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Wildflowers at Mt. Rainier National Park

Wildflowers out at Skyline Trail. Credit: jb10okie/Flickr CC

Guide to kid-friendly hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park

Wildflower walks and alpine lake trails, choose your kid-friendly adventure

There are so many kid-friendly hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park. Families all across the Seattle-area and beyond are heading to Mt. Rainier to experience the alpine lakes, mountain views, meadows of wildflowers, wildlife and so much more this summer! Note that much of the mountain is covered in snow in early July, but as the weather warms, the trails will clear and it will be time for you to plan your adventure.

Here’s your guide to kid-friendly hikes at this incredible place and a few tips to help you have a successful day trip.

Nisqually entrance at Mt. Rainier National Park

Nisqually entrance at Mt. Rainier National Park. jb10okie/Flickr CC

Entrances and hiking conditions

There are four primary entrances to Mt. Rainier National Park: Nisqually, White River/Sunrise, Stevens Canyon, and Carbon River. Each entrance is a 2-2.5 hour drive from Seattle. The Nisqually entrance is open year-round to vehicles and is the most popular. Rangers encourage visitors to check the national park’s website for up-to-date information on when the entrances are open. For example, the Stevens Canyon entrance is closed Monday-Thursday for construction.

Before you head up to the mountain, check the trail conditions. Many trails have a percentage of snow on them in early July and traveling with little kids may not be ideal. Also, the Grove of Patriarchs hike is closed until further notice.

Park passes

Purchase an America the Beautiful Pass to access entrance into Mt. Rainier National Park and more than 2,000 other federal recreation sites. At $80 for an annual pass, this is a wonderful option for families who have a goal to visit Mt. Rainier and other parks throughout the year.

If you’re planning to explore Mt. Rainier National Park only, then purchase a single pass, valid for 7 consecutive days, for one vehicle (up to 15 passengers). You can purchase this pass at the entrance into the park or online for $30. Online purchases are encouraged to reduce your wait time at the park entrance. New in 2023 is the park’s cashless payment system. All reservations must be made electronically and with a credit/debit card. Cash will not be accepted at park entrances.

Families with 4th graders can also sign up for the Every Kid Outdoors program. Receive a free pass that allows your child and family into federal parks, lands, and waters for one year.

Parking and when to go

Summer weekends have the longest wait times. Rangers report that cars are sometimes lined up for 3-miles or more a the Nisqually entrance with wait times of over two hours. And that’s just to get in the entrance. The parking lots may also fill. Prepare to have a plan B if you are asked to go to another entrance. Keep in mind that traveling to other entrances may take up to two hours or more, depending on which entrance you choose. Rangers suggest following the @mountrainiernps account on Twitter for traffic links and advisories. The National Park Service will tweet wait times at the most popular entrances. Also useful is the Mt. Rainier road status page as well as the webcam pages. Check out which roads are closed or have delays. Look at the webcams when planning your trip to estimate the amount of snow on the ground. Even if it is warm weather, there may be snow on the ground- so dress in layers and wear good hiking shoes. Be prepared to turn back on the hike in the earlier months of the summer due to icy conditions ont he trail.

Consider a Monday-Thursday visit

The rangers that I spoke with recommended making an early weekday trip that avoids traffic and congestion. Families can also arrive early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid crowds on weekends.

Mountain views at Sunrise. jb10okie/Flickr CC

Kid-friendly hikes all around Mt. Rainier National Park:

Whether you’re looking for a short hike or planning for a series of hikes around Mt. Rainier, here are some suggestions that are great for little legs and enjoyable for the whole family.

White River/Sunrise area trails

Sitting at 6,400 feet, Sunrise is the highest point on Mt. Rainier, accessible by car. Before heading out on your hike, take a look inside the Visitor’s Center and grab a map, talk to a ranger, sign up for a guided hike or purchase a souvenir.

Sunrise Nature Trail

Enjoy this trail located near the upper end of the picnic area at Sunrise. The trail boasts majestic views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades. Hikers report seeing some patches of snow, but easy to navigate with kids. Hike the loop clockwise for a smoother walk along the path.

