Article Overview: Paradise Mt Rainier
I get it – for anyone who has yet to travel to Paradise Mt Rainier, calling it the most beautiful place in all of America may seem like a bold claim. After all, the US has an unbelievable wealth of incredible natural splendor spanning coast to coast and including tropical paradises like Hawaii as well as the glacial wonderlands of Alaska.
I’ve traveled extensively through every state in the country and most of the territories so when I say Paradise Mt Rainier is the cream of the crop it’s no small statement. However, there is a time window for when Mount Rainier’s Paradise is the most beautiful place and its only for a few weeks each year (more on that below).
Don’t take my word for it, just listen to what John Muir had to say about Paradise back in 1889:
“The most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings”
As a lucky resident of the Pacific Northwest I’ve been to Mount Rainier more times than I can count and Paradise never gets old. Every time I drive in my jaw drops like it’s my first time visiting this epic alpine wonderland.
In this article I’ll cover everything you need to know when visiting Paradise Mt Rainier including:
- Things to Know Before You Visit Paradise Mt Rainier
- Entrance Fees
- Getting to Paradise
- Where to Stay / The Paradise Inn / Camping
- Hiking Trails at Paradise
- Best Time to See Wildflowers at Paradise
- & more
Ready to dive in? Let’s get started!
About My Travels to Paradise Mt Rainier
I first visited Mt Rainier back when I was fresh out of college and was totally taken aback by its epic grandeur. Looking at that unfathomably massive peak up close was mesmerizing. I compare it to gazing upon the Grand Canyon – one can look for hours and still not fathom the size and scale of the scene before them.
Ever since that first trip I’ve returned dozens of times hiking most of the trails in the park, trying all of the things to do in Mt Rainier. I’ve visited Mount Rainier in every season and while they all have their beauty nothing compares to the summer wildflower season.
I’m Will Pattiz, and along with my brother Jim, we’re collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
Things to Know Before You Visit Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park
$15 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Fuel up fully before you get into the park. Drive times are longer than you might assume because there are no through roads. Drive times from popular destinations can be 3+ hours apart. More on drive times below.
Cell Service is spotty in the park but there is some sporadically at Paradise as well as some at Sunrise.
The Best Guide Book for Mount Rainier National Park is this one which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Mount Rainier National Park.
Drink it. Lots of it. Don’t forget it in the car.
Best Time to Visit Mt Rainier National Park
The Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier National Park is during the Summer when temperatures are warm, and the wildflower meadows are exploding with kaleidoscopic colors. For peak wildflower viewing I recommend the first couple of weeks in August.
Restaurants & Food Options
Food options are limited in the Mount Rainier area with a general store being available at the Paradise Inn with basic snacks, a general store and restaurant at Longmire, a basic store at Sunrise with basic groceries, and not much else to speak of. I highly recommend packing way more snacks & water than you think you’ll need (and packing out your trash).
Where to Stay
I’ve listed where to stay in the few towns near Mount Rainier with accommodations: Enumclaw (epic views of Rainier), Packwood, & Ashford.
There are also two lodges located within the park itself: The National Park Inn (Longmire) & the famous Paradise Inn (Paradise).
Paradise Mt Rainier – 15 Reasons to Visit
15. The Drive to Paradise (& Directions)
Of all the roads I’ve traveled, it’s hard to compete with the epic scenery available on the road up to Paradise Mt Rainier (Paradise Road / Paradise Valley Road). While it’s a bit tough for the driver who has to resist the constant temptation to gaze upon the jaw-dropping mountain magnificence, for the passengers this drive is one they’ll remember.
There are two ways to get to Paradise – via Paradise Road through the Nisqually Entrance or via Stevens Canyon Road through the Stevens Canyon Entrance. Both of these routes are spectacular but offer different views.
ELEVATION: The elevation of Paradise Mt Rainier is 5,400 feet.
Nisqually Entrance to Paradise Mt Rainier
This is the route I typically take as the fastest coming from the south (Portland for me) going through Mossyrock, Morton, and Ashford on the way to the Nisqually park entrance.
You may be interested to know that this route is kept open year round by National Park Service and only closes in the case of a major weather event. This is an especially impressive feat given that Mount Rainier is one of the snowiest places on earth and receives an average of over 50 FEET of snow annually.
Heads up: if you arrive to the entrance after 9am there’s likely to be a line of cars waiting to get in.
After entering the park the drive from the Nisqually Entrance to Paradise is just over 17 miles long and takes about 35 – 45 minutes to drive depending on traffic and stops.
