10 Important Ranger Tips For Visiting Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier, with its staggering height of 14,410 feet above sea level, is the tallest mountain in Washington state and the Cascade Range of mountains in the Pacific Northwest. On clear days, it even dominates the southeast horizon for Seattle and its neighbor, Tacoma.

Indeed, Mount Rainier National Park is just over 100 miles from Seattle — and it’s even closer to Tacoma. It’s also approximately 150 miles from Portland, Oregon, which makes the park even more accessible.

The combination of the park’s natural beauty and appeal and its proximity to large cities results in Mount Rainier National Park drawing large numbers of visitors each year. In fact, according to the National Park Service, more than 2 million people typically travel to Mount Rainier each year.

The good news is that the National Park Service has released its “Ten Tips for Visiting Mount Rainier National Park,” which is written by the rangers who work at the park, to make your trip planning easier. It even includes tips to help you (somewhat) avoid the crowds.

“Mount Rainier National Park looks forward to welcoming you this summer,” the rangers write. “The 2021 season is expected to be BUSY, so make sure to plan ahead, recreate responsibly, and help ensure this iconic landscape may be enjoyed by future generations.”

Let’s get right to it. Here are the top 10 things the rangers who work at Mount Rainier National Park want you to know before visiting the park.

1. Know Your Destination

There are five entrances to Mount Rainier National Park. What’s more, it isn’t possible to reach all areas of the park from every entrance, the rangers explain. Plus, it can take hours to drive from one area of the park to another, they continue.

Finally, “GPS navigation may not take you to the right entrance, or it will attempt to follow the most direct route, which may not be the correct way — and could lead to closed gates,” the rangers point out.

To make sure you can get to the areas of the park you want to visit, the rangers suggest checking the park’s directions webpage for travel information. They also encourage visitors to refer to road maps in addition to using GPS units when driving to the park.

You can find the park’s directions webpage here.

2. Expect Company

“Mount Rainier is popular! Expect traffic congestion at entrances and the main visitor areas,” rangers note. “If you plan ahead, it’s possible to get a little time and space to yourself.”

Here are the rangers’ tips on avoiding crowds. First, plan your trip to the park for a weekday, or early in the morning or late afternoon, to minimize wait times. This is especially important because many trailheads have limited parking. Secondly, the rangers encourage everyone to have an alternate plan and destination in mind in case you encounter long lines to enter the park or if the parking lot is full at your primary destination.

Pro Tip: Be sure to check the park’s Twitter page for congestion updates. You can also find more tips on avoiding summer congestion here.

3. Protect Your Pets By Leaving Them At Home

Dogs are not allowed on trails, in the wilderness and/or off-trail areas, or inside buildings and amphitheaters at Mount Rainier.

Here’s why: “Mount Rainier is wild. Your pet could become prey for wildlife, including bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and birds of prey,” rangers explain.  

“Dogs cannot be left unattended and it’s unsafe for them to be left in hot vehicles. Plus, there are limited options in local communities for boarding pets,” rangers explain. “The safest choice may be to leave your pet at home.”

4. Take It Slow

“All park roads have a speed limit of 35 mph unless posted otherwise. Be vigilant while driving in the park and give wildlife a ‘brake,’” rangers write. “Park roads are narrow, steep, and winding with many blind curves. It’s also important to maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles and stay in your lane on curves.”

5. Put A Ranger In Your Phone

The NPS App provides interactive maps, tours of park places, and on-the-ground accessibility information about more than 400 national parks to make trip planning easier. The free app can be downloaded through the App Store and Google Play.

The rangers point out that Mount Rainier has very limited cell coverage, so they suggest downloading the app and then saving the Mount Rainier National Park section of the app before your visit. That way you can use the app offline while you’re in the park.

6. Play It Safe

Mount Rainier has more than 275 miles of trails, so there are treks of lengths and difficulties for everybody. However, Mount Rainier is a wilderness park, so there are potential hazards. Here’s how the rangers recommend being safe while hiking.

“First, be sure to select the right trail for you and your group. Recognize your abilities and the abilities of your group,” the rangers note. “You won’t miss out on the spectacular views, wildlife sightings, and connection with nature by choosing an easier trail for your adventure.”

Secondly, be sure to plan ahead, pack the Ten Essentials, and have an emergency plan — even for a short day hike, rangers explain. It’s also important to leave an accurate itinerary with an emergency contact when taking a trip in the backcountry.

“Finally, be prepared for changing weather — even on short hikes,” rangers advise. “Always carry food, water, and extra layers of clothing.”

You can find more information about being safe around wildlife, hiking safety, and geohazards here.

7. Check The Weather

“It may feel like summer at low elevation, but there may still be snow at higher elevations in the park! Hikers and mountain climbers should be prepared for changing weather,” rangers caution. “Pay attention to both one day and long-range weather forecasts, avalanche warnings, and special weather alerts. Have extra clothing, rain gear, and a tent for protection against storms any time of the year.”

The rangers also point out that “Sometimes the safest choice is to reschedule or adjust your plans for better weather – it could make the difference between a wonderful visit or losing your life.”

You can see current weather conditions, the extended forecast, and weather warnings for the park here.

8. Stay The Night

“Many people visit Mount Rainier for just the day, but there are options if you want to spend the night,” rangers explain. “And remember, camping is not allowed along roadsides, at overlooks, or in parking areas.”

Mount Rainier does have three vehicle campgrounds — where most sites can be reserved, but some walk-up spots may be available too. Secondly, there are two historic inns in the park: the National Park Inn in Longmire and the Paradise Inn in Paradise. Camping is also allowed in the backcountry, however, a wilderness permit is required for that type of camping.

You can learn more about the vehicle campgrounds here, and learn about the inns and make reservations here.

You can also learn about wilderness permits here, and apply for the permits here.

9. Share The Mount Rainier Pledge

“You can help safeguard Mount Rainier, and its resources and intrinsic values, by taking the Mount Rainier Pledge,” rangers write. You can find details about that pledge here.

Also, to help preserve the park, rangers remind visitors to stay on the trail to protect meadow plants, “Keep Wildlife Wild” by never feeding animals in the park, and “Leave No Trace” of your visit.

Pro Tip: The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace are: 

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You can find more details about these steps here.

10. Remember: We’re All In This Together

“Remember to follow the latest public health guidance to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 while you travel,” rangers explain. “Also, keep in mind that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks when they are inside park facilities.”

The National Park Service follows guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can learn more about current CDC guidance here and how the National Park Service follows that guidance here.

If you’re planning a trip to Mount Rainier, be sure to also read all of our Seattle and Washington coverage. Also, since Mount Rainier is nearby, be sure to also read our Portland and Oregon coverage as well.

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