From Seattle to Mt. Rainier: 4 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Brad Lane
May 22, 2020
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A day trip from Seattle to Mt. Rainier is a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience. It's less than 60 miles from downtown Seattle to the summit of Mt. Rainier as the crow flies but it takes about two hours to drive to the popular southwest Nisqually Entrance of the park from the city.

Driving a personal vehicle to the park is the most popular way to get to Mt. Rainier from Seattle. With summer congestion issues and a potential lack of parking, however, a personal vehicle doesn't come without its headaches. Luckily, other solutions are available to explore Mt. Rainier from Seattle.

Organized day tours offer a comfortable experience without worrying about driving or parking. A day tour from Seattle to Mt. Rainier allows visitors to watch the Washington countryside pass by out the window. Tours also come with a personable guide who narrates the trip. Most organized tours also provide convenient pickup and drop-offs from downtown hotels.

Private transfers are also available, with services best suited for groups traveling to the park.

Mt. Rainier has four main entrances. The most popular entrance from Seattle, the Nisqually Entrance, is approximately a 90-mile drive from the city.

Public transportation can only get you close to Mt. Rainier National Park. A few different bus lines connect to bring visitors to the city of Enumclaw in King County. From here, a taxi or rideshare can put you in the park.

1. From Seattle to Mt. Rainier by Car

Road to Mt. Rainier
Road to Mt. Rainier

Bringing a vehicle to Mt. Rainier from Seattle adds some flexibility to where you can go. Summer vehicle congestion is a rising challenge in the park, causing prominent parking areas to fill by early morning. Visiting during the week, arriving early, or arriving later in the day can help avoid some travel headaches when traveling to Mt. Rainier by car.

Mt. Rainier National Park has four main entrances accessible by vehicle. The Nisqually Entrance, located on the southwest corner of the park, is the most popular entrance from Seattle. Nisqually is also the only entrance that is open year-round to vehicles. Visitors using a GPS unit should type in the address, "39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, WA 98304" to reach the Nisqually entrance.

Directions to the Nisqually entrance from Seattle begin by taking I-5 South out of the city to Exit 127 (SR 512). After a quick connection on SR 512, visitors head south on SR 7 to the town of Elbe. From Elbe, the Nisqually Entrance is less than 15 miles east on SR 706. The Nisqually entrance is adjacent to the Longmire Historic District and headquarters of the park.

The northwest Carbon River and Mowich Lake regions of the park are shorter drives from Seattle but provide fewer amenities. Both areas are reachable from Seattle by hopping on SR 165 from the town of Wilkeson. The Carbon River Road washed out in a 2006 flood, and vehicles can only go as far as the entrance gate. From here, the abandoned road is traversable by bicycle or foot.

The two entrances on the east side of the park, White River and Stephens Canyon, are most accessible from Seattle during the warmer months of the year. The seasonal Chinook Pass that makes these entrances available in the summer is covered in snow throughout the winter. For those traveling to the east side of the park from Seattle in summer, it's over a two-hour drive to reach the Sunrise Visitor Center via Chinook Pass.

2. From Seattle to Mt. Rainier by Organized Tour

Seattle skyline with Mt. Rainier in the distance
Seattle skyline with Mt. Rainier in the distance

The organized Mt. Rainier National Park Day Tour from Seattle offers a stress-free way to experience the park. This trip features a shuttle service to most downtown hotels. The guided ride leaves behind worries like driving, parking, and trip planning and includes in-depth information about the park from a knowledgeable guide.

After the hotel pickup, the first stop on this 10-hour tour is Park Headquarters in Longmire. This National Historic District makes for a great introduction to the legacy of Mt. Rainier. Visitors on the tour have exclusive access to an informative slideshow at the visitor center. The natural landscapes of Mt. Rainier unfold as the journey continues, with short walks to Christine Falls and Narada Falls on the Nisqually River.

The park tour ends at the aptly named Paradise region of the park. Guests can bask in this alpine paradise, where meadows grow rampant with color, and Rainier looms on the horizon. An easy 2.5-hour drive back to Seattle caps the tour, where guests have been known to nap after the full-day adventure.

3. From Seattle to Mt. Rainier by Transfer Service

Mt. Rainier reflected in an alpine lake
Mt. Rainier reflected in an alpine lake

One of the only transfer services to Mt. Rainier from Seattle is Shuttle Express. With shuttle services to specific spots in the park, this is an excellent option for groups looking to avoid driving and parking frustrations. Shuttle Express specializes in airport transportation and serves much of the Seattle area.

Shuttle Express offers a casual van service that seats up to 10 hikers plus their gear. A coach service is also available that fits groups of 14 to 55 people. While private and individual rides are available, groups are the primary users of Shuttle Express services. Arranging a trip ahead of time is the only way to get a ride.

4. From Seattle to Mt. Rainier by Bus

Wildflowers blooming near Mt. Rainier
Wildflowers blooming near Mt. Rainier

Unfortunately, a direct connection to Mt. Rainier from Seattle by public bus does not yet exist. The closest city to Mount Rainier accessible from Seattle via public transportation is Enumclaw. It's a 20-mile taxi or rideshare from Enumclaw to the Carbon River entrance of the park, and a 30-mile ride to Mowich Lake.

To reach Enumclaw from Seattle, visitors begin by taking the Sound Transit Express Bus 578 to the Auburn Transit Center. From the Transit Center, the DART Route 915 drops visitors off outside Enumclaw High School. The King County Metro website offers schedules and fares for both routes.

It's approximately a $50 taxi ride from Enumclaw to the Carbon River entrance of the park. Very limited if not wholly non-existent cell service exists at the Carbon River entrance. For those relying on a ride back to Enumclaw, it's important to book a ride back ahead of time before losing cell reception.

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