Naturalist John Muir was lucky to see some of the world’s most beautiful places during his lifetime, and he regarded Mount Rainier among the best, calling it "the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings." That’s high praise, and it only takes one visit to the Cascades’ crown jewel to realize that Muir wasn’t mistaken.
If you’re here for a day trip and want a good overview of the area, take the Circle Mount Rainier Driving Tour, a 150-mile loop that gives you a little taste of everything. The full route is generally open from the end of May through October. Along the way, you’ll cruise through all the mountain’s gateway communities, passing by favorite sites like 69-foot Christine Falls and the turquoise Louise Lake. You’ll also have easy access to side trips, such as to Suntop Peak, where at the end of a gravel road, 360-degree views (including of Mount Rainier’s summit) await.
To really dig into the mountain’s offerings, park the car and set out on a hike. The options range from the gentle Grove of the Patriarchs, a 1.5-mile loop through trees estimated to be more than 1,000 years old, to standing on Columbia Crest atop Mount Rainier, usually a two- or three-day excursion that requires crampons, ice axes, and mountaineering chops.
Of the visitor areas in the park, Paradise is the most popular. Here, the landscape looks as if an artist came by with a brush and quickly dotted the meadows with wildflowers in the summer; in the winter, the snowfall is significant. Get advice on which trails to tackle inside the Jackson Visitor Center. On the other end of the spectrum, the Carbon River entrance is the quietest for those seeking more solitude.