A Visitor's Guide to Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park

Written by Brad Lane
Oct 6, 2023

Hikers on Skyline Hiking Trail in Paradise
Hikers on Skyline Hiking Trail in Paradise | Photo Credit: Brad Lane

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What's your idea of paradise? Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park is wildflower meadows running rampant with marmots and pikas. It's waterfalls rushing from glacier melt and round-trip hiking trails that are easy to follow. It's also a stunning 1916 mountain lodge open to the public, only dwarfed in grandeur by the massive volcano rising from its backdoor.

Above all else, Paradise at Mount Rainier showcases the best of the American West, setting a tone of adventure, exploration, and amazement on your first and hundredth visit alike (if you could only be so lucky). To make the most of your next memorable getaway, here are my recommendations for exploring Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park

How to Get to Paradise

Author Brad Lane hiking in Paradise
Author Brad Lane hiking in Paradise | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Paradise area is on the south side of Mount Rainier at approximately 5,400 feet (more than a mile above sea level). The southeast Stevens Canyon Entrance is the closest, connected by a scenic ten-mile drive passing by several roadside lakes. But if you're coming from Seattle, aim for the southwest Nisqually Entrance, where a thirty-mile drive delivers you to Paradise after passing through the Longmire Historic District.

The road to Paradise is wide-open throughout the summer, winding its way up the mountain's south slope with beautiful views. The road is plowed throughout the winter, though only the Southwest Nisqually Entrance is open to winter traffic. The National Park maintains up-to-date Road Status information on its website.

Best Time to Visit Paradise (for wildflowers)

A marmot in wildflowers
A marmot in wildflowers | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

There's no wrong time to bask in Paradise at Mount Rainier. But there are certain times when blooming bouquets of wildflowers add to the scenic value. The best time to visit Paradise for wildflower season is generally mid-July through August. Not surprisingly, this coincides with the busiest time of year to visit, when even the overflow parking overflows.

Late May, June, and September are also good times to visit Paradise outside of the winter months. Expect snow on the trailside and roadside through June, but the area starts significantly melting this time of year. September is also a stunning time to visit as the summer crowds die down. However, expect variable weather, or "transition days," with possible cloudiness covering Paradise.

Skyline: The One Hiking Trail You Have to Do in Paradise

Skyline hiking trail in Paradise
Skyline hiking trail in Paradise | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

If you only have time for a single hike in the entire park, the Skyline Trail should be at the top of your list. This stunning display of Rainier's glaciers and wildland meadows offers variable distance trips departing from the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center.

The traditional Skyline Trail is a 5.5-mile loop with approximately 1,700 feet of elevation gain, considered a moderate to strenuous hike. But you don't have to do the entire trail to get a full taste of Paradise. Following a wide paved path for the first half-mile, every step forward from the Memorial Visitor Center exposes fantastic views of the mountain and its meadows.

But don't underestimate the uphill climb. The beginning of the trail offers the steepest ascent, and already starting a mile above sea level, you'll feel it in your legs and lungs. Luckily and strategically, several sitting benches also line the route, and the extraordinary nature of the area justifies a slower pace. This paved section turns to packed singletrack at Myrtle Falls, approximately a half-mile into the hike.

Hikers in Paradise
Hikers in Paradise | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Panorama Point is another excellent destination to aim for while hiking the Skyline Trail. It's a steady uphill two-mile hike from the Memorial Visitor Center, but its name doesn't even begin to capture the view from this high vantage point. Several trail options depart from Panoramic Point for the full loop hike, side excursions, or downhill back to the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center.

If you want to do more hiking in the park, see my guide to the best hiking trails in Mount Rainier National Park.

The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center and Why You Should Visit

Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson was a prominent Washington State senator with over four decades of public service in Congress representing Washington State. His eponymous Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise is worth checking out when in the area. And it's hard to miss, across the massive upper parking lot from Paradise Inn with a front-row view of the mountain.

The Memorial Visitor Center is an excellent resource for guided programs, questions for rangers, and exhibits detailing the area's historic legacy, including a park film. Visitors will also find an array of souvenirs and national park-themed gifts alongside general snacks and goods.

The Best Way to Be a Good Visitor

The trail and distant mountains in Paradise
The trail and distant mountains in Paradise | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The majestic meadows and inviting wildflowers love posing for pictures in Paradise, but it's essential to always stay on the trail. These beautiful landscapes are more fragile than they appear, especially accounting for the thousands of visitors they receive yearly. Be a responsible visitor by sticking to the established trail.

Staying at the Paradise Inn

If you want to find the perfect definition of "parkitecture" (park architecture), head to the Paradise Inn. The stature of this resort hotel stands out even against the backdrop of the mountain, and the wood log lobby and stately dining room capture the adventurous spirit of the alpine landscape. Everyone is welcome to tour the hotel free of charge, including a visit to the full-service gift shop.

A rustic charm accompanies a stay in one of the 120+ rooms at the Paradise Inn. No WiFi, television, or cell phone coverage makes it easy to connect with the nature that abounds out of every window. Several rooms and packages are available, including ways to bundle meals in the dining room with your stay. Reservations can be made a year in advance and are all but necessary to secure a spot.

Planning Tip: While Paradise remains open throughout the year, Paradise Inn closes its doors in winter. The typical operating season for the hotel spans mid-May through September.

Camping near Paradise

View from Cougar Rock Campground
View from Cougar Rock Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Camping isn't available in the immediate Paradise area, although the national park has a few designated campgrounds nearby. Cougar Rock Campground is the closest, less than a 10-mile drive toward the Southwest Nisqually Entrance. The campground has nearly 180 sites catering to tents and RVs, although no hookups are available. Sites are available for reservation on a six-month rolling basis and tend to fill quickly.

Similarly, Ohanapecosh Campground has the same amount of reservable sites near the southeast Stevens Canyon Entrance. It's a bit longer drive to reach Ohanapecosh from Paradise, but undoubtedly scenic the entire way. Check out my article on Mount Rainier campgrounds, highlighting every campground in the park and several in the surrounding national forests.

Winter in Paradise

The winter is a special time in Paradise. Snow absolutely dumps onto the area, with flakes first falling in September and snow piles lasting throughout July. This new coat adds a sparkling luster to the landscape and several options for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and backcountry skiing for those with some experience in snow travel.

Historically, the road to Paradise was plowed seven days a week if the conditions allowed (plowers go through a decision matrix each morning to ensure it's safe to move so much snow). However, during the 2022/23 season, the road was considered for plowing only on the weekends due to staff shortages.