Featuring an imposing 14,411-foot high active volcano, Mount Rainier National Park is a great choice for your next RV getaway in Washington. The park is one of the oldest in the nation with its history dating back to 1899 when President William McKinley signed a bill authorizing its creation.
The mountain is the biggest feature of Mt. Rainier National Park and it attracts nearly 10,000 people a year who will attempt to reach the peak. This climb isn't for the faint-hearted, as less than half successfully reach the top. If you don't make it to the top, don't worry, as there is so much to see and do below the peak. Nowhere else in the Pacific Northwest can you hike past meadows of wildflowers, towering waterfalls, and ancient glaciers.
There are also plenty of recreational activities to choose from, including include hiking, biking, and even a ranger-led astronomy program in the evenings during the summer months. The trails here range from beginner to experienced, and, if you are not feeling up to a hike, take a drive to one of the scenic overlook points located off park roads. If you choose to visit Mt. Rainier National Park during the winter months you can check out ranger-led snowshoeing, tubing, and breathtaking views of subalpine meadows blanketed in fresh snow.
Mount Rainier National Park is open year-round, but some roads and areas of the park are inaccessible during the winter months. There are regular nightly closures of certain park roads throughout the rest of the year, so make sure you pay attention to the road alerts.
Temperatures also vary depending on what time of the year you visit the park. While it does warm up in the summertime, park temperatures tend to fluctuate and average on the cooler end. This definitely has its upside for those visiting the summer months as you will be able to get away from the hot weather that the season is known for.
There are three RV-friendly campgrounds at Mount Rainier National Park that are located at varying elevation. One thing to pay attention to before you book your stay is that the max RV length is 35 feet, so if you have a larger rig you will not be able to stay at one of the park campgrounds. If you do have a larger RV, you can stay at one of the many private campgrounds near the park or at the Seattle/Tacoma KOA. Being within an hour and a half of Seattle also means you will have plenty of RV rental options if you don't have your own rig.
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RV Rentals in Mount Rainier National Park
Transportation in Mount Rainier National Park
Located in west-central Washington state, Mount Rainier National Park has several points of entry that are easily accessible from major routes. Within 200 miles of the park are multiple major cities including Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima, and even Portland, Oregon. There are many park roads have narrow shoulders, but the roads can accommodate most RVs and travel trailers. Most park roads have a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or slower, and some roads close nightly and during the winter for safety reasons. Due to the unique weather patterns and general nature of the region, road closures may occur unexpectedly, so be sure to check road alerts for the park before you begin your journey.
Each of the visitor’s centers offers large parking areas that can accommodate even the biggest of RVs and travel trailers, however, parking fills up quickly at Paradise, Sunrise, and Grove of the Patriarchs. Trailhead parking lots, as well as scenic overlooks, can also become full throughout different times of the day. To avoid delays in parking, it is recommended to visit on a weekday or arrive early in the day if you will be staying in the park. If traveling with a group, please consider carpooling when possible to minimize your group’s parking needs. Parking is not allowed on the roadside.
There are private transportation options available from some of the surrounding major cities and airports to help get you to the park, however, the park does not provide any type of public transportation services. You can drive around much of the park in your car, as well as in your RV, while a few of the roadways are designated for cyclists.
Campgrounds and parking in Mount Rainier National Park
Campsites in Mount Rainier National Park
If you are visiting Mount Rainer National Park and looking to avoid the wet weather than the Ohanapecosh Campground is a good choice. The east side of the park tends to be drier and sunnier than the west side of the park, so reserving a campsite online for Ohanapecosh Campground can be a great option, especially during the rainier seasons.
A bit lower in elevation than the Cougar Rock Campground, Ohanapecosh sits at approximately 1,914 feet and features 188 RV-friendly sites near water and flush toilets. RV sites here are similar in size to those at Cougar Rock and feature fire grates as well. Unfortunately, there are no RV hookups, and the nearest dump station is 28 miles away on Highway 12 at the Maple Grove Resort.
Seattle / Tacoma KOA
If you are wanting to stay in a campground outside of the park you should consider the Seattle / Tacoma KOA. Located just minutes from downtown Seattle, guests of the KOA can enjoy all the sites of this vibrant city by signing up for a guided tour at the Seattle/Tacoma KOA campground.