Distance: 1.5 miles

Elevation: 300 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: Flowers are in beginning to bloom in July and will peak in August. Hikers have seen many squirrels and mountain goat.

Ohanapecosh River Photo credit: Mt. Rainier National Park

Ohanapecosh Area Trails

Hot Springs Nature Trail

If your kids are looking to get their wiggles out, this trail is perfect. At less than half a mile, the walk begins behind the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center and ends at Campground Loop B. Trek through the woods and discover native plants and trees. Read the information on the small placards, indicating the names of the greenery. The cards also share some medicinal purposes of the flora. Count the rings of an old tree stump and learn about the historic events of the land. Follow your nose to what smells like rotten eggs, actually sulfur. Arrive at the hot springs area, where a resort once stood. Take the path to the open field where the hot spring runoff forms small puddles of warm water. Continue your hike to Silver Falls Trail or make your way back to the bridge and peer over. Admire the emerald-green waters of the Ohanapecosh River.

Distance: 0.4 miles

Elevation gain: Less than 100 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: There are plenty of birds and squirrels on this hike. Also a small meadow of wildflowers near the end of the trail with a lot of native plants and trees to explore.

Silver Falls Trail

A fairly level and well-maintained trail, this hike starts at the Ohanapecosh campground and goes into an old-growth forest. Follow the trail, along the Ohanapecosh River about 1.5 miles to the falls. As you get closer to the falls, there will be many smaller trails, leading to overlooks of the river. Rangers advise proceeding with caution along these smaller trails and recommend staying on the main path. The rocks near the river and falls are covered in moss and may be wet and slippery. The path will give you beautiful vantage points of Silver Falls. Along the way, admire the tall trees and enormous boulders hedging the path. Take in the views of the falls, cross the bridge, and head back to the campground.

Distance: 2.7 miles

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: You’ll see mushrooms and towering trees, but not many wildflowers. Listen for woodpeckers, other birds and be on the lookout for deer.

Longmire and Cougar Rock Area Trails

Trail of the Shadows

Another great hike to stretch your legs or add on to a series of hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park is the Trail of Shadows. This trail is a historical loop around Longmire Meadow. Beginning across the main road from the Longmire Museum, the path is an interpretive self-guided trail. Be sure to stay on the trail that leads you along the Trail of Shadows loop. A connecting trail, the Rampart Ridge Loop is considered moderate-to-challenging, and a longer hike so watch for signage and interconnecting trails. On the Shadows hike you’ll come across a hot springs ring from the old Longmire Medical Springs Resort (est.1890), then a log cabin made for employees of the resort, and finally a second spring called “Iron Mike.” Don’t miss the meadow overlook too. Circle your way back to the head of the trail to finish.

Distance: 0.7 miles

Elevation gain: 39 feet

Wildflower and wildlife: The trail takes you through an old-growth forest. Look out for salamanders and frogs on the ground.

Wildflowers along the Alta Vista Trail. Photo: jb10okie/Flickr CC

Nisqually/Paradise Area Trails: Most popular visitor destination

Take a walk into the Paradise Visitor’s Center and pick up a map inside or at the kiosk to help orient you while on the trails. Join a guided walk, and purchase food or a souvenir as well.

Nisqually Vista Trails

A popular loop located near Paradise Inn, the hike is great for walking in the summer and snow-shoeing in the winter. The trail is completely paved and stroller-friendly. Start your hike at the northwest end of the parking lot and climb the stone stairs to the trail junction. Follow the signs around the loop (counterclockwise, recommended). Take a moment to view the Nisqually Glacier and the Nisqually River Valley. If you have a stroller, start from the upper parking lot and use the ramps to join the trail.

Distance: 1.2 miles

Elevation gain: 200 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: This is a prime spot for visitors to enjoy the wildflowers. Look out for marmots, piku, white-tailed deer and birds.

Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls

The Skyline trailhead is located on the north side of the upper parking lot and next to the visitor’s center. Walk about a half-mile on the paved trail and it will lead you to a 72-foot-high waterfall called Myrtle Falls. Known as one of the most photographed places on Mt. Rainier, you’ll catch this beautiful waterfall flowing against the majestic Rainier backdrop, dropping down into Edith Creek and flowing into Paradise Valley. Kids will love walking across the bridge high above the falls. Turn back to complete the 1-mile hike. If you continue on past the falls, the trail is longer and a little more challenging.

Hikers report that this trail gets very crowded. Get to the park earlier in the day or take the hike later in the evening. The entire Skyline Trail Loop is considered moderate to difficult, so if you decide to continue on, be aware that it will pose some challenges for young children.

Distance: 1 mile

Elevation gain: 100 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: Spy a marmot or a squirrel in the meadow. You’re in for a treat because the hills are alive with plenty of flowers in August.

Alta Vista: A moderate hike

Alta Vista

Classified by the Washington Trails Association as moderate, this hike is great for families who are hearty hikers. Climb the steep gravel hill at the start of the trail and head to the top where the path is paved and easy to navigate. Walk past fields and fields of wildflowers and beautiful views of the mountain. Another popular trail, this is best done in the early mornings or evenings. Watch your kids on these narrow paths and shallow steps. Stay off of the wildflowers and on the paved path.

Distance: 1.5 miles

Elevation gain: 560 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: Many wildflowers to see here, peaking at the end of August. Look out for marmot, squirrels, deer and birds.

Naches Loop Trail Photo: Michael Herbert

Other popular kid-friendly hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park

Tipsoo Lake to Naches Peak: Access through Chinook Pass area

Get excited for lots of wildflowers in the summer, alpine lakes, and beautiful views of the mountain on this kid-friendly hike at Mt. Rainier National Park. There are four places that this hike can start from, but the easiest route is from the Tipsoo Lake picnic area near Chinook Pass. Be sure to get your Northwest Forest Pass before heading to the parking lot.

Follow the signs to take the trail, clockwise, for the best views of Mt. Rainier. Take the dirt path past the lake and through the meadows to admire the flowers. Stop at one of the many small lakes to find tadpoles, frogs and even trout. Hikers recommend taking it easy on the very steep portion right out of the lake area to the overpass above Highway 410.

From there the trail meanders up and down to a small lake and then gets a little steeper. The steeper portions are manageable with some careful footing. At the top of the ridge, things level out as you approach a junction with one trail leading to Dewey Lakes and another continuing west on the Naches Loop trail. As you go in and out of this trail, watch for roots on the ground.

Distance: 3.5 miles

Elevation gain: 500 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: Venture out to see a rainbow of blooms throughout the months of July and August. Spy butterflies, bees and bugs in the meadows while there are trout swimming in the lakes and tadpoles metamorphosing into frogs.

Snow Lake Photo: Nadxelle Velasco Gutierrez

Bench and Snow Lakes Trails: Access along Stevens Canyon Road/Paradise area

The trails ascend to two mountain lakes fed by the snowfields of Unicorn Peak. After traversing a series of low ridges, you’ll reach Bench Lake, then Snow Lake. Find wildflowers, lakes and beautiful views all along this moderate hike. Best for older kids, if you take your toddlers they’ll need help climbing numerous shallow stairs, up and down until you reach Bench Lake. Stay a while at Bench Lake for lunch or a snack, then meander over to the shore to dip little toes into the cool lake. If you look closely you may see fish jumping up to catch bugs.

Make way on the trail to reach Snow Lake. There’s no shore to play, but you’ll still have fun looking at the views and peering into the emerald-green waters. To reach the campsite, cross a log bridge with no rails. If you’re not staying to camp, turn around and follow the path out.

Look low to the ground for blueberry bushes. One hiker recommends picking this sweet treat at the end of summer. Pluck a handful to take home or eat as a snack. Park rangers informed me that visitors can scavenge for one gallon of berries or mushrooms per person, each day. So there’s plenty to save for a berry pie the next day! If you choose to camp at this spot, proper permits must be purchased ahead of time.

NOