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

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Apr 13, 2023
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Author Brad Lane lives in the Pacific Northwest and visit Mount Rainier National Park on many occasions.

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.

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

Mt. Rainier has four main entrances. The most popular entrance from Seattle, the Nisqually Entrance, is approximately a 90-mile drive from the city. The White River Entrance is also accessible with a two-hour drive during summer, though this route is closed throughout the winter.

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.

Public transportation can only get you close to Mt. Rainier National Park. A few different bus lines 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 personal vehicle to Mt. Rainier from Seattle is the most common way to access the park, and provides the most flexibility on a trip. 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, 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 the headquarters of the park.

Mowich Lake
Mowich Lake

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.

Visitors can continue on SR 165 to reach Mowich Lake — the largest and deepest lake at Mt. Rainier. It's an approximately 16-mile drive on a narrow gravel road to reach this not-so-secret gem of the park. The route is fairly well-maintained for a gravel road, without any major craters or giant potholes. Expect to take the drive slowly, though.

The view from Sunrise Visitor Center
The view from Sunrise Visitor Center

Mount Rainier has two east entrances. The Stephens Canyon entrance, in the southeast corner, isn't a common way to access the park from Seattle. Rather, most Seattle drivers head to the Nisqually Entrance and connect to Stephens Canyon via the park's Stephens Canyon Road (open seasonally).

The Northeast White River Entrance is approximately two hours from Seattle in the summer months. This entrance leads to the notable Sunrise region of the park, with up-close views of the mountain right from the parking lot.

The seasonal Chinook Pass (Highway 410) that makes the White River entrance accessible in the summer is covered in snow throughout the winter. Chinook Pass typically closes to traffic between mid-November and late May.

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. It also 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 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.

Tours are available every day from May 1st through the first few days of November. Weekend tours tend to sell out the fastest, though all tours fill up quickly throughout the summer. The maximum group size for booking is 15 people, and the total capacity of the shuttle van is 22 travelers.

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, booking a group ride is the most cost-effective way to utilize the 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. Enumclaw is the closest city to Mount Rainier that is accessible from Seattle via public transportation. 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.

Visitors reach Enumclaw from Seattle 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, booking a ride back ahead of time is important before losing cell reception.