The town is little more than a loose string of rental cabins, mountaineering shops, and restaurants, but it’s home base for much of the park’s outdoor activity.
Another washout closed the route in the late 1980s, making trails on the park’s west side less accessible to day hikers. Intrepid backpackers head to backcountry ranger cabins, a fire lookout, and high alpine meadows at the road’s end.
Carbon River Entrance
Floods washed out the road shortly past the park’s northwestern entrance, but bikers and hikers can trek five miles into the Ipsut Creek campsites. A summer-only dirt road five miles south, Route 165, leads to another walk-in campground at Mowich Lake.
Open year-round, the complex of administrative buildings sits on the Nisqually River at half the elevation of Paradise, meaning it’s snow-free for more months of the year. Next to the museum and general store, the wide front porch of the rustic National Park Inn faces a brilliant view of Rainier—when the mountain is out, of course.
At just over 10,000 feet, the climbing camp is comprised of a few buildings tucked into a nook on the mountain’s side. The rock shelter dates back to 1921, and John Muir rested at this site on his own ascent of the mountain.
The name is no exaggeration. When the wildflowers bloom at Mount Rainier’s biggest visitor’s area, the meadows are as lush as any celestial kingdom. The Paradise Inn, new Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Nisqually Glacier overlooks, and climbing center draw so many tourists that a shuttle service from Longmire eases congestion on summer weekends.
The morning sun puts on a show at the park’s northeastern hub, which at 6,400 feet is the highest spot you can drive to in the park. There are vistas of the Emmons and Winthrop glaciers, and down below is the deep V of the White River Valley.
The park’s biggest campground lies in an old-growth forest on its southeastern, warmer side. The name—say it “oh-han-na-peck-osh”—comes from the Cowlitz people. A visitor’s center and interpretive trails sit across from the tent and RV sites.
More a hunting and fishing town than a mountain sports one, the Highway 12 destination is notable for greasy spoons and its proximity to both Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens.
The ski area transforms in summer to an outdoor sports mecca, turning downhill slopes into hiking and biking trails. The state’s highest restaurant, the Summit House, has a mountain view at the top of the gondola.