Looking for how to spend two fall days in Mount Rainier National Park? This PNW National Park is a perfect place to spend a fall weekend.
I haven’t really made a national park top ten list (yet). But this park would seriously be in my top five!
If you haven’t had the opportunity to make it to Mount Rainier National Park yet, I hope by the end of this post, you are looking at your bucket list and figuring out when to make it happen!
It truly is that incredible ;).
After dropping our youngest daughter off at college in Oregon in fall 2020, we drove up the Oregon coast to Mount Rainier National Park.
We spent two days in this beautiful park. And then continued on to the cute Bavarian town of Leavenworth, WA for three days before heading home.
This trip was a total of ten days including time with our daughter at college – with day ten being spent flying home from Seattle.
You can read my travel guide for Leavenworth, Washington here!
In a rush?
Two Fall Days in Mount Rainier National Park
- How to Get There
- When to Go and Park Entrance Fees
- How Long to Stay
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- What to Do
- Best Photography Spots in Mount Rainier National Park
- Our Full Ten Day PNW Itinerary
How to Get There
We have always flown into the Portland airport when visiting our college aged kids in Eugene, Oregon.
PDX (Portland International) is a 2.5 hour drive from the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier.
After our Eugene college drop off in Fall 2020, we spent one night on the Oregon coast at Gleneden Beach.
The next day we left Gleneden Beach around 10:30am.
And took our time driving the Oregon coast up to Mount Rainier arriving at the National Park Inn around 7:45pm.
We made a few stops along the way but the ACTUAL driving time from Gleneden Beach to the park was 6.5 hours.
Definitely found a few towns I would love to return to for a longer visit on this drive!!
Just adding them to the ever long bucket list 🤪.
HOWEVER, if you are not starting this trip from the Oregon coast, you will likely want to fly into SeaTac airport which is a little under two hours north of the southwest entrance to the park.
We have always stuck to the southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park in the Longmire and Paradise regions.
On a return visit however, I would love to explore more in the Sunrise region of the park.
Especially as that is where one of the best hikes in the park is (and one I have yet to go on!).
When to Go and Park Entrance Fees
This was my third visit to Mount Rainier National Park.
My first visit was in June 1995 for a day trip from Seattle when I was attending a friend’s wedding.
Then my next trip to this magical place was summer 2009 to go camping in the park with my husband and three kids.
This last trip was in fall 2020 during the Covid Pandemic which greatly altered our stay in this park as I will mention below.
Our first June trip was pouring down rain and actually even snowing at Paradise Visitor Center.
But we had been told that can be the norm for that time of year 🤷♀️.
Our second trip was end of July and the weather was absolutely incredible!
Good thing because we were camping in a tent for that trip!
And my third trip was the last week of September where we had one day of really cold rain but the second day was a beautiful day in the mid 60’s.
Perfect hiking weather ;).
Mount Rainier National Park charges $30 per vehicle for entrance into the park or $15 per person if you are walking/biking in.
How Long to Stay
Our summer 2009 camping trip was for four nights and three full days.
And that was the perfect amount of time to get a good feel for the park and see most of what we wanted to see.
The fall 2020 return trip was two full days in the park with one of them being a very rainy day and therefore limiting our outdoor activity options.
But being that it was a return trip for us, we were content with how the rain made us just slow down and read a book in our lodge for a day ;).
The Covid Pandemic in 2020 required all the visitors centers to be closed.
And Paradise Inn was closed for renovations so we really were forced to just sit on the lodge porch and watch the rain ;).
The biggest benefit to the Pandemic as well as being there mid-week at the end of September was that there were literally ZERO crowds!
I am pretty sure there were five other cars in the hotel parking lot with us ;).
Where to Stay
My first choice for staying in the park would have been Paradise Inn.
However as mentioned above, this lodge was closed for renovations during the pandemic.
But we still loved the National Park Inn for it’s convenient location.
It is 100% a typical national park lodging though. No wifi, no tv’s, no cell coverage.
We had great books to read and caught up on our sleep for our three nights while staying at this peaceful accommodation in the Longmire District of the park.
It is one of the first areas of the park you will hit if you enter via the Nisqually Entrance for the park.
The views from the lodge porch of the Mountain (on a clear day that is) are truly spectacular!!
Located in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park at an elevation of 5420 feet.
The parking lot was one of the places we found wifi to check our emails every day – we aren’t THAT good at unplugging completely 😂.
When the area is open, there is a gift shop, cafe, post office, and full service dining room.
It has also been dubbed one of the “Great Lodges of the West”.
And similarly to the National Park Inn does not have wifi, telephones, or televisions in the rooms.
The views are out of this world though ;).
Campgrounds in the Park
We camped at the Cougar Rock Campground near Longmire in the summer of 2009 and had a wonderful time.
