The Best Time to Visit Mr. Rainier National Park
To take advantage of Mt. Rainier National Park's full splendor and all its visitor centers, summer is the best time to visit. All the roads are open, restaurants are in full operation, and sunshine is more predictable for mountain viewing. But the downside is you'll be fighting the crowds for parking spots at Paradise and Sunrise. One park ranger told us the majority of the park's one to two million visitors arrive on 11 days in August. On summer weekends, wait times at the Nisqually and White River entrances may be up to an hour.
If visiting during summer, try to travel on the week days, or plan to arrive early at Paradise or Sunrise, even by 9 a.m. (really!), for parking availability. We visited Paradise and Sunrise mid-week in August and managed to find parking, so we do recommend mid-week visits. Arriving early is still recommended.
To escape the crush of tourists, early fall is a spectacular time with autumn colors and crisp temperatures while amenities are still open (many close by mid-October). You can still get good views because Northwest weather is often stable into October. Winter brings snow for snow play at Longmire and Paradise, both open year-round (Paradise on the weekends). Crystal and White Pass ski areas are in full swing with great family-friendly skiing and snow activities. The off-season is also a good opportunity to take in low-elevation hiking and entertainment in the communities around the national park. If visiting the park between November and April, be sure you're carrying chains. It's required.
Although families will find snacks and dining options within the park, amenities are limited and food is generally expensive. We recommend bringing picnic grub for kids to nosh on so you don't blow your budget or kids' tempers. If you plan to camp, you'll want to pick up groceries and fuel up your vehicle before entering the park (Packwood, Enumclaw, or Eatonville). Good camping is available inside and outside the park. We like Silver Springs State Park near Crystal, but national park campgrounds Ohanapecosh, Cougar Rock, and White River are also good. Also, cell service is quite limited-non-existent in many parts of the park.
The best airport for flying into the region is the Seattle-area SeaTac International Airport, and from there, it's an easy hour and 45-minute drive to Ashford or a little over two hours to Packwood.
You'll want a car to travel around the national park, as well as to and from the Seattle region. The nearby communities such as Ashford, Packwood, and Enumclaw are all small and walkable when you arrive. Be sure to gas up before entering Mt. Rainier National Park, whichever entrance you use. On the Nisqually side, Ashford is the last stop, but filling up in Eatonville is even better, as Ashford is quite limited. On the Ohanapecosh and White River side, fuel up in Packwood to the south, or Enumclaw to the north.
If you plan to see all sides of Rainier, you may not make it around the mountain on one tank, depending on what type of car you're driving. If you head to Paradise first from the Nisqually entrance, you can zip out to Packwood before heading toward Sunrise and Crystal Mountain or vice versa. We recommend familiarizing yourself with a map before entering the park and planning out where you'll fill up on gas.