How to Spend a Day at Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier is so close (about three hours outside Seattle) that you can see it from the city — perfect for a day trip. At 14,409 feet, it’s the highest mountain in both Washington and the Cascade Range. Hop in the car or book a bus tour, and prepare for some seriously breathtaking views. With glaciers, mountain meadows, and waterfalls, Mt. Rainier National Park features stunning scenery year-round that’s well worth the trip.

Reflection Lake, Washington, USA
Reflection Lake is the iconic Mt. Rainier view that you’ll see on all the postcards — and you just have to pull over on the side of the road to see it. (You do have to pay the national park fee, as it’s inside the park.) On a calm, sunny day, it really does look just like the postcard, and you can get that perfect shot with your point-and-shoot camera. During summer, the lake’s beauty is accented with a rainbow of colorful wildflowers, and you might even see an occasional trout leaping from the surface.
33914 Crystal Mountain Blvd, Enumclaw, WA 98022, USA
A restaurant on top of a mountain, reached by gondola, is pretty much the definition of a captive audience. So it’s a pleasant surprise that the Crystal Mountain Summit House actually offers good food, even though it could get away with mediocre to bad fare. The pork tenderloin medallions were tender and flavorful, and the chop salad featured fresh ingredients and a generous portion size. The lodge decor feels just right, and the large plate-glass windows on all sides mean most tables have a lovely mountaintop view.
Longmire, WA 98304, USA
Formerly Mt. Rainier National Park’s headquarters, Longmire has since been decommissioned, but remains a national historic district. Nowadays, it’s a small museum that tells the history of the park’s early days — which seems to include a lot of amateur taxidermy. Outside, a cross-section of a very old felled tree shows the science of ring-counting, along with significant historical dates to give a sense of perspective. A fun, and free, stop that’s worth a short detour during your visit.
Paradise, WA 98361, USA
From Paradise Meadow, there are several short and easy hikes, even if you didn’t bring your hiking boots. The one-mile hike to Myrtle Falls is a gentle, paved slope that’s even wheelchair-accessible with assistance. Your reward is a stunning view, especially if you climb down the precarious wooden stairs for an up-close photo.
33914 Crystal Mountain Blvd, Enumclaw, WA 98022, USA
If you’re going to take a scenic gondola ride, it might as well be up the side of a mountain, right? Crystal Mountain’s gondola costs a hefty $25 round trip, but it does come with some lovely views and a surprisingly smooth ride. About six people can fit into one, and leashed dogs are welcome in the gondolas. When you alight from your gondola, you’ll be on a high viewing point with plenty of deck chairs for lounging and admiring the 360-degree view. Hungry squirrels shamelessly beg for scraps, and ladybugs flit about in the air. The gondola is extremely popular in summer, so be prepared for a line and a wait for the ride back down.
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