Travel time from Seattle: 2 hours
National park since: 1899
Area: 236,381.49 acres
Major peaks: Mount Rainier
Visit for: Wildflowers, diverse hikes, and accessible visitor areas
* Visit Seattle partner
The namesake snowy crag at the center of the park is so famous, in fact, that it has been emblazoned on the Washington state license plate. The 14,410-foot peak is an active volcano, but it’s monitored so closely that visitors can breathe easy about roaming its foothills.
The Paradise visitor area, located 5,400 feet up the mountain’s south side and the park’s most popular destination, is aptly named. Nestled in high alpine meadows, it affords views of Rainier’s peak from so close, it’s easy to imagine that you can just reach out and touch it. Trails crisscross the meadows and overlook the Nisqually Glacier that feeds the river of the same name. Climbers aiming for the glacier-gilded peak depart from these very trailheads. Of the more than 10,000 people who attempt a summit every year, only about 5,000 make it to the top.
From summer splendor to winter wonder, Paradise is one of the snowiest spots in the country, setting a world record of 93.5 feet in a year during the winter of 1971–1972. During these cold-weather months, rangers lead snowshoe walks from the Jackson Visitor Center, where travelers can learn more about Rainier with interactive exhibits and films.
Rainier’s four other developed areas offer more ways to access the mountain’s sprawling natural surrounds. On the way up to Paradise, Longmire is home to the year-round National Park Inn, a small museum, and trails departing for meadows, mountain views, and historic homestead remains. On the northeast side of Rainier, the Sunrise area offers a different view of the peak. It’s the highest place accessible by car and, as the name implies, the perfect place to glimpse a sunrise. Marmots—large furry rodents with a distinct whistle—frequent the high, rocky landscape. The Sunrise Visitor Center is open during the summer months only. Meanwhile, more secluded Carbon-Mowich and Ohanapecosh attract visitors for their popular trails, serene lakes, and quieter settings.