The Mountains are calling and I must go. —John Muir
Mt. Rainier first beckoned Sierra Club co-founder and national park activist John Muir in 1880 when he decided to hike its summit—an experience that would change both his life and the area’s future. Deeply moved by the mountain’s rugged beauty, he later wrote An Ascent of Mount Rainier and ultimately spearheaded the establishment of Mt. Rainier National Park.
Many activists like Muir have since experienced the mountain’s allure and as a result, Mt. Rainier is now a year-round wonderland accessible to outdoor enthusiasts both young and old.
Visit Rainier consultant Meilee Anderson says, “The wide-open spaces, fresh air, and spectacular outdoor recreation draw visitors from all over the world to marvel at the natural beauty…”
For those seeking to quench their thirst for expansive meadows, snow-capped peaks, glassy lakes and cascading waterfalls, this year-round guide to Mt. Rainier makes answering the call of the mountain easy—even with budding naturalists in tow.
Mt. Rainier is approximately two hours from Seattle and three hours from Portland. Anderson suggests that families fly into Portland or Seattle-Tacoma International Airports and drive up to one of the gateway communities—like Ashford, WA—to Mount Rainier.
Travel Tip #1: My family always checks the Mt. Rainier National Park website in advance for fees, road conditions, and hours of operation. This can help save time and money, and their downloadable brochure is helpful when creating your “must-do” list.
For outdoor enthusiasts eager to spend time in nature, campsites are available on a first come, first served basis from late May to late September with few exceptions. Site amenities vary. Check the National Park Service site ahead of time for availability.
Rainier Lodging has seven cabins in the Ashford, WA area intentionally equipped for families. Amenities include cribs, high chairs, booster chairs, toys, and fully equipped kitchens stocked with ingredients for a waffle breakfast. Additionally, each cabin has an outdoor hot tub and fire pit for evenings spent relaxing under the stars and late-night marshmallow roasts. Inside, tired tots can be warmed by an indoor fireplace before being tucked into bed.
#Travel Tip #2: Be prepared to unplug and go off-grid once you enter Ashford or the National Park Area. Cell service is limited. Rainier Lodgings’ cabins have wifi, but I keep this secret from my kiddos. Instead we pull out one of the cabin’s board games for a little old-fashioned family fun.
Fuel for Fun
Ashford and other nearby towns have small groceries with basic goods for campouts and accommodations with cooking areas and kitchens. For meals out, Basecamp Bar & Grill is six miles outside of the national park in Ashford and has a selection of burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, and wraps. The Summit House is located at Crystal Mountain Resort sits at 6,872 feet; it’s famous for being Washington’s highest elevation dining. Arrive via gondola or ski lift; the menu includes burgers, seared beef tenderloin, and expansive alpine views.
A bird’s-eye view of the Cascade Range and Mt. Rainier is available at Crystal Mountain by gondola. Whether covered in wildflowers or drifts of snow, experiencing the wilderness landscape from above is extraordinary. Along with the view, the ride gives passengers access to a restaurant, shops, and mountaintop trails.
Guided tram rides and walking paths take visitors through the 725–acre wildlife park nestled in the forest near Mt. Rainier. It is home to over 200 North American animals seen by tram in the 435 acres of free roaming area, or by foot on stroller-friendly paths that pass through a variety of habitats where exhibits with like species live together. Visitors catch a glimpse of black and brown bears in bear country and meet gray wolves, foxes, and coyotes in the Northwest wilderness areas. Those seeking intimate wildlife encounters find them on Keeper Tours where participants get within a few feet of moose and bison while the keeper feeds them.
Mt. Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum takes visitors on seasonal and themed steam train rides through the forested foothills south of Mt. Rainier and across the Upper Nisqually River to a museum in Mineral, Washington. The museum is home to the largest collection of steam logging locomotives in the world, including the 99-ton Heisler.
Travel Tip #3: Special excursions for children are available throughout the year. Think Polar Express and The Great Pumpkin Patch Express! My family watches the associated movie in advance just to build excitement and suspense. Tickets tend to go fast so be sure to book in advance online.
Spring, Summer & Fall
Adventurers ages five and up can climb, swing, balance, and zip their way through an array of courses that provide an elevated view of Northwest Treks’ wilderness area. Each experience is designed for a different age and ability level and has several obstacles to navigate including stabilized Andes bridges, climbing walls, tight ropes, trapper climbing ladders, and guided zipline adventures.
We just got to hang out in Banff for a long weekend since our niece was getting married there. We also packed in a bunch of adventures! Every now and again, I look at the tribe around me and think, man we've got a lot of kids. Our bikeride on the tunnel bench loop was one of those times 😂 I mean look at how much space we take up!!!
Located inside the national park, Carbon River Road runs through an inland temperate rainforest providing access to lush forests and rushing rivers. The five-mile path is level with little gain, making it perfect for new riders or parents towing children.
