It was a mild fall day in the Cascade region of Washington when we awoke to a noise outside the van. I guess parking in that rest stop wasn’t the smartest thing if we wanted to get some sleep.
We were about 8 days into our Pacific Northwest road trip where we came up the coast from California and through Oregon, wrapping around the loop of the Olympic Peninsula before settling into a parking space at a rest stop outside of Tacoma. The plan was to be in Seattle by morning but check-in wasn’t until 3 p.m. and it’s only now 6. What now?
I begin punching our hotel address into Google Maps when I noticed more mountains to the east of where we were. “How about we just go kill some more time in the Cascades before Seattle?” I asked Andy. Him, being totally chill with what ever I want to do, agrees so I begin giving manual directions on how to head into the mountains. That was about the time when I seen it on the map: Mount Rainier.
Mount Rainier National Park
At 14,410 feet, Mountain Rainier is the tallest volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range and the most glaciated peak in the entire United States. Mount Rainier National Park is the nation’s 5th oldest, with roads, buildings and other structures still standing after over 100 years. Every year, nearly 2 million people from around the world come to visit this iconic place.
Located about 60 miles southeast of Seattle, a visit to Mount Rainier proves to be an easy day trip from the Puget Sound. Multiple tour companies offer excursions to the park or renting a car to explore on your own is the most favored option.
Finding the Best Views of Mount Rainier
It’s so funny to me that I’m actually writing this post because we had absolutely no intentions of seeing Mount Rainier at all but that’s why I love road trips so much! We had the freedom to change our itinerary at the last minute, allowing us to see things we never intended to see, which gave me the opportunity to write this post for you guys so you can find out where to find the best views of that gorgeous snow-capped mountain.
Victor Steinbrueck Park
If you’re in Seattle and lucky enough to have clear weather conditions like we did, head down to the Pike Place Market and, on the north side, head over to Victor Steinbrueck Park. Hug the railing that overlooks WA-99 and look to your left over the Seattle Great Wheel. Do you see it? The tippy top of Mount Rainier, over 60 miles away, peeks out over the CenturyLink Field where the Seattle Seahawks play.
Read More: The Best of Seattle
The Black Diamond Bakery
On your way out of Seattle, take the I-5 to I-405E, before veering off of WA-169 for 18 miles, arriving to the Black Diamond Bakery. Established in 1902, this restaurant and bakery gives some incredible views of Mount Rainier on a clear day through their floor to ceiling window. Although the breakfast here is somewhat expensive, it was so so yummy and the portion size was HUGE. And you just cannot beat those views!
The Sunrise Side of Mount Rainier is higher and drier than any other place in the park. At 6400 feet, it’s the highest elevation that you can drive through the park and, it gets more sun, allowing for more exploring during the colder months.
Twisting around pine-lined roads running parallel with the White River, WA-410 (Mather Memorial Parkway) takes you directly into the Sunrise Side of Mount Rainier National Park.
It’s important to note that this road is only open seasonally!
Sunrise Visitor Center
After passing over the Crystal Creek on WA-410, take a right towards the White River Entrance where you’ll have to pay your National Park Fee.
Check the current National Park entrance rates here.
Take this road 3 miles west until you can take a right hand turn up Sunset Ridge.
This road is only open July to early October!
This 10 mile drive up to the Sunrise Visitor Center is one of the most scenic drives you can take in all of Washington. As the road figure-8’s itself around from north to south, with every other turn you get the most incredible views of that monstrous snow-tipped mountain.
While there are multiple pull-offs here to enjoy the views of Mount Rainier, keep going until the road ends at the Sunrise Visitor Center for the best views.
Upon parking, you’ll see a number of people coming from the southwest on trails. Follow down this pathway about a quarter mile until the trees clear out and open up to nothing but the snow-capped mountain.
One of my favorite things about the Sunrise Side of the park is that morning warmth allows the wildflowers to grow. We visited in late August and were still able to see the purple floral decor on the ground, the perfect little detail to add in a picture of Mount Rainier.
If you’re looking to enjoy a more in-depth hike, this is the perfect place to take off from as Sunrise offers 7 different trail heads, ranging in distances of 1 mile to 11 miles. Follow the link here to read more about the different hikes from the Sunrise Visitor Center.
Since we didn’t have much time before we had to trek on to Seattle, we only walked about a half mile down into Emmons Vista for some photos before turning back around to our vehicle.
On the way back down Sunset Ridge, be sure to stop along the edge of the road for some more spectacular views of Mount Rainier!
After coming down the 10 mile Sunset Ridge, retrace your steps by taking a left turn, heading east past the White River Entrance and T’ing back into WA-410. Take a right here, heading south for 3 miles until you can take a left hand turn at Cayuse Pass. Drive about 2 miles until you reach the parking area for Tipsoo Lake on the left hand side of the road. On the north side of the parking lot, multiple foot trails can be seen. Take this route to get to the other side of Tipsoo Lake.
In the summertime, millions of wildflowers dot the ground around Tipsoo Lake with the reflections of Mount Rainier in the water.
A couple of popular trails start here like the Naches Peak Loop, one of the most popular in the park, and the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2,659 miles from Canada to Mexico. The popular Yakima Peak rises above Tipsoo Lake as well, giving the perfect rugged look to make Mount Rainier stand out.
You won’t have to go too far at all for my favorite views of Mount Rainier. Get back in your car and take a left up around the bend about a quarter mile until you reach an elevation of 5,432 feet at Chinook Pass.
Chinook Pass rises above Tipsoo Lake with gorgeous wildflowers supplying that little pop of color in front of the pined scenery.
The views from Chinook pass are out of this world, I could’ve sat here all day in silence staring out at this picture-perfect postcard spot of Mount Rainier.
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