National ParkHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The start of the 5 ½-mile Skyline Trail sits near the entrance to the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise and is marked by stone steps inscribed with a quote by John Muir that reads: "… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings." If you head clockwise, the trail climbs 2 miles to Panorama Point, which rewards hikers with breathtaking views.
After this stop, the park service advises hikers use the High Skyline Trail to avoid a dangerous icy slope that never melts, which connects back to the Skyline above the junction with Golden Gate trail (an alternative for a shorter hike). Views along the way include displays of subalpine wildflowers, Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier, and, on a clear day, peaks as far south as Oregon's Mount Hood.
- #6View all PhotosfreeLongmire#6 in Mount Rainier National ParkMuseums, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
When the park was established in 1899, James Longmire's homestead and mineral springs resort became the park's headquarters. Longmire settled in the area in the mid-1800s, discovered the springs and opened a rustic resort. Today, the original 1916 headquarters shelters a year-round museum with information and exhibits that tell the story of the early days of the park. In fact, all of Longmire is now designated as a national historic district. You'll also find the Longmire Wilderness Information Center as well as the National Park Inn here. There are several hiking trails within Longmire, including the Trail of the Shadows, a nearly 1-mile loop trail that begins near the museum, takes you on an easy walk past the Longmire hot springs, through the surrounding forest and a replica of one of the park's earliest homesteads.
Visitors call Longmire a "classic old-time museum" and a "hidden gem," with helpful park rangers.
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