Things to Do in One Day at Mt. Rainier National Park

Mt Rainier Paradise

Can you visit Mt. Rainier in one day? Sure you can. Can you see all of Mt. Rainier in one day? Absolutively not. 

That doesn’t stop us from taking day trips to Mt. Rainier National Park. (We never were a family to shy away from a challenge.) It shouldn’t stop you, either.

Here are our favorite things to do at Mt. Rainier, and we do them all with kids — just one day at a time.

Visit Paradise at Mt. Rainier

Paradise is the classic must-see section of Mt. Rainier National Park, and while we normally prefer to go off the beaten path, in this case don’t bother. Just visit Paradise.

Paradise is so well-trod that the trails heading up the mountain from the parking lot have all been paved, which feels distressing to wilderness lovers such as ourselves. But never fear: the pavement ends soon enough, as you head up the stunning mountain. And if you have strollers, you’ll love it. 

Paradise is also home to a visitor center, where you can pick up your Junior Ranger materials and hiking maps, as well as the historic Paradise Inn. Even if you don’t want to spend the night,  the cafe and dining room in the Paradise Inn are popular spots to grab a bite, and the magnificent fireplace alone is worth taking a peek. 

mt rainier sunrise visitor center
The visitors center at Sunrise in Mt. Rainier National Park. I don’t go to Mt. Rainier for the architecture, but I won’t judge if you do.

Hike at Sunrise

Sunrise is the highest point on Mt. Rainier accessible to vehicles, and therefore has the shortest season. But if you happen to be at Mt. Rainier from July to September, go to Sunrise.

The lookout on the way up to Sunrise is fantastic, and the hikes here are breathtaking. You’ll have views of wildflower meadows, lakes, glaciers, the occasional mountain goat, and, on a clear day, Mt. Adams. The parking lot is smaller and the general vibe less overwhelming than Paradise.

Also, no paved trails. 

Mt. Rainier Tipsoo Lake
Mt. Rainier rising over Tipsoo Lake, just before sunset.

Find a Lake

Reflection Lakes lead to the most iconic photos of Mt. Rainier, but there are many other lakes at Mt. Rainier worth visiting. Typically, the goal is the photo of the mountain reflected in the lake at sunset, but we are all kidding ourselves if we think I accomplished that with my children. You can drive to Reflection Lakes (but it can be tough to find a parking spot), or hike to them. Or hike around them.  

Having foregone Reflection Lakes, I stumbled upon Tipsoo Lake, and I wish that for you, too. Tipsoo Lake has stunning views of Mt. Rainier and is nestled among wildflowers. It is an easy stop for tired kids, and I would assume for a picnic (although there are no benches along the lake). And if you happen upon it at sunset, your jaw will drop in awe and you will yell for your husband to stop the car so you can capture the majesty of it and you will jump out while the car is still moving and hopefully you don’t sprain your ankle.

Best of luck. 

Mt. Rainier Trails
Studying wildflowers in July at Mt. Rainier National Park (or possibly sitting down after three miles and refusing to go any farther).

Hunt for Wildflowers

Some brilliant mind at the National Park Service printed up a brochure of the wildflowers found at Mt. Rainier National Park, and I want to kiss them. 

Unlike animals, which are pretty hit or miss, during wildflower season, kids can be guaranteed to spot a fair number of these blooms, and identifying them will keep them occupied on the trail.

Wildflower season varies from year to year, so check before you go if it’s important to you to capture a classic photo of Mt. Rainier rising above a rainbow field of flowers.

Emmons Glacier
Emmons Glacier is visible beyond flower-filled subalpine meadows on this portion of Mt. Rainier’s Wonderland Trail, around Sunrise.

Drive from Paradise to Sunrise — or Don’t 

I see this mentioned as an option for Mt. Rainier one day itineraries, but I don’t recommend doing this with kids. If you are more of a road trip, see-from-the-windows person, this works fine in a day. Stop and take a few photos. Call it good.

With kids, this is waaaay too much driving. Paradise and Sunrise are different, sure, but they both offer good hikes, wildflowers, wildlife, and great views of the mountain, so I say pick one and go from there. 

Look for Wildlife

We’ve seen bears. We’ve seen mountain goats. And the chipmunks are positively aggressive/friendly (it depends on your perspective). Bring your binoculars, because even a short hike at Mt. Rainier National Park will likely reward you with close encounters of the furry kind.

For best results, get as far away from other humans as you can.

Stop at Longmire

The great advantage to the Longmire entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park is that it is guaranteed to be open year round, which is more than you can say for the rest of the park, which is subject to snow closures. 

The other great advantage is the Longmire museum and the historic buildings in the area, if you are into that sort of thing.

Plus, you’re passing Longmire on your way up to Paradise from the Nisqually entrance, so you may as well stop.

Longmire has several short, flat hikes that are perfect for children. Don’t miss the Trail of the Shadows loop — less than a mile of flat terrain, with bubbling mineral hot springs a long the way. You can make this “hike” in any season.

Mt. Rainier Wildflowers
Wildflowers along the trail to Frozen Lake in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Ride the Gondola at Crystal Mountain

For a good time at Mt. Rainier in the summer, wait for a clear day and head for the gondola at Crystal Mountain. 

It’s not cheap and it’s not wilderness, but it IS a great view of the mountain and easier than dragging kids along a trail. 

Crystal Mountain is located outside the White River entrance to the park, so it’s an easy stop on your way to Sunrise if you are coming from the north.

Hug a Tree at the Grove of the Patriarchs

This 1.1-mile flat trail is perfect kid hiking material. Plus, this is the old-growth forest you came to see when you planned a visit to a national park in the Pacific Northwest. Western red cedar, Western hemlock, and Douglas fir tower over you and smell better than you grandfather’s cologne. 

The Grove of the Patriarchs trail is near the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park, in the southeast corner. It is possible to tack this on to a day spent at Sunrise or Paradise, depending on how long you spend hiking at either of those spots.

Before you plan your trip, be sure to check out things to know before going to Mt. Rainier National Park.