From lush rainforests and rugged beaches to scenic meadows and an immense volcano, the state of Washington is home to some of the United States’ most breathtaking natural beauty. Located just outside Seattle, the iconic Mt. Rainier looms over the bustling city. While Olympic National Park offers three different ecosystems and is just a short drive away. Whether you’re looking for a memorable day trip from Seattle or Vancouver, or you’re seeking a longer adventure, don’t miss these amazing ways to enjoy Washington’s magnificent nature during any time of year.
Mt. Rainier National Park Tours
This beautiful 368-square-mile (953 square km) national park was inaugurated in 1899 and is centered around one of the world’s most impressive mountains. The majestic Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano in mainland America as well as the fifth tallest mountain in the US territory (Alaska is home to the four tallest). Covered in snow year round, this active stratovolcano is popular with thousands of mountaineers who try to scale to its summit each year.
But the beguiling Mount Rainier is not the only draw of this spectacular national park. Thanks to the snow melting from the peak, the surrounding area features beautiful waterfalls, vast lakes, active glaciers and flower-filled meadows. It’s also home to diverse wildlife such as black-tail deer, Roosevelt elk, black bears, Cascade red foxes, birds and more.
Wonderland Trail & Paradise Road
Mount Rainier National Park offers over 50 trails brimming with beauty. The most popular is Wonderland Trail which circles 93 miles (150km) around the mountain. Hiking the full trail is strenuous and crosses through lowland forests and valleys into high alpine and sub-alpine areas. However, many tours take visitors to an easier portion of the trail for sightseeing. In summer, enjoy wildflowers bursting in the meadows. In winter, experience snowshoeing through the tranquil and snowy wonderland.
If you would prefer a scenic drive through the park, Paradise Road offers amazing views of the mountain, wildflowers in the late summer, massive snowfalls in the winter (one of the snowiest places on the planet!), and a world-class visitor center.
Mt. Rainier’s Waterfalls
There are over 150 waterfalls in Mount Rainier National Park and many are over 300 feet (91 m) high! Some of the highest include Comet Falls at 462 feet (140 m), which is only viewable from May through July on a moderate hike; and Fairy Falls which is 680 feet high (207 m) and only viewable May through August on a difficult-level hike.
If you prefer a scenic drive to hiking, there are also beautiful waterfalls that can be seen from the road any time of year. The popular Narada Falls 176 feet (54 m) is located just about a mile down Paradise Road and has convenient parking for visitors. Christine Falls is 69 feet high (21 m)and includes the postcard-worthy Christine Falls Bridge. It is also visible from a stop on Paradise Road year round.
Carbon and Emmons Glaciers
With over 25 active glaciers, Mount Rainier features many opportunities to witness dramatic expanses of snow and ice. Carbon Glacier lies in the shadow of Mount Rainier’s North Face and has the lowest terminus of any glacier in the contiguous United States; while Emmons Glacier, located just 0.2 mile (0.3 km) from the Sunrise Visitor Center, is the largest glacier by area.
How to See Mount Rainier National Park
Enjoy a day trip from Seattle along Paradise Road that visits several waterfalls and the Paradise Valley. Or, experience an interpretive nature walk on a day excursion from Seattle.
Olympic National Park Tours
An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Olympic National Park stretches 1,406 square miles (3642 square km) through one of the world’s few temperate rainforests and a 57-mile strip of Pacific coastal wilderness. Considered one of North America’s last great wilderness areas, the park offers many opportunities for walking, hiking, fishing, kayaking and skiing.
Experience remarkable ecological diversity and expansive wilderness that includes sub-alpine meadows, moss-draped forests, azure lakes, striking mountains and rugged beaches. You can also spot a variety of native wildlife such as deer, elk, marmots, mountain goats, black bears, birds and more.
This mountainous region is a popular destination in the park for hiking, skiing and snowboarding. In the summer, several picnic areas open up, making this a great spot for a day-trip from nearby Seattle.
Watch deer graze in the meadows, listen to the distinct shrill of a marmot, smell the intoxicating perfume of a summer wildflower field, or feel the snow crunch beneath your feet on a winter snowshoeing expedition.
Located in the heart of Olympic National Park, this deep lake is a brilliant hue of bright blue and was formed during the last Ice Age by thousands of years of glacial activity. Stroll along the fern-filled forests that line its shores or, rent a canoe or stand-up paddle board to enjoy a tranquil afternoon on the water. You can also stay overnight at Lake Crescent at the historic Lake Crescent Lodge. It is said that after Franklin D. Roosevelt spent the night here, he was so in awe that he decided to authorize the creation of the area’s national park status.
The reward of a fairly easy and well-trafficked 1.8-mile (2.9 km) scenic hike, Marymere Falls is also just a short distance from Lake Crescent. Along the way, enjoy a cool, old-growth lowland forest consisting of fir, cedar, hemlock and alder trees before arriving at the 90-foot-high (27 m) waterfall.
Enjoy a one-day excursion from Seattle that includes stops at the park’s most iconic spots. Or enjoy a naturalist-guided day trip that includes a scenic ferry ride across Puget Sound from Seattle to Bainbridge Island.
For the ultimate experience, try a three-day travel package from Seattle that includes visits to both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. For more ideas on what to do in and around Seattle, click here.