Skip to Content

Road Tripping to Mount Rainier: A Scenic Adventure Through Washington’s Crown Jewel

Skyblue Overland may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Embark on a scenic road trip to Mount Rainier, Washington’s majestic volcano. Discover breathtaking landscapes, vibrant wildflower meadows, thundering waterfalls, and ancient forests, all connected by a winding highway through Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainier, forged by fire and crowned by ice, stands as a gleaming sentinel in the heart of Washington. This majestic volcano presides over miles of deep snowfields, flower-filled meadows, pristine streams, and lush evergreen forests. Like jewels on a necklace, the premier attractions at Mount Rainier National Park—Longmire, Paradise, the Grove of the Patriarchs, Sunrise, and other nearby locations—are linked by a single winding highway.

This road enters the park at its southwestern corner, zigzags up and down canyons and forested slopes, and swings around to the northeastern side of the mountain. Among the sights along the way are massive glaciers, subalpine meadows, thundering waterfalls, and ancient stands of timber. Reigning over all is the sleeping giant that Washingtonians affectionately refer to simply as “the mountain.”

This guide will take you through eleven essential stops along this road trip, offering insights into the best sights, hiking trails, places to stay, dining options, and fascinating historical and natural facts.

View of Mount Rainier on the road to Sunrise, Washington

Adventurer’s Guide To Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Stop 1: Mayfield Lake

Your journey begins at Mayfield Lake, located just off US Route 12. This serene and scenic spot is perfect for kicking off your Mount Rainier adventure. The lake is known for its crystal-clear waters, making it ideal for various water activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming. Mayfield Lake Park, situated on the southern shore, offers picnic areas, a boat launch, and a campground, providing a perfect setting for a leisurely start to your trip.

The history of Mayfield Lake is intertwined with the development of hydroelectric power in the region. The lake was formed by the construction of the Mayfield Dam on the Cowlitz River in the 1960s. This dam not only provides electricity but also contributes to flood control and irrigation in the area. The lake and its surroundings are a testament to the harmonious balance between human engineering and nature’s beauty.

Stop 2: Elbe

Continuing your journey eastward, you will reach the charming town of Elbe. This small community is a gateway to Mount Rainier and is steeped in history. Elbe is best known for its historic Elbe Lutheran Church, built in 1906 by German immigrants. This quaint, whitewashed church with its striking steeple is a picturesque landmark and a testament to the town’s rich heritage.

Elbe also offers the opportunity to ride the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. This vintage steam train takes passengers on a journey through the forested foothills, providing stunning views of the surrounding landscape and a unique perspective on the area’s logging history. The railroad operates from spring to fall and is a must-do for history buffs and train enthusiasts.

For dining, stop by the Elbe Bar & Grill, a cozy spot offering hearty American fare. Their burgers and local brews are particularly popular among visitors. If you’re looking to stay overnight, the Hobo Inn provides a unique experience with its converted caboose accommodations.

Stop 3: Ashford, Washington

Before reaching the Nisqually Entrance, take a detour to Ashford, Washington. This small town serves as a major hub for Mount Rainier visitors, offering a range of services and amenities. Ashford is home to several outfitters and guiding companies that can help you plan your adventures within the park, whether you’re interested in hiking, climbing, or simply exploring.

The town also boasts a variety of accommodations, from cozy cabins to charming bed-and-breakfasts. For a unique dining experience, visit Copper Creek Inn, renowned for its delicious blackberry pie and rustic ambiance. The inn has been serving travelers since the 1940s and remains a beloved spot for both locals and visitors.

Stop 4: Nisqually Entrance

As you leave Ashford and continue along State Route 706, you will arrive at the Nisqually Entrance, one of the main gateways to Mount Rainier National Park. This entrance, established in 1907, is the oldest in the park and is named after the Nisqually River, which originates from the Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier’s southern slopes.

At the entrance, you’ll find the historic Nisqually Entrance Arch, constructed in 1926 from native stone and timber. This iconic archway serves as a symbolic gateway to the park’s wonders. From here, you can access the park’s visitor centers, hiking trails, and scenic drives.

Road to Nisqually Entrance. NPS Photo

One of the first stops within the park is the Longmire Museum, located just a short drive from the entrance. The museum provides an excellent introduction to the park’s history, geology, and ecology. You can learn about James Longmire, an early settler who established a mineral springs resort in the area in the late 19th century. Longmire’s legacy is preserved in the park’s Longmire Historic District, which includes several preserved buildings from that era.

Stop 5: Cougar Rock

A short drive from Longmire, you’ll find Cougar Rock Campground, a popular spot for camping and outdoor activities. Nestled in a forested area along the Nisqually River, this campground offers a perfect base for exploring the park. The sites are well-spaced, providing a sense of privacy and immersion in nature.

One of the highlights of Cougar Rock is the nearby Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile loop that encircles Mount Rainier. While tackling the entire trail requires several days, many visitors opt for shorter hikes on sections of the trail. From Cougar Rock, you can access the trail and enjoy a scenic hike through lush forests, subalpine meadows, and along the edges of glaciers.

For a shorter hike, consider the Rampart Ridge Trail, which offers panoramic views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding valleys. This moderate hike is about 4.6 miles round trip and rewards hikers with stunning vistas and a diverse array of plant life.

Mount Rainier from Rampart Ridge.

Stop 6: Narada Falls

Continuing your journey, you will come across Narada Falls, one of the most beautiful and accessible waterfalls in the park. The falls are easily reached via a short walk from the parking area along Paradise Road. Narada Falls plunges 188 feet in two tiers, creating a spectacular display of cascading water.

The trail to the falls’ viewpoint is short but steep, and the mist from the falls can make the path slippery, so caution is advised. The reward for your effort is a breathtaking view of the falls and the surrounding landscape. In the winter, Narada Falls transforms into a frozen wonderland, with icicles and snow adding to its charm.

Long exposure shot of Narada Falls in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state

Stop 7: Paradise

As you ascend further, you will reach Paradise, aptly named for its stunning beauty. Paradise is one of the most popular destinations in Mount Rainier National Park, known for its vibrant wildflower meadows and panoramic views of the mountain. The Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise offers exhibits, a gift shop, and a cafeteria, making it a great place to learn more about the park and take a break.

One of the must-do hikes in Paradise is the Skyline Trail. This loop trail offers some of the best views of Mount Rainier, the Tatoosh Range, and the Nisqually Glacier. The trail is about 5.5 miles long and can be strenuous, but the breathtaking scenery makes it worth the effort. In the summer, the meadows along the trail are filled with colorful wildflowers, creating a picturesque landscape.

Paradise is also home to the historic Paradise Inn, built in 1916. This rustic lodge offers cozy accommodations and a charming dining room with views of the mountain. Staying at the Paradise Inn allows you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the area and enjoy the tranquility of the mountain in the early morning and late evening hours.

Paradise Inn, Washington.

Stop 8: Stevens Canyon Road

Leaving Paradise, you’ll continue your journey along Stevens Canyon Road, a scenic drive that offers stunning views of the park’s diverse landscapes. This winding road takes you through dense forests, across glacial rivers, and past alpine lakes. One of the highlights along this route is Reflection Lakes, where you can see a perfect mirror image of Mount Rainier on calm days.

For a short hike, stop at the Reflection Lakes trailhead. The trail is about 2.75 miles round trip and provides beautiful views of the lakes and surrounding meadows. It’s an excellent spot for photography, especially during sunrise and sunset when the light creates a magical reflection of the mountain in the still waters.

As you continue along Stevens Canyon Road, you’ll pass by Box Canyon, a deep and narrow gorge carved by the Cowlitz River. The Box Canyon Overlook provides a vantage point to view the sheer rock walls and the rushing river below. This area offers a dramatic contrast to the lush meadows and tranquil lakes, showcasing the park’s geological diversity.

Mt Rainier and Reflection Lake at sunrise.

