Mt. Rainier National Park: Road Trip Series Part 2

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Welcome to Part 2 of our road trip series: Mt. Rainier National Park! Just to do a quick recap!

My husband and I embarked on a 3 week camping road trip to see 6 National Parks. Starting in Wyoming and making our way over to the west coast. Mind you we live in Texas, so we definitely put in some miles in just 3 weeks. In this post, we will look at Mt. Rainier National Park along with some trail advice.  If you missed out on Part One: Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, be sure to check out part 1 of this series.

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The drive from Wyoming to Washington was long but amazingly scenic! Except for the eastern part of Washington…I had no idea how bare it was! When you see pictures of Washington it is always of the coast side so trees, greenery, water, etc.

However, driving from Spokane to Mt. Rainier and it was hills of brown almost desert-like! Which if you have ever driven through West Texas its nothing new. My first impression once we crossed into Washington state line, “where are all the trees?!”

Arrival at Mt. Rainer

There are four campgrounds inside Mt. Rainer, we chose Cougar Rock since it was the closest to Paradise Inn (which is only open seasonally) and the Longmire Museum. This time around we only stayed at Rainier for 2 days and 1 night.

The park entrance closest to this campground is Nisqually Entrance, but due to GPS error in my 4Runner we somehow ended up on an off highway back gate meant for park rangers (don’t ask). To our luck, we ran into some and they just had us follow them in that back gate.

We arrived at the campground and got checked in for our site, which we played our chances with the first come first serve rules. (you can make reservations or just show up hoping there are open sites, I like to live dangerously….ha!)

Cougar Rock Campground

Even though I had only been to two national parks on this trip so far (Tetons/Yellowstone), I must say the campground at Mt. Rainier was my favorite! It didn’t feel so crowded as some can. In some campground sites are right next to each other. At Rainier, they were spaced a little more so it felt more private which I love.

The grounds include nice clean restrooms and potable water, as well as a ranger station to buy firewood or pick up trail maps. **PSA- always get firewood at or near your planned camping area! Do not bring your own if your from another region! This can spread diseases and unwanted bugs!** (You bet I just went environmental science teacher on you)

Weather and Atmosphere in July

July, in my opinion, was a perfect time to go. Mostly because that is the best time of year to escape Texas heat! The average temps when we went to Washington was high of 70 and lows of the mid 50’s.

Talk about perfect campfire and kickback weather! Night time around the campsite was so peaceful and relaxing. Even though it is still a forest setting like Yellowstone, the nightlife in Rainier is completely different in terms of ambient noises.

What better way to drift off to sleep in your tent than the distance sounds of streams and the night conversations between owls? While we are on the topic of sounds…why do people go to the middle of the woods only to blast the radio? I promise if you go and just listen to nature, you won’t be disappointed. I know, I know enough of my 2 cents…

Wonderland trail

Carter Falls Trail

Daytime weather, although it was perfect, it was pretty foggy in the mornings. Especially at the base of Mt. Rainier, so the day we went to Paradise Inn it was too foggy to even see the volcano peak. The fog cover does typically clear up as the day goes, but we did not plan on staying around Paradise Inn all day.

No worries, you will get plenty of volcano views as you drive up to the park and around it. I am sure there are times of the year where the fog is not so thick, it just wasn’t the case when we went.

Wonderland Trail

There are numerous trails throughout the park of all difficulty levels, some require proper equipment since the trail goes up the side of the volcano. (Yes, Mt. Rainier is a volcano!)

Since we were only staying one night and one full day, we chose to explore the trails near Cougar Rock. One such trail is the Wonderland Trail. The trail actually 93 miles long, but you can hop on at different points of the trail and hike a piece of it.

Carter Falls Image

Carter Falls

This is exactly what we did. We joined the trail right across the campground and hiked it to Carter Falls/ Madcap Falls then continued to Narada Falls. This trail is considered a moderate trail at only 2.5 miles to Carter Falls/Madcap Falls and roughly another 2.5 miles to Narada Falls.

You do not need anything special for this hike other than your day hike essentials. The trail does have an elevation gain of 500 feet, but the ground is fairly flat so it makes it decent. Right off the bat of this part of the trail is the river crossing.

Log Bridge on Carter Falls Trail

No worries, you don’t have to remove your shoes for this one! The park made a bridge out of a fallen tree to go across. It is pretty thrilling because you have glacial waters rushing under this tree bridge that only has a wooden rail on one side. To me, this was probably “the hardest” part of the trail. So you can see it is a trail the whole family can enjoy.

Once you get to Narada Falls the trail does you will find yourself at an endpoint. You can technically continue the Wonderland Trail, but that continuation is at Paradise Inn. The total down and back of Carter Falls and Narada Falls is 5 miles.

Paradise Inn

The paradise and Paradise Inn area is the most visited area of the park. It has become famous for fantastic views and the wildflower meadows. If you ever see wildflower pictures from Mt. Rainier chances are it was taken at Paradise.

You can book a stay at Paradise Inn if camping is not your thing, or simply visit the park’s main visitor center located there. Inside the visitor center, you will find cool and informative displays about the park and wildlife, a gift shop, cafe, and information for camping or hiking.

Speaking of hiking, after we cruised through the visitor center, we took advantage of the trails that begin at the Inn. You can link up to that 93 mile Wonderland Trail or go on a much shorter hike like we did.

We opted for the short trail behind the Inn called Alta Vista since it was the day we were heading out to our next campsite. The Alta Vista trail is close to 2 miles and is considered a moderate trail since it does have a 600’ gain in elevation.

If you are visiting with little ones, there are other trails in the paradise area that are stroller friendly. That trail is known as the Nisqually Vista Trail. It leads right through the wildflower meadows and offers a view of the Nisqually glacier.


After the foggy morning hike, it was time to hit the road to complete the next leg of our epic road trip. Next stop, Olympic National Park and a day venture of Seattle!

If you have been to Mt. Rainier, what were some of your favorite sites? I would love to get ideas for the next time I go!

Drop me a line below!

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