10 Top-Rated Campgrounds at Mt. Rainier National Park
Upon witnessing Mount Rainier, the sheer presence of this majestic mountain will surely take your breath away. It is the most prominent peak of the Pacific Northwest at 14,410 feet above sea level. The best way to appreciate the glaciers of this rugged attraction is to spend time in the massive surrounding national park and take advantage of the various campgrounds.
Four main drive-in campgrounds can be accessed within Mount Rainier, including the popular Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh, all of which lend access to aptly named areas of the park like Paradise and Sunrise. Other great camping options like Big Creek Campground can be found in the different national forests that border park boundaries.
The national park also maintains a vast collection of backcountry hiking trails and trailside camps, all of which require a permit to spend the night. Find the best spot to pitch a tent or park an RV with our list of the top-rated campgrounds at Mt. Rainier National Park.
1. Cougar Rock Campground
Near the Nisqually River in the southwest section of the park, you can expect all 173 campsites at Cougar Rock Campground to be well used throughout the season. The popularity of this campground can be partially attributed to the spacious sites, buffered by trees and green space that add a sense of privacy.
A real reason why reservations are recommended at Cougar Rock Campground, though, is its proximity to the popular Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and Paradise area of the park. With less than a 10-mile drive from the campground, tourists and travelers can encounter the dramatic mountain scene at Paradise, including one of the best hiking trails in Washington (the Skyline Trail). Cougar Rock provides space for tent campers and RVs (no electrical hookup), as well as potable water and flushing toilets.
2. Ohanapecosh Campground
The largest campground within Mount Rainier, Ohanapecosh is accessed via the southeast entrance and scenic Stevens Canyon road (closed in winter). This strategic location adds much to the appeal of Ohanapecosh Campground in that it's a great halfway point between two of the most popular sections of the park: Paradise and Sunrise. Much of the appeal also comes from the old growth forest surrounding the 188 campsites, as well as the strikingly blue (and strikingly cold) Ohanapecosh River, which carves its way next to the campground.
While Paradise and Sunrise are both good directions to head, many great hiking trails stem right from Ohanapecosh Campground. The Grove of the Patriarchs trail is less than a mile away, and the stunning Silver Falls trail can be accessed from the end of "Loop B." The large amphitheater within the campground also hosts ranger programs in the evening throughout the week, and kids can find plenty to explore in the encompassing old growth forest. Accommodating tents and RVs, the campground offers running water alongside restroom facilities and flushing toilets.
3. White River Campground
At an elevation of 4,400 feet, White River Campground on the northeast section of the park is typically the first to close for the winter season and the last to open. All 112 campsites at the campground are granted on a first-come, first-served basis and cater mostly towards tent campers with no pull-through sites available.
White River's access to the surrounding environment is unbeatable, including the stunning and surrounding White River Valley. The Wonderland Trail wanders right through the campground, and other hiking trails, including the Glacier Basin Trail, beckon for a great day trip.
The Sunrise area of the park is accessible with a 2.5-mile hike from the White River Campground, or with a scenic 10-mile drive to the Sunrise Visitors Center. Flushing toilets and running water are available within every loop of the campground.
4. Mowich Lake Campground Editor's Pick
Sometimes referred to as the "quiet corner of the park," Mowich Lake Campground is in the northwest section of Mount Rainier. The 17 miles of unpaved State Route 165 to access Mowich Lake can provide a bumpy commute, but the scenery at the end of the gravel road is well worth the effort to visit. Mowich Lake itself is the largest and deepest lake within the national park, and its water is warm enough to enjoy a swim during the summer season.
Accessed from the lakeshore and campground, the Tolmie Peak Lookout trail provides a great view of the towering Rainier in the distance. Other popular recreational outlets leading from Mowich Lake Campground include Spray Park and Spray Falls, as well as numerous different backcountry trailheads.