Along the way you’ll see signage for the Kautz Creek Trail and pass by the Trail of the Shadows, Longmire Museum, & National Park Inn. There’s a store here with conveniences and restrooms in case you’re in need.
From there you’ll continue up the mountain and the views will grow more and more impressive as you pass by Cougar Rock Campground.
The trail to Comet Falls is on the way along with Christine Falls, Narada Falls, & Ruby Falls (more on these to come). Eventually you’ll reach a junction with Paradise Valley Road. Take a left and it’s just 5 minutes to the main parking lot.
Stevens Canyon Entrance to Paradise Mt Rainier
The Stevens Canyon Road route to Paradise Mount Rainier is closes seasonally for the Winter and is typically open late May to early October. This is the route I usually use to exit the park heading back south to Portland.
If you come from the south to this entrance you’ll go through the charming town of Packwood where I highly recommend stopping in at The Mountain Goat for coffee and a muffin.
From the Stevens Canyon Entrance it’s 19 miles to Paradise Mt Rainier and will take roughly 40 minutes depending on traffic and stops. Along the way you’ll be treated to deep canyon views below and elusive glimpses of Mount Rainier above.
Sites you’ll pass by include Box Canyon Trail, Sunbeam Falls, Reflection Lakes, Bench and Snow Lake Trail, Pinnacle Peak Trail, & Ruby Falls (more on these to come).
Eventually you’ll reach a junction with Paradise Valley Road. Take a right and it’s just 5 minutes to the main parking lot.
14. The Paradise Inn
Of all the beautiful national park lodges, Paradise Inn might just take the cake – at the very least it’s in the top five. This picturesque setting was where Walt Disney chose to honeymoon with his new bride in July of 1925.
Paradise Inn first opened its doors on July 1, 1917 after being constructed in less than a year for a cost of $91,000. Today (after extensive renovations) there are 121 rooms available to rent ranging in price from around $150 – $300 per night.
The hotel is often booked out months in advance so if you plan to stay make sure you book as early as possible.
For rooms and reservations check out the official website for the Paradise Inn.
13. Winter Activities at Paradise Mt Rainier
While the most popular time to visit Paradise is during the summer months, the area takes on an entirely different character during the winter that’s worth checking out. The serene winter beauty here in one of the snowiest places on the planet is mesmerizing.
The lush and colorful wildflower meadows Paradise is known for are completely blanketed in feet of snow starting in October creating a winter wonderland. Since the National Park Service plows the road and maintains it for during the winter for visitors you should consider packing the snowshoes and driving up.
There are several popular snowshoe trails at Paradise including:
- Reflection Lakes Snowshoe Trail
- Skyline Trail Snowshoe Trail
- Nisqually Vista Snowshoe Trail
- Alta Vista Snowshoe Trail
- Narada Falls Trail
12. The Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center
I’ve been to a lot of national park visitor centers in my day – a few of them really stand out. The Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise Mt Rainier is one of those really great, standout visitor centers.
Named for the conservation-minded Washington senator for over 30 years, this is a visitor center worth stopping in to check out the exhibits and architecture.
It was completely redesigned in 2008 to replace the old visitor center which featured a more contemporary design which many visitors referred to as a space ship or sunken space needle. The new visitor center carries the signature national park rustic look with massive windows for viewing Mount Rainier.
Within this Paradise visitor center you’ll find restrooms, rangers at the help desk to answer any questions and provide maps, basic food, a short Mount Rainier movie, a gift shop, and really nice exhibits.
There are also picnic tables around the visitor center which make for a great spot to take a pause and eat lunch.
11. The Best Views of Mount Rainier
A lot of folks argue that the best views of Mount Rainier are achieved from Paradise. It’s hard to argue the point. At Paradise you’ll find two basic views of Mt Rainier depending on where you are.
From the Skyline Trail, Nisqually Trail, Alta Vista Trail, Visitor Center, & Paradise Inn you’ll get extreme close up views of Mt Rainier where you can count the crevasses in its many glaciers (more on these below). I compare it to getting first row seats at the movie theater.
You can’t get these kinds of extreme close up views anywhere else in the park. Throw in some wildflowers and a few mountain goats and what more can you ask for?
Check out the photo below – can you spot the helicopter against the backdrop of Mt Rainier at Paradise?
From the Pinnacle Peak Trail (more on this below) you get a totally different style of view looking at the mountain with a bit of distance – like sitting in the middle section of an IMAX movie versus the front rows in the previous areas. I prefer this view but plenty of folks prefer the former.
From Van Trump Park there are also unique, close up views of Mt Rainier. This is a great trail for folks looking for some real exertion!
Perhaps the most lovable, playful, and fun to watch creatures in all of the national parks (Mount Rainier included) are marmots. While it’s estimated that 80% of their life is spent underground and 60% of their life is consumed by hibernation, seeing them above ground is a real treat.
At Paradise Mt Rainier these animals abound in spring and summer from roughly April to October. Every time I’ve visited Paradise during the summer I’ve spotted marmots. I find they’re especially active during wildflower season and can be seen devouring their fill of flowers.
Spotting marmots doesn’t take too much effort as they are abundant in Paradise Mt Rainier. Watch for them in meadows, on trails, and listen for their signature high pitched whistles.
Where to See Marmots at Paradise Mt Rainier
- Skyline Trail
- Alta Vista Trail
- Nisqually Trail
- Pinnacle Peak Trail
Paradise Mount Rainier Waterfalls
9. Christine Falls
There are over 150 waterfalls at Mount Rainier National Park and most of the best ones are located at Paradise. Of these, the 37 foot lower drop of Christine Falls is one of the most photogenic in Mount Rainier being framed perfectly by the Christine Falls Bridge.
The falls are named for Christine Van Trump who, at just 9 years old, accompanied her father on his ascent of Mount Rainier making it to the 10,000 ft mark before giving up (more on this below).
Getting to these falls is easy as they’re located just off the Paradise Road. A short walk from the parking area takes you to the best viewing point below.
8. Narada Falls
At 168 feet tall, Narada Falls is the tallest waterfall accessible by car at Mount Rainier. There are two main viewpoints from which to view the falls. The first, a top down view, is just 150 feet from the Paradise road. The second is down a .2 mile (each way) trail that is steep and often slippery.
From the lower viewpoint you can gaze upon the falls true magnificence getting a head on view of the entire falls.
During the winter a popular snowshoe trail goes right by Narada Falls although accessing the lower viewpoint can be hazardous and should only be done with great caution.
7. Van Trump Park & Comet Falls
As far as things to see at Paradise Mount Rainier National Park go, I’d say Van Trump Park falls squarely into the hidden gems category. From Van Trump Park you feel like you can practically reach out and touch the peak of Mount Rainier.
The park is named for Philemon Beecher Van Trump, who, along with Hazard Stevens and the help of a native guide Sluiskin (they named a falls in Paradise after him “Sluiskin Falls”), made the first successful recorded ascent of Mt Rainier.
“When we reached the summit of the peak we got out our flags and flung them to the breeze giving three cheers for our triumph and weak cheers they seemed for me that lonely height there was nothing to echo or prolong the sound.”Philemon Beecher Van Trump
The feeling of that crisp alpine air and sprawling beautiful wildflower meadows is a magnificent sight to behold. Along our way up to Van Trump Park the last time we encountered a mountain goat from a distance who was very curious about our activities in his turf.
An added bonus to getting here is the hike up takes you past Comet Falls, the largest waterfall in Mount Rainier at an impressive 380 feet tall. Plus there are far less people on this trail than most of the trails at Mount Rainier (once you get past Comet Falls which most hikers use as their turn around point). Hiking to Comet Falls is a great Mount Rainier activity with kids as the falls emit quite a bit of Spray that makes for an interactive adventure.
The hike to Van Trump Park is just under 6 miles round trip to the end of the maintained trail but we kept going a ways past there on our hike, allured by the serene alpine beauty. The elevation gain is a bit steep at 2000 feet but the views are definitely worth it.
Paradise Mt Rainier Hikes & Trails
6. Nisqually Vista Trail
The Nisqually Vista trail is one of the several trails which originate from the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center area of Paradise Mt Rainier. At just 1.1 miles long with only 180 feet of elevation gain and totally paved, it’s the easiest of the Mount Rainier Paradise Hikes.
In summer, the wildflowers on this trail are spectacular with marmots playing in the meadow in the middle of the loop. During winter you can still pop on the snowshoes and go for a stroll here as well with totally different scenery.
Nisqually Vista is a great trail for families with strollers and folks with limited mobility.
5. Alta Vista Trail
If you’re reading this article you’ve probably heard of the Skyline Trail (if not I’ll cover it below) but there’s less of a chance you’ve heard of the Alta Vista Trail which is just about as amazing with really different but also incredible views.
The Alta Vista Trail is a 1.8 mile lollipop loop trail that intersects the Skyline Trail in multiple places. It’s easier than the Skyline Trail but has excellent scenery including the famous Paradise wildflowers and marmots.
I recommend hiking up the Skyline Trail and back down the Alta Vista as a great loop that provides an array of views. This way you’ll be soaking in the beauty of the Tatoosh Range on the way back down the trail.
4. Pinnacle Peak
I have to say, hiking up to Pinnacle Peak is an unexpectedly incredible thing to do at Mount Rainier. In the summer this trail is chocked full of Lupine along with a variety of other wildflowers and always provides some of the most epic, panoramic views of Mount Rainier in the park.
From the top of the trail you’ll be able to see Mount Rainier in all its glory and the Paradise area to the north, and Mt Adams in the distance to the south.
I’ve seen playful marmots every time I’ve hiked this trail. At just 2.5 miles long with 1000 feet of elevation gain, Pinnacle Peak has some of the biggest bang for your buck of any of the things to do at Rainier.
3. The Skyline Trail
I’ll go ahead and mark this epic Paradise hike as one of the top 5 must-hike trails in the national parks. It’s the trail to hike if you can only do one in Mount Rainier.
At 5.4 miles round trip with 1,700 feet of elevation gain you’ll definitely “feel the burn” on the way up but this is the must-hike trail in Mount Rainier. Visit early in the morning at sunrise for the most magical views and none of the crowds.
This is one of those trails that you can hike endless amounts of times and still enjoy the beauty in different ways.
The Skyline Trail is a veritable fairyland where one expects to see hobbits happily prancing about at any moment to accompany the marmots through wildflower meadows.
Be sure to stop by Myrtle Falls whilst strolling the Skyline Trail for more breathtaking photo opportunities and alpine beauty.
2. Reflection Lakes
One of the most popular things to see in the Paradise region of Mount Rainier is visiting the park’s most popular lakes (especially for photographers), Reflection Lakes. These lakes are a collection of approximately three bodies of water including one larger pond-sized pool, one hot-tub sized pool, and one coy pond sized pool.
The main pond, or lake, is really spectacular on a calm, clear day providing mirror like reflections from which it gets its name.
Reflection Lakes is also among the most easily accessed points on our list of things to do in Mount Rainier being within a stones throw of Stevens Canyon Road, just past the main Paradise area.
1. The Most Beautiful Wildflower Displays in the World
The absolute best thing to see and experience at Paradise Mt Rainier (if you’re visiting during the right season) is the epic displays of wildflowers that are unlike any others you’ll see on this planet.
Mount Rainier is known the world over as one of the best places in the world to see wildflowers. I was convinced that the photos I had seen prior to visiting for myself must be a case of severe photoshopping and that my own expectations would get wrecked by reality. Not so.
Seeing the wildflowers at Mount Rainier is a national parks bucket list activity (maybe we’ll write an article on those…).
Where to see wildflowers at Paradise Mt Rainier
The best place to see wildflowers at Mount Rainier National Park is in the Paradise region. I highly recommend the Skyline Trail and Alta Vista Trail as the best trails in Mount Rainier to see wildflowers.
Two more great places to see wildflowers at Mount Rainier are on the way up to Pinnacle Peak & Van Trump Park.
Best Time to See Wildflowers
The best time to see wildflowers at Paradise Mt Rainier is late July and early August. While peak wildflower season varies from year to year, the first week of August is a reliably great time to go.
Paradise Mt Rainier Map & Regions
Mount Rainier National Park has five distinct regions you should be aware of while planning your trip. Despite being relatively close to each other on the map, drive times between each of these regions can be significant.
The reason? There’s no road across the top of the mountain meaning you’ve got to drive around it which can take a long time.
Download this printable Mount Rainier National Park Map: JPG | PDF
The 5 Regions of Mount Rainier National Park
- Mowich Lake / Carbon River (Northwest)
- Longmire (Southwest)
- Paradise (South)
- Ohanepecosh (Southeast)
- Sunrise/White River (Northeast)
Drive Times Between Popular Areas at Mount Rainier
- Sunrise to Mowich Lake – 2.5 hours
- Paradise to Sunrise – 1.5 hours
- Paradise to Tipsoo Lake – 1 hour
- Tipsoo Lake to Sunrise – 45 minutes
- Longmire to Paradise – 20 minutes
- Longmire to Mowich Lake – 2.5 hours
Map of Paradise Mt Rainier
Summary Paradise Mt Rainier
- Reflection Lake
- Skyline Trail
- Pinnacle Peak Trail
- Alta Vista Trail
- Nisqually Vista Trail
- Van Trump Park & Comet Falls
- Narada Falls
- Christine Falls
- The Best Views of Mount Rainier
- Henry Jackson Visitor Center
- Winter in Paradise
- Paradise Inn
- The Drive to Paradise
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Climb the mountain already. You have walked around it enough. Go get it. It tops everything on your list.