Hot breakfast is served every morning and guests can also get a bike rental from the campground and ride it directly to Seattle’s sizeable trail system. For a taste of nature, the bird sanctuary located right next door is a special treat. At the campground, guests can enjoy a heated pool, fun summer activities, and on-site fishing. Tour the Space Needle and take in the views at Puget Sound. Shop at the famous Pikes Place Market and bring your goodies home to cook up a storm in the Kamping Kitchen. Full hook-up sites are available, as well as restrooms and hot showers, along with laundry facilities.
Cougar Rock Campground
Staying at Cougar Rock Campground will place you in the heart of the southwest section of the park between Longmire and Paradise at an amazing elevation of 3,180 feet. The campground is typically open from late May through late September, and there are 173 individual sites available here that are suitable for RVs. Sites that have not been reserved in advance are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and they are known to go quickly.
Please note that there are no electrical, water or greywater hookups available at the campground, however, this is the only park campground that features an RV dump station. Despite having no hookups there are some other great amenities to be found, including individual sites featuring fire grates and nearby access to flush toilets and potable water. Pull-through sites are spacious and accommodate up to 35-foot rigs, while back-in only sites can host travel trailers up to 27 feet long.
White River Campground
At an elevation of 4,400 feet, White River Campground is situated high in the northeast section of the park and is also the highest elevated RV-friendly campground. White River Campground is located five miles up from Highway 410A and has four camping loops that are known for having sites offering privacy.
Potable water, flush toilets, and fire grates are the only amenities to be found here, and sites accommodate travel trailers or RVs up to 35 feet. What makes this location so desirable is the easy access to Wonderland Trail along the White River for great recreational activities.
White River Campground has 112 sites available, however, all of these sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis only. Plan on arriving very early in the day if you want to position your base camp here, as the campground has a short window for use, from Late June until September.
National Park Inn
If for some reason you are not able to acquire an accommodating RV site, the National Park Inn offers lodging inside the park year-round. It is situated in the Historic Longmire District at an elevation of 2,700 feet.
The inn features a full-service dining room as well as a general store where you can pick up any supplies and amenities you may need to enjoy your stay. There are 25 guest rooms that can be reserved online or by calling the inn.
If you plan on staying at the inn we recommend that you reserve a room far in advance as it is a very popular place to stay during the summertime.
Mowich Lake Campground
Looking for one of the most scenic places that you can stay within Mount Rainer National Park? If so, look no further than the Mowich Lake Campground. Standing at an amazing 4,929 feet hight, Mowich Lake Campground is a perfect location those seeking a more primitive camping experience.
Due to the high elevation, there are no RV friendly sites to be found within this campground, and there are only 10 total tent sites. One of the popular things to do if you are traveling in an RV is to set up your base camp at another location and head to Mowich Lake to camp for the night. There are no amenities like water or electric, but there is a vault toilet available for those occupying the 10 sites. Fires are also prohibited in this area of the park. Depending on the weather, Mowich Lake sites are available from early July to early October.
If you are visiting the park between mid-May and early October you also have the option of staying at the historic Paradise Inn. Built in 1916, the Inn lets you enjoy a rustic style of accommodation at an elevation of 5,420 feet. There are a total of 121 guest rooms with some great services and amenities, including a post office, café, gift shop, and full-service dining room as well.
Reservations for the inn are available online or by phone, but be sure to make your reservation well in advance as the inn is sought after accommodation.
Seasonal activities in Mount Rainier National Park
Although many of the higher elevations will still be draped in a blanket of snow, lowland trails are the prime place for Spring hikers. Great locations in the park for a spring hike include Chinook Pass in the north, which provides access trails to Greenwater Lakes, Snoquera Falls, and Skookum Flats. We also recommend heading over to the Ohanapecosh area to check out Silver Falls; a family-friendly hike makes this destination quite popular. If you find yourself in the Carbon River area, you can also enjoy the solitude of scenic Green Lake and Ranger Creek.
Celebrate National Park Week
Every April visitors to the park have the opportunity to avoid entrance fees and celebrate the history of our national park system in the best way possible. Paradise and Longmire are popular locations within the park during the Spring, and The Carbon River area is also a great place to check out as much of the snow has melted, providing a great place for early-season hikers and cyclists. If you want to visit during National Park Week make sure you plan your trip accordingly as it is known to be very busy.