Intermediate level bikers can easily navigate the Ashford area’s eight-mile-long Silver Creek Trail and its 1,300-ft. gain. The low-traffic path passes over bridges, through wetlands, and gives visitors a stunning glimpse of Mt. Rainier and access to solitude and wildlife encounters.
This day was hard. I misread the miles.. 3.3km turned into 7km, Didn't have any snacks, and lost a soother. 😐 But we made it through… with shoulder rides, bribery of ice cream & farm animals, and then maybe a few threats of none of these. What do you do when an hour turns into a few, and there's absolutely no berries to eat along the way?! 😳 . . . . . . 📷canon mark d ii – @canoncanada #hikingwithkids #reallife #adventueeparenting #keencanada #livefolk #lifeofadventure #radgirlslife #roamworthy #venturesoul #ventureout #exploremore #canon_photos #outdoorwomen #takemoreadventures #patagonia #getoutstayout #letskeepitwild #nwadventurephoto #bethewild #freshairandfreedom #albertaadventuregirls #exploremore #viciadventurefeauture #outdoorsupply #campbrandgoods #letscamp #stayandwander #childrenofmountains #raisingragamuffins
One of the best ways to experience Mt. Rainier and its surrounding areas is on foot. According to Anderson, these are the best family friendly hikes at Mt. Rainier:
Grove of the Patriarchs: Just 1.5 miles in length, Grove of the Patriarchs is a leisurely but fascinating trail. The trek takes hikers, walkers, and strollers over bridges and through an old-growth forest where towering trees over 1000 years old tug visitors into a magical land reminiscent of scenes from The Hobbit.
Silver Falls: This hike is an easy three-mile loop that passes through soaring trees and past roaring waterfalls. Families with infants can navigate the terrain with a back or front pack carrier, but it is not stroller friendly.
Bench and Snowlakes: Perfect for a hot summer’s day, this 2.6-mile trail wanders by two lakes where hikers can splash and cool off as a reward for their hard work.
Travel Tip #4: These trails ignite young imaginations and offer plenty of space for play. I like to spark my kids’ sense of wonder by asking questions like, “What do think the world was like a thousand years ago when this tree was first planted?” Bring some snacks or a picnic lunch and give your young hikers time explore and delight in the park’s magic and mystery, and don’t forget to grab trail maps from the area’s rest stops, groceries, the National Park Visitor’s center or website in advance.
Beautiful gorgeous Mt Rainier 🏔 friends if you're ever in the Seattle area, especially in August, set out on a hike from Sunrise (one of the visitors centers) it is just dreamy!! The hike is fairly easy but the meadows full of flowers just looks like a fairytale and the gushing streams ❤️ I didn't want to leave!! It's what dreams are made of!!! #mtrainier #washington #seattle #nationalparks #nature . . . . #hiking #roadtrip #family #goadventuretogether #thisisthelife #traveller #experiencetheworld #traveltheworld #bestvacationever #seetheworld #instatravel #travelgram #ilovetravel #worldtrip #beatthecrowds #hiking #viewsfordays #adventureiswaiting #outsideisfree #familytravel #travelwithkids #travels #happykids #happyplace #instagood
The Sunrise area is the highest point accessible by car at Mt. Rainier. There is a visitor’s center with exhibits, displays, and maps available to help families explore nearby subalpine trails that offer rare views of the mountain only seen during the summer months when the snow has melted.
Ski the Slopes
Crystal Mountain Lodge’s Slow Zones are safe areas designated for young and new skiers and their teachers. They provide parents with the opportunity to introduce kids to the slopes. When ready, young skiers can advance to the green runs (the easiest) on the Discovery and Quicksilver chairlifts. This system makes getting the whole family situated on skis quick and seamless. The lodge also offers a Kids Club for children ages four to six. Half and full day packages include classes and playtime, giving parents a chance to brave the more challenging runs.
#Travel Tip 5: Family vacations are all about spending time together, but don’t let guilt keep you from signing your kids up for classes and camps with peers. My ski bunnies love making new friends and tend to prefer being taught by instructors over being bossed around by mom and dad.
Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing
Snowshoeing reveals the wonders of nature when blanketed with snow and ice. The national park provides ranger-guided snowshoeing perfect for beginners and families with young children. Equipment is available for a $5 donation.
Families ready to strike out on their own can enjoy traversing beautiful, white drifts by snowshoes or skis along several family-friendly trails including the .8-mile Trail of Shadows loop, the 3.2-mile River Trail, or Huckleberry Creek’s 4-mile round trip.
Regardless of age, Mt. Rainier transforms visitors with its ruggedly beautiful terrain and wildlife. It is no longer a natural wonder restricted to seasoned mountaineers— youth and travelers with young children now wander through its meadows, sail down its snow-covered slopes and come to revere the area just as Muir did. Once visited, the mountain’s call is sure to bring families back again and again, and might even turn young naturalists into the National Park’s next great activists.