It was close enough to the general store at the National Park Inn for us to get firewood, ice, and any snacks, or extra groceries that we might have forgotten on our way in to the park.
You can find a list of all the campgrounds in the park here.
But remember – make a reservation EARLY! This is a very popular national park and books up fast!
Campgrounds in the park stay open until the end of September so if you are up for camping in the park in the fall – it is certainly a wonderful way to experience the park!
Besides staying in Seattle and taking a daytrip to visit Mount Rainier, I would not suggest staying outside the park.
Unless you are needing a large house for a big group and the campgrounds and park lodges won’t be meeting your needs…
Ashford, Washington is the closest town to the Nisqually Entrance of the park and your best bet for lodging outside of the park.
You can find a list of options in this town here.
Where to Eat
The only options for dining in the park are at the two lodges listed above.
While the food isn’t Michelin Star rating – it is still pretty decent for a national park ;).
Restaurants in Surrounding Areas
I have not eaten at this restaurant so I cannot attest to the quality of the food.
However the website looks pretty inviting – and hey – it looks like they even have live music and beer!
If you are looking for more than the above options – I have found this list of restaurants in towns surrounding the park.
What to Do
Explore the Visitor Centers
There are four visitor centers in the park including the Longmire Museum.
While your main focus for visiting this park is probably to be outside in the gorgeous nature that is provided, it is fun to check these places out.
When they are open that is – they have all been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic but hopefully will reopen soon!!
Mount Rainier National Park is world renowned for its wildflowers.
While their peak season is mid-August, we were still able to enjoy plenty of flowering beauties on our last week of September trip here.
This list will be sticking to the options in the Longmire and Paradise Regions of the park as those are the parts of the park I am familiar with.
You can find a detailed list of all the hikes in the park here.
However, I have also found a great blog post listing the top thirteen hikes in the park here.
Skyline Trail to Panorama Point
A 6 mile loop with a 1700 foot elevation gain this trail is considered a difficult hike.
But is 100% worth it for all the views.
This is the only hike we did on our two days in Mount Rainier National Park in fall 2020 but we took all day and went around the backside to come back down to the Paradise parking lot.
2.4 mile trail with 1100 feet elevation gain and considered a moderate hike.
Comet Falls Trail
4 mile trail with 900 foot elevation gain considered moderate in the Paradise Region.
Mt Fremont Lookout Trail
5.6 miles roundtrip with 1200 feet elevation gain.
This hike is actually in the Sunrise region of the park but is worth mentioning on this list as it is one of the top hikes in the park!
Van Trump Park
6 mile hike with 2150 feet elevation gain in the Paradise Region of the park.
Nisqually Vista Trail
1 mile hike with 100 feet elevation gain from the Paradise Inn parking lot.
4.6 mile roundtrip with 1400 feet elevation gain near the National Park Inn.
Narada Falls Trail
.2 mile hike down to the viewpoint with the option to continue on down the trail to Reflection Lakes.
While there is absolutely no chance in h*^l that I will ever attempt this hike – I thought it would be fun to add it to this list for those of you that have never heard of it ;).
This is a permit only 93 miles around the base of the mountain hike!! The elevation gain on this hike is 22,000 feet and it usually takes around 10-13 days to complete…
This is not an activity we ever partook in however it is a possibility if you are looking to take a day off from hiking.
You can find more information on where to go boating in the park here.
Summit Mount Rainier
This activity is not for the faint of heart, needs a permit, and a guide is HIGHLY suggested.
My husband summited Mount Rainier National Park in June 2017.
Best Photography Spots in Mount Rainier National Park
- Myrtle Falls
- Tipsoo Lakes
- Reflection Lakes
- Christine Falls
- Panorama Viewpoint on Skyline Trail
- Views from all of the above hikes
Our Full Ten Day PNW Itinerary
- Sept 18 – fly to Portland (PDX) and drive to Eugene, OR
- Sept 19 – drop off youngest daughter in Eugene, Oregon
- Sept 20 – drive to Oregon coast and stay at Salishan Coastal Lodge
- Sept 21 – scenic drive along the Oregon coast to Mount Rainier National Park (8 hours – stayed three nights at National Park Inn in the park)
- Sept 22 – full day in Mount Rainier NP
- Sept 23 – full day in Mount Rainier NP
- Sept 24 – drive from MRNP to Leavenworth, WA (4 hours)
- Sept 25 – full day in Leavenworth, WA – read that post here!
- Sept 26 – full day in Leavenworth, WA
- Sept 27 – fly home from SeaTac airport (2 hour and 20 minute drive from Leavenworth)
I hope you found this post helpful for how to spend two fall days in Mount Rainier National Park.
It truly is one of my most favorite parks in the US.
Which makes me hope that you will be able to travel to this park sometime and love it as much as I do!
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If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.
~ Victoria Erickson
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).