Mountain Biking Carbon River Road
Since flooding in 2006, Carbon River Road only allows vehicle access up to the entrance of the park. However, it is one of the few locations in the national park that allow mountain bikes. Experience the climate of an inland temperate rainforest, a unique characteristic found in this area of the park. Carbon River Road is around five miles long and fairly level, making it great for visitors of all ages and those looking for a casual bike ride.
Admire the Waterfalls
Spring is also known as one of the best time to admire the beauty and awe of the multiple waterfalls found throughout the park. Because of the heavy snowfall each winter, the falls are swelling from snowmelt in Spring, intensifying the experience even more. Christine Falls and Narada falls are available by a short walk from easy access parking lots, while a day hike can lead you to Comet Falls.
Canoe Mowich Lake
While motorized boats are prohibited in the park, a few lakes allow non-motorized boating. Mowich Lake makes for a great place to drop in the canoe or kayak and enjoy majestic glimpses of Mt. Rainier from the water, which in the spring is nowhere near warm enough for swimming. Remember to bring your own watercraft if you plan on getting out on the lake.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of Mount Rainier National Park is Box Canyon. A large fissure is the main attraction in this canyon and you can also see the smooth flat rocks sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago. Box Canyon makes a great place to start your hike and perhaps enjoy a picnic afterward. If you are hiking overnight along the Wonderland Trail, Box Canyon also makes a great place to stop, rest, and refuel before continuing your journey.
Hike the Sourdough Ridge Trail
As summer heats up, the higher elevations will be cleared of snow, which means you can enjoy hiking steep trails that offer breathtaking vistas of both Mt. Rainier and the valleys below. Hike the family friendly Sourdough Ridge Trail to experience the ideal Sunrise area hike. Starting out at the Sunrise Visitor Center, you will quickly reach higher elevations, providing cooler temperatures and unimaginable views. Stop and smell, or photograph, various wildflowers including asters, phlox, and penstemon, softening the rigid characteristics of the volcanic ridge.
Walk Through Paradise
Another great place in the park to admire dancing wildflowers is in the meadows of Paradise. Paradise is world renown for featuring some great flowers, including yellow cinquefoils, white avalanche lilies, purple lupine, pink penstemon. These gorgeous flowers bring life into the meadows and are a huge contrast to the months before when they were blanketed in snow. Paradise is known to be busy during the blooming months, so if you want more solitary, you can make your way out of the valley and up the Skyline Trail. Please note that if you take the trail, it becomes a more strenuous hike as you climb higher.
Boating and FIshing
Unfortunately, motorized boats are not permitted in the park lakes; however, those who love to canoe and kayak can enjoy paddling their way across several of the lakes within the park. Fishing is also a great way to enjoy the serenity that lake life offers. While the fish caught here are known to be small that shouldn't stop the fun you will have. There are some endangered fish species in the streams and rivers flowing through the park, so be sure to know your fish species and the regulations surrounding them. You may not reel in that prize-winning catch, but it is an enjoyable and leisurely way to connect with nature.
While there are no designated biking trails at Mount Rainier National Park, cyclists can take advantage of the paved roads throughout the park. Be conscious of sharing the road with vehicles and pay attention to park rules as they vary in different areas. If you do want to go cycling in the park, you should bring your own bike as there is no guarantee that a rental will be available. Other wheeled vehicles (such as skateboards and rollerblades) are not allowed to be used at any time.
Color Changing Season
In addition to cooler temperatures in the Fall, beautiful colors come to life in the forests as leaves retire from their duty. Leaf peeping draws in a lot of visitors each year due to the variety of foliage and vantage points available to view them. A leisurely drive to Sunrise will get you to the highest viewpoint available by vehicle, which is just over 6,400 feet. Other areas of the park to enjoy color changing season include Bench Lake, Snow Lake, Paradise and Reflection Lakes.
Just outside of the Steven’s Canyon Entrance to the park you can find the Laughingwater Creek Trail that is open for horseback riding. Along the way you can enjoy dense forests and perhaps spot elk among the trees. Part of the much longer Pacific Crest Trail, the Laughingwater Creek Trail is approximately 12 miles long and features three mountain lakes at the end. If you enjoy horseback riding, you cannot pass up this opportunity.
