Families come from all over the world to hike the trails in Mt. Rainier National Park. Lucky for you, taking your little explorers on a mountain adventure doesn’t involve quite as much planning. Live like the mountain is out with these not-to-be-missed hikes and highlights in our own backyard. Let’s hit the trail!
From the Nisqually Entrance
The main park entrance is open again and there’s plenty to do just a short drive from the gate. Six miles in you’ll find the historic area of Longmire. Although there's lots to do there, these three options keep things simple for the kids (and parents!). Start with a less-than-a-mile hike around the Trail of the Shadows. Here you’ll find large, looming trees, fun-to-cross bridges and an old cabin the kids can explore. Next up is hiking a laid-back section of the Wonderland Trail. Look for a small sign next to the administrative building (the stone one with a flag) to pick up this sweet, riverside path that winds through the forest and lets you out at the Cougar Rock Campground. If the kids still have energy left, take them down to see Narada Falls, a little further up the road. Besides picnic tables and an arched bridge, families can hike down to the viewpoint to revel in the mist and possibly spy a rainbow. Keep a close eye on Littles as wet rocks can be slippery.
Open amenities: This is an easy spot to park and explore for the day, as restrooms are open, and families can snag cold grab ‘n’ go food (and water!) from the Longmire General Store or something hot to-go from the National Park Inn dining room, if you need to warm up.
Going to Paradise
If you drive to Paradise, the Nisqually Vista and Myrtle Falls hikes are two that are totally do-able for families. Pack a lunch or snack and enjoy it at the Paradise Picnic Area, about a quarter-mile before the main parking lot, where you’ll find lots of tables and restrooms too. Bonus find—download the Paradise QR code (new this year) to get all the info you need digitally. You can find it in the park newspaper or posted outside the Paradise Visitor’s Center.
From the Carbon River Entrance
In the northwest corner or the park is the Carbon River Entrance. It’s the shortest drive from the city and offers miles of hikeable rainforest that might have you mistaking it for the Hoh. On a sunny day its shade is a welcome respite, and since it’s at a lower elevation, you don’t have to worry about snow, ever. The five-mile, out-and-back hike along Carbon River Road (don't worry, it's closed to traffic) is over level ground, so kids of any age can handle it. And the wide trails mean social distancing is easy too. Although you won't find picnic tables here, it’s just the excuse you need to pull up a log and enjoy a snack or lunch along the way. If your kids are older, consider biking this route. It's one of the few spots in the park where bike riding is allowed.
Good to know: The regular parking lot is closed, so parking is limited, but available. And although the trail is stroller friendly, getting your stroller to the trail can be tricky. There’s a narrow stretch where the road washed out, between where you park and the trailhead that may not accommodate strollers. But carrying it (and your kiddo) through the area is an option.
Open amenities: You’ll find porta potties here but not much else.
From the White River Entrance
The entrance on the northeast corner of the park is how explorers get to Sunrise, the highest point you can drive to. If you’re looking for views, this is an easy spot to get them without much work. With tons of out-and-back trails that leave from the parking area, there’s one that’ll suit your kids’ abilities and your time frame, too. Take it easy on the Sunrise Nature Trail, a simple loop you can pick up at the end of the picnic area. It’s all about meadows and views. On your way up to Sunrise, be sure to stop at Tipsoo Lake for a quick half-mile stroll among mountain wildflowers. Families can also pick up the Naches Peak Loop trail here (psst..it’s usually not snow-free until August). Our tip? Hit these trails earlier in the morning to avoid afternoon crowds that make social distancing more of a challenge.
Open amenities: Although the Visitor’s Center at Sunrise is closed, families can find restrooms and grab ‘n’ go food to fill hungry tummies up here. Tipsoo Lake offers picnic tables and restrooms, making it a great place to spend a leisurely morning or afternoon.
From the Stevens Canyon Entrance
If an extra long day trip, or an adventure that includes an overnight stay is what you’re after, exploring Ohanapecosh (in the southeast corner) is the way to go. Don’t miss the popular Grove of the Patriarchs, especially if towering trees are your jam. Your kids will love walking among them as much as they’ll love crossing the cool suspension bridge that takes hikers over the Ohanapecosh River. Notice how blue and clear the water is? That’s because it’s snow melt, not glacier. The trail up to Silver Falls offers more of a challenge. It’s longer, but still level and loops right back to the campground where you started. Watch your kids carefully if you take this route. The waterfall spray makes rocks extra slippery.
Open amenities: You’ll find picnic tables and restrooms a plenty at the Ohanapecosh Campground. Pack in what you need to feed the kids, and don’t forget the water.
Save Some Green
Visiting Mt. Rainier National Park is great; when you save money doing it, it’s even better. Put these upcoming 2020 free days on your calendar to play without paying: Aug. 25, Sept. 26 & Nov. 11. If you’ve got a fourth grader, the Every Kid in a Park program is another great way to save. Free entrance into any national park for your kiddo, plus family? Sign us up!
Things are definitely different at Mt. Rainier right now, and you’ll notice more than a few changes due to Covid-19. You can get the full scoop on what’s happening at the park to keep visitors safe and how you can recreate responsibly here. But families should expect the same requirements in the park that they find in other parts of the state. Bring your masks and use them when you aren’t able to social distance, and stick with your immediate group, whether you’re enjoying lunch at a picnic table or hiking along a trail. Hand sanitizer is a must, as is using it.
Know Before You Go
1. Expect conditions that range from snow to sunshine until late summer. So dress in layers (and bring your sunscreen!) to keep everyone warm, dry and comfy.
2. Although grab ‘n’ go snacks are available at a few spots in the park, it’s always a good idea to bring extras and plenty of water so the kids stay happy.
3. If Junior Ranger badges are what your kids are after, they can still earn them this summer. Grab one on the way into the park and complete the activities while you’re there.
4. Fill up before you leave the city. Gas stations are scarce once you get near the park, and they’re non-existent within it.
5. Cell phone reception is limited, so print out any maps or download any apps you need before you go.
6. Keep your fur babies at home, please, as they aren’t allowed in Mt. Rainier.
7. Rainy weather means fewer people. So if you can handle a drizzle, consider visiting on a rainy or overcast day to make social distancing that much easier.
8. There are lots of national park and forest passes that will get you in to Mt. Rainier. Remember to bring yours!
Mt. Rainier National Park