Stop 9: Ohanapecosh

Descending from Stevens Canyon Road, you’ll arrive at Ohanapecosh, located in the southeastern corner of the park. Ohanapecosh is known for its lush old-growth forests and the crystal-clear Ohanapecosh River. The Ohanapecosh Visitor Center provides information about the area’s natural and cultural history, and the nearby Ohanapecosh Campground offers a serene setting for camping.

One of the main attractions in Ohanapecosh is the Grove of the Patriarchs, a grove of ancient Douglas fir and western red cedar trees. The trail to the grove is an easy 1.5-mile round trip hike that takes you across a suspension bridge and through the towering trees. Some of these giants are over 1,000 years old and provide a humbling experience as you walk among them.

Suspension Bridge to the Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Another noteworthy trail is the Silver Falls Loop, a 2.7-mile hike that takes you to a stunning waterfall on the Ohanapecosh River. The trail winds through dense forest and along the river, offering plenty of opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty and tranquility of the area.

Stop 10: Sunrise

Continuing your journey to the northeastern side of the park, you’ll reach Sunrise, the highest point in the park accessible by car. At an elevation of 6,400 feet, Sunrise offers some of the most spectacular views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding peaks. The Sunrise Visitor Center provides information about the area’s geology, wildlife, and hiking trails.

One of the most popular hikes in Sunrise is the Sourdough Ridge Trail, a moderate 2.5-mile loop that offers panoramic views of the mountain, Emmons Glacier, and the surrounding valleys. For those looking for a more challenging hike, the Fremont Lookout Trail is a 5.6-mile round trip that takes you to an old fire lookout with breathtaking 360-degree views.

Sunrise is also a great place to observe the park’s diverse wildlife. Keep an eye out for marmots, mountain goats, and black bears, which are often seen in the meadows and rocky slopes. The wildflower displays in Sunrise are equally impressive, with vibrant blooms covering the meadows during the summer months.

Looking back towards Sunrise from the east fork of the Sunrise Nature Trail. NPS Photo

Stop 11: Mather Memorial Parkway

Your road trip concludes along Mather Memorial Parkway (State Route 410), a scenic highway that winds its way through the northeastern corner of the park. This route offers stunning views of the park’s diverse landscapes, from dense forests to alpine meadows and glacial valleys.

One of the highlights along this route is Tipsoo Lake, located near Chinook Pass. This picturesque alpine lake is surrounded by wildflower meadows and offers stunning views of Mount Rainier. The Naches Peak Loop Trail, a 3.5-mile hike, circles the lake and provides breathtaking vistas of the mountain and the surrounding landscape.

Continuing along Mather Memorial Parkway, you’ll pass through the small town of Greenwater, where you can stop for a meal at the Naches Tavern, a historic eatery that has been serving travelers since the early 20th century. The town also offers a few lodging options, including cozy cabins and bed-and-breakfasts, making it a perfect place to rest before concluding your journey.

As you drive along Mather Memorial Parkway, take a moment to appreciate the park’s rich natural history. The highway is named in honor of Stephen T. Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, who played a crucial role in the establishment and preservation of the park. His legacy lives on in the pristine landscapes and the enduring beauty of Mount Rainier National Park.


A road trip to Mount Rainier National Park is a journey through some of the most breathtaking and diverse landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. From the serene waters of Mayfield Lake to the high alpine meadows of Sunrise, each stop along the way offers a unique glimpse into the park’s natural beauty and rich history. Whether you’re hiking through ancient forests, marveling at cascading waterfalls, or simply soaking in the stunning views, this road trip promises an unforgettable adventure. So pack your bags, hit the road, and prepare to be awed by the majestic beauty of Mount Rainier.

Popular Articles:

Evo’s Beginner Skiing Tips: How To Ski & What To Bring

Washington Wonders: Epic Hiking Adventures at Mount Rainier

Adventurer’s Guide To Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Planning the Perfect Adventure Trip to Seattle, Washington

Glamping Bliss: Unleashing Adventure and Luxury