Along with having a great environment to pick berries at, in late summer a multitude of mushroom varieties begin to appear. Many of these are edible but some of these tasty looking mushrooms are very poisonous. Some species will not appear until after the first fall rain, and some even later after the first frost. Depending on your timing and location, you may find chanterelles, matsutake, boletus, morels, shaggy mane, pig’s ear, hen-of-the-woods, or brain mushrooms. There is a limit per person for picking mushrooms in the park, but you will not need a permit and only non-commercial picking is allowed. Just be sure to confirm the park's limit for the timeframe you are visiting. The hike between Longmire and Narada Falls is a “gold mine” for edible mushrooms.
Hunt for Huckleberries
From late August through early October, non-commercial berry picking is welcomed at Mount Rainier National Park. Huckleberries are the most common and are easily found near Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds, as well as Noble Knob Trail. You can also collect up to two quarts per person per day of blackberries, salmonberries, and thimbleberries if you manage to find them on your foraging adventures. To best protect the natural habitat and ecosystems, it has been determined that this limit will prevent any adverse effects on the park’s natural resources.
The Moraine Trail
Often overlooked by first-time visitors to the park, the Moraine Trail is ideal for those looking for an easy hike full of great views of Mount Rainier and without the crowds found on many other popular trails. You will also find more wildlife on this trail, as it takes you away from the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center through lush meadows and into the forest. Then the trail descends to the moraine where you can listen for falling rocks as glaciers rumble nearby. Just stay away from the edge, as it may easily give way under your weight if rocks below have become unsettled.
Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran, snowshoeing is a fun experience for people of all ages. The park offers ranger-guided snowshoe walks from December through March, depending on the snow level. Snowshoes are provided for guided walks, and a donation is suggested to help the park maintain and replace snowshoes. If you want to enjoy the art of snowshoeing with fewer people around, you can also rent snowshoes and take a walk with just your crew. Suitable boots, sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, and a hat are highly recommended to avoid overexposure to the elements.
Another great winter recreational activity that you can enjoy is to go snowmobiling. Snowmobiles are only permitted in some designated areas of the park, so make sure that you pay attention below. One of the most popular areas is in the southwest section of the park, from the junction of Westside Road and the main park road. Here there is a six and a half-mile stretch down to Round Pass along Westside road that you can use as much as you please.
There is also another area near the Cougar Rock Campground road loops, however, the campground is closed for overnight use in the winter months and due to the roads not being plowed vehicle access is unlikely. There is also a 12-mile section of Highway 410 that is left unplowed during the winter months that Snowmobiles are permitted to use, but they must remain south of White River Road and cannot proceed towards Sunrise beyond the White River Campground, or towards Glacier Basin.
During the winter, the park sets up a fantastic snowplay area at Paradise. This area is typically open from late December through mid-March, but this all depends on how much snow has fallen. If you want to go sledding and sliding, this is the place to do so as these activities are not permitted in other areas of the park. This is due to the dangers caused by trees, cliffs and other unseen obstacles below the surface of the snow. To prevent injuries, only “soft” flexible sleds and tubes are allowed in the snowplay area, so please don't use any hardwood toboggans or runner sleds.
Snowboarding & Cross-Country Skiing
If you love board sports during the wintertime than you will love visiting Mount Rainier National Park. The best place to go snowboarding or cross-country skiing in all of the park is Paradise. For the conditions to be suitable there is a requirement of at least five feet of snow to avoid damaging exposed vegetation, but if you come to the park during the middle of winter there should be plenty of snow. Please note that the park does not supply boards or skis, so it is vital that bring your own or rent equipment prior to reaching the park if you want to enjoy the abundant fresh powder throughout the winter months.
Snow Camping is allowed almost anywhere in the park, but be sure to take the appropriate precautions if you decide to give this a shot. Stay away from plowed roads and waterways, and keep in mind a recommended eight feet of snow is best for building a snow cave. Visitors can also obtain permits to camp in the backcountry during the winter months, and these are available upon arrival. You will need to have the proper supplies and safety gear, so contact the park or check out their suggested essentials for winter camping prior to your arrival.