Mt Rainier National Park Hiking Guide
MPG V2.8, January 2013


There a quite a few Web sites for hiking information from official Websites of organizations or agencies, some with links on this Website, to individual's experience Websites or hiker bulletin boards/forums with excellent information and suggestions. I can only add to your information with my own experience to provide ideas, information, and suggestions.

For the four quadrants, access to the Park is through a visitors entrances, the Nisqually entrance in the southwest, the Ohanapecosh entrance in the souteast, the White River entrance in the northeast, and the Carbon River and Mowich Lake entrances in the northwest. The Mowich Lake Entrance, accessed by county highway and unpaved USFS roads to the entrance and campground does not have an entrance and permits and passes are checked by the rangers at the parking lot and campground.

Personal Hiking Tips

The first place to start is the weather, which you can get from the following Web sites and through the map of weather sites.

The second is being prepared. I can't emphasize enough if you plan to do any day hikes, you should be prepared with a day pack and the outdoor essentials, and good hiking clothes, especially boots. You can use lightweight hiking boots for many trips, but using anything less only creates problems with your legs and feet after any short distance, especially trails with significant elevation gains and losses. It doesn't pay to be tired and still a few miles from the trailhead and your car.

The third is hiking guides. There are numerous hiking guides on Mt. Rainier and the National Park, some straight hiking guides and some hiking experiences. All are excellent and the ones I carry with me for every trip are listed below.

  1. -- Day HIkes Mount Rainier by Heidi Schneider and Mary Skjelset, Falcon Press
  2. -- Day Hike Mount Rainier by Ron Judd, Sasquatch Books
  3. -- Day Hiking Mount Rainier by Don Nelson, Mountaineers Books
  4. -- 12 Short Hikes Mt Rainier NP, Sunrise and Paradise volumes by Jeffrey Smoot, Falcon Press

You can get more information about day hikes and locate day hikes on a map.

The fourth is hiking equipment. If you're an experienced hiker and planning any overnight or longer hike, you are probably well aware of the preparation you need to do and the equipment you need for your hike. If it's only a 2-3 day hike you can get by using some of the ultralight hiking tips to save weight, but you should not scrimp on emergency or bad weather clothing (wet or cold). Although the summers in the Puget Sound is good weather, it may be quite different in the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Rainier, as explained in Northwest Mountain Weather.

If you plan to hike parts of the Wonderland Trail, there are two excellent resources. The first is the NPS Guide on the Wonderland Trail, and the second is Bette Filley's book, "Discover the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail Encircling Mount Rainier", Dunamis House, currently available in reprint but not updated editions.


The first advisory is about wildflower meadows and open areas. This applies from spring during snowmelt through the bloom of the wildflowers and seasonal growth of the bushes to the first snows of fall.

Stay on the designated paths and trails in the meadows, especially when snow covered.

You may not leave a trace, but others may not be so cautious and careful about their footprint in environmentally sensitive areas. This is especially important in the late snowmelt season where hiking on the thin snowpack can damage the fragile meadows underneath. In addition you will run the risk of being given a ticket by a Park Ranger for violating the rules (which all visitors accept when entering the NP).

The second advisory is about glaciers. Besides the dangers of being close to glaciers, especially near or below the terminus of a glacier, there is one important point.

Do not go on a glacier without experienced hikers or climbers and the proper equipment.

Glaciers are inviting to hike and explore. But they are dangerous for the inexperienced and ill-prepared hikers. Glaciers are very dynamic and constantly changing environments, so it's best to view and photograph them from a safe distance, but don't go on them without guide(s) and equipment.

Another constant problem is the flow below a glacier where the diurnal flow varys as water in the glacier freezes at night and thaws during the day. This causes a cyclical flow in the river below the glacier. This effect extends later in the day going downstream. This is important if you wade across a glacer or snowfed-stream.

Use caution crossing glacier-fed streams and creeks and follow proper crossing technique.

The flow in the creeks and rivers below glaciers will change significantly during the day (diurnal), rising during in the morning into the evening and night until the temperatures cool upstream and below the glacier. It's common to find the flows significantly higher later in the day so note the depth of the flow where you cross to judge the change if or when you return to cross on the trail out.

A potential serious problem glaciers are outburst floods. This usually occur in late summer after extended warm periods, but not restricted to these factors. Outburst floods happen when a rapid melting or breaking occurs within the lower end of the glacier causing an extreme amout of glacial ice and material to flow downstream in a wave, such as happened in recent years on Kautz and Tahoma Creeks.

In short, be careful around the terminus of glaciers and in the river channel below glaciers. Be alert to unusual sounds and other signs and move immediately (laterally) up the valley in event of unusual sounds or conditions coming downstream. And always follow the proper crossing technique.

The last advisory is about guns. Beginning February 22, 2010, openly carrying guns in the NP is legal and concealed with a legal permit. However, there are a number of conditions, which you can find here with links to additional information.

It is illegal to carry a gun indoors and it is illegal to use or fire a gun anywhere in the NP.

This is especially important in the visitors areas, the campgrounds, on the trails, and in the backcountry. You can only openly carry a gun or concealed with the proper (state) permit) and nothing else. You can not unholster, use or discharge the weapon anytime or anywhere in the NP. The NPS has trained and instructed the park and backcountry rangers to treat all visitors as if they are carrying a gun unless it is clear the visitor is not carrying a gun.

Personal Notes

If you plan any overnight hike in Mt. Rainier National Park, there are very specific rules for backcountry hiking. These are outlined here. In order to make sure you minimize the impact of your trip and make it a good place for others, please follow these rules, and especially the following I personally favor.

    • Register and get a permit.
    • Camp at designated campgrounds.
    • Follow rules on fires and stoves.
    • Follow rules and trails on meadows.
    • Only scramble in designated areas.
    • Take and wear proper clothes and wear proper boots.
    • Take proper regular and emergency food and gear.
    • No dogs on trails.

Remember it's a National Park for all of us. Be a good visitor, take only photos and leave no trace.

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WSR V2.8, January 2013