The smallest established auto campground within Mount Rainier, Mowich Lake provides 10 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. This can be a challenge if you are counting on a tent site on a summer weekend. Parking is not available at any campsite, but NPS wheelbarrows are available to haul your gear from the parking area nearby.
There is no fee to camp at Mowich Lake. Many of the campsites at Mowich Lake Campground are completely exposed, but the inviting waters of Mowich Lake are only a short walk away.
5. La Wis Wis Campground
Just outside of the southeast park boundary, La Wis Wis Campground is located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Besides lending quick access to the Stevens Canyon Entrance of the park (a 15-minute drive), La Wis Wis is also surrounded by its own natural attractions.
At the confluence of three waterways, including the Ohanapecosh River, all 122 sites at La Wis Wis are comfortably shaded beneath tall Douglas firs and red cedars. The campground accommodates tent campers and RVs and provides flushing toilets and potable water. Popular recreational outlets at La Wis Wis include the Blue Hole Trail and easy access to the cascading Purcell Falls. La Wis Wis also has spacious group sites available with advanced reservations.
6. Big Creek Campground
Within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest abutting the southwest section of the national park, less than six miles from the Nisqually Entrance, Big Creek Campground provides a great home base to explore the park and immediate surroundings.
Twenty-six sites and three double sites can be found within the single loop of Big Creek Campground, as well as vault toilets and potable water. Big Creek Campground can accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs up to 22 feet in length.
The well-spaced sites and mature forest provide a sense of privacy, and Big Creek is often a popular spot for family camping outings. Fishing in Skate Creek is a popular recreation option close to the campground, as are day hikes and overnight endeavors on the adjacent Sawtooth Trail system.
7. Silver Springs Campground
If the White River Campground is full, an equally scenic alternative can be found just twelve miles away at the Silver Springs Campground outside of park boundaries. Within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Silver Springs has 55 sites to choose from and a large group site able to accommodate up to 50 people.
Available for advance reservation, campsites at Silver Springs include access to potable water and flushing toilets and can accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs. Sunrise is the closest area of Mount Rainier to Silver Springs Campground, and other recreation options within immediate vicinity include salmon fishing in the White River and trekking on the Crystal Mountain Trail.
8. Sunrise Camp
Spending the night at one of the auto campgrounds at Mount Rainier is a memorable experience, and even more excitement can be found in the park's backcountry and wilderness trailside camps. To spend the night in these hike-in camps, users need to obtain a permit, which can be reserved ahead of time or on a first-come, first-served basis at any ranger station within the park (subject to availability). Proper knowledge, including how to store your food, is key to enjoying unsupported time in the Rainier backcountry, and having a flexible itinerary will help ensure you get a sought-after permit.
A great introduction to backcountry camping in Mount Rainier, or a great start for a multi-day excursion, Sunrise Camp is less than a mile hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center and features an impressive backdrop. Eight individual sites and two group sites are available for permits at this trailside camp, and a primitive toilet is shared by all overnight visitors (bring your own toilet paper).
Hikers and backpackers are advised to filter any water they collect from nearby natural sources. Thanks to its proximity to the visitor center, and the stunning surrounding scenery, Sunrise Camp is a very popular place to spend the night. Advanced reservations are recommended.
9. Ipsut Creek Campground
Ipsut Creek Campground is perhaps the most unique backcountry camp in the park. It was formerly a drive-to campground until a 2006 flood washed out the main road to the campsites, effectively leaving hiking or cycling as the only way to access the overnight space. Backcountry permits are required to occupy any one of the twenty-two campsites available at Ipsut Creek, and permits are easier to acquire thanks to the abundance of space.
It's a five-mile trek or bike ride along the old Carbon River road to arrive at the campsites, or a similar distance to hike from Mowich Lake. Most sites at the campground still have picnic tables available, and a pair of vault toilets are centrally located. Ipsut Creek is often a popular jumping-off point for multi-day backpacking trips in the northwest section of the park.
10. Camp Muir
If you are climbing Mount Rainier, Muir Camp, located at an elevation of 10,000 feet, is likely one of the first camps you'll make. Popular for acclimatization and astounding views, Camp Muir is the borderline between tough hiking and the mountaineering needed to reach the top. Historic stone structures provide some shelter from the often fast-changing elements, and when the weather is clear, the view expands for miles. Permits are required to spend the night.
Most popular for those continuing up the mountain the next day, Camp Muir is also a favorite day-long hiking destination. Beginning from Paradise and the Skyline Trail, the trail up to Camp Muir makes a nine-mile roundtrip, crossing steep terrain and glacial features, as well as the possibly disorientating Muir Snowfield. It's a difficult there-and-back journey to accomplish within the confines of a day, and only experienced hikers should attempt this technical route and memorable hike up a mountain.
- Within the Park: Of the four auto-campgrounds within Rainier National Park, Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh Campground are the only two available for advance reservation. Reservations can be made online at Recreation.gov. White River and Mowich Lake campsites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Two passenger vehicles are permitted at each individual site at any campground within the park.
- Outside the Park: Many campgrounds dot the national forests of Washington, and much like the campgrounds closest to Mount Rainier, campsites can be reserved ahead of time through Recreation.gov. Each campground has its own regulations, but they generally allow for one vehicle at the campsite and provide fire rings, picnic tables, and basic facilities.
- Backcountry Camps: A permit is always required to spend the night within the national park backcountry. Permits, especially along the increasingly popular Wonderland Trail, can be competitive to obtain. A random lottery for advance permits takes place each year with an application window between March 15th and March 30th. More information on how to apply can be found on the national park's Wilderness Permit page. If you don't receive a permit through the lottery, thirty percent of all backcountry permits are reserved for walk-in availability.
Where to Stay near Mount Rainier National Park
Several lodges can be found in the different gateway towns that surround the national park. Ashford and Packwood share a similar distance to entrance stations, and each small town provides mid-range lodgings with rustic appeal. For the more budget-conscious traveler, name-brand hotels in cities like Ellensburg, Cle Elum, and Enumclaw provide more affordable rates with longer drive times to access the national park.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A one-mile trip to Mount Rainier National Park, Alexander's Lodge is a historic lodge with plenty of modern amenities. Besides easy access to the national park and the scenic landscapes within, guests at Alexander's enjoy historic charm, surrounding natural landscapes, and breakfast each morning. Also in Ashford, the Nisqually Lodge provides 24 units ranging from standard guest rooms to king suites, all with the same easy access to the national park. Over in Packwood on the south side of the park, the Packwood Lodge provides rustic accommodations and modern amenities, all within 10 minutes of the Stevens Canyons entrance to the park.
- Budget Hotels: The most affordable hotels near Mount Rainier are located farther from the entrance stations, and places like the Econo Lodge in Ellensburg are great for their combination of lower rates and clean facilities. In Cle Elum, the Timber Lodge Inn also features favorable rates and a reputation for friendly front desk staff. Near the northwest entrance to Mount Rainier in Enumclaw, the Rodeway Inn features clean and comfortable rooms and an outdoor pool to enjoy between hiking expeditions.
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Washington's Parks: For something to do between campground visits at Mount Rainier, it's highly recommended to check out some of the national park's best hiking trails. Mount Rainier isn't the only awesome natural place to check out. See our article on the best state and national parks in Washington to learn about more destinations. Campgrounds and hiking trails in Olympic National Park highlight the unique landscapes of the Olympic Peninsula, found few other places in the country. Near the U.S./Canadian border in Washington, the hiking trails and campgrounds in North Cascades National Park all reveal rugged opportunities for adventure.
More Outdoor Opportunities: Many of the top-rated tourist attractions in Washington State incorporate the lush scenery that defines the region, including plenty of great hiking trails and hot springs. White water enthusiasts will want to check out the best white-water rafting adventures in Washington, and powder hounds might be interested in some of the different ski resorts throughout the state.