On a clear day, views of Mount Rainier dominate much of western Washington. You see it when you fly into Seattle. You might see it from your hotel room. However, until you stand some place where you need to tilt your head back to see the top…you have not SEEN Mount Rainier. It makes a great Add-A-Day trip if you are in Seattle.
You can drive from downtown Seattle to Mount Rainier in about 2 ½ hours. Even if Paradise was not the prize at the end of the road, the drive itself is spectacular and winds through some of the best scenery western Washington has to offer. Between the towns of Eatonville and Paradise (Paradise lies on the southern slope of Mt Rainier) the naturephile will be in heaven. They named it Paradise for a reason.
As you approach Paradise (doesn’t that just sound magical) you will drive through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains where every turn in the road shows you another dramatic view of the mountains, pine and cedar forest, or beautiful mountain meadows. Paradise sits at 5420 feet and receives 53+ feet of snow every year. Despite that, the road is kept open year round. From Paradise you can simply soak in the grandeur that is Mt. Rainier or you can head out on the trails to explore the surrounding area.
The time of year will dictate how you approach this trip, but should never stop you from going. During the late summer, wild flowers go crazy on the mountain and the weather is often beautiful. During the winter the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, but don’t let this stop you. Even when you can’t see the top, you can feel the presence of the mountain in your gut.
Check the weather before you go. As with most large mountains, Mount Rainier creates its own weather and sun in Seattle means nothing on the mountain. While summer days can be warm, don’t count on it. At over a mile above sea level, Paradise can go from warm and dry to cold and nasty in a heartbeat. Even in the cold and nasty…it is still Paradise.
Don’t be afraid to visit Mount Rainier during the winter. The road is open and if you are unaccustomed to seeing snow piled 15 feet high, that alone makes it worth the trip. The weather is less likely to give you great views of the mountain during the winter so it is up to you to decide.
Optional Side Trip (Northwest Trek Wildlife Park)
You can easily make an entire day of the visit to Mount Rainier, but if the weather is nice and you really want to fill up the day you might consider a stop at Northwest Trek. The park is in Eatonville and on your route between Seattle and Paradise. Plan 2-3 hours to see the assortment of wildlife the park offers. A narrated tram tour of the free-roaming area allows you to see bison, Roosevelt elk, moose, mountain goats and other native animals, up close in their natural habitats. A self-guided walking tour along the paved trails in the core of the park provides the opportunity to see grizzly bears, wolves and more in naturalistic exhibits. If you are here during the months when the clocks are set to Standard Time, you might want to skip this side trip in order to get to Mt Rainier with enough daylight to fully enjoy it. Adult entry fee is currently $19.75. Ages 5-12 is $12.25
Lunch or Dinner
As you pass through Ashford, WA, you will find Alexander’s Country Inn & Restaurant. If you are here during the summer, this is a great place for lunch. Their fresh trout, homemade bread, soups and blackberry pie make this a great place to experience some of the best of the Northwest. During the winter, they are open for dinner only (usually 3PM – 7PM). Check the restaurant website for hours and full menus.
As stated above, you can drive from downtown Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park in about 2 ½ hours. You will want to stay off of Interstate 5 south of Renton as the traffic can often be bad. The route shown by Google Maps (CLICK HERE) is a good one. If you don’t feel like driving, there are a number of companies that run day trips to the mountain. You can find information about them HERE
One Possible Itinerary
8:00 AM – Depart Seattle (Use Google maps for the best route). You will want to avoid I-5 south of Renton)
9:30 AM – Arrive at Northwest Trek. If you do nothing else, take the tram ride. During the winter months you might want to skip this in order to have enough daylight once you arrive at Mt Rainier
12:30 PM – Depart Northwest Trek
1:30 PM – Arrive at Alexander’s Country Inn & Restaurant. If your stomach can wait this long, a stop at Alexander’s is heartily suggested for lunch. Check the restaurant web site or call for hours. During the winter months they don’t open until 3PM.
2:30 PM – Depart Alexander’s for Paradise
3:30 PM – Arrive Paradise. Under normal conditions, it is only a 35 minute drive from Alexander’s to Paradise, but if you make the trip in that time then you are driving too fast and not stopping often enough to get the full experience. If you happen to be here in the winter, you will arrive just before sunset. That does not leave you much time to look around, but it is a great time to be on the mountain. As the rest of Western Washington is slipping into darkness, Mt Rainier is just beginning to shine. If you are here during peak season (July/August) you will have plenty of daylight. Mid-summer sunset is around 9PM. The mountain will be in sunshine later than that.
5:30 PM – Depart Paradise. Retrace your steps in returning home. If you wish, you can return to Seattle via I-5. Northbound traffic at this time of day is not that bad.
8:00 PM – Arrive Seattle
Mode of Transportation: Automobile or bus
Trip Type: Independent or hired group tour
Best Time to Visit: July-August
Trip Time: 8-12 hours
Route: CLICK HERE
The National Park Service does a great job with the website for Rainier National Park. Here are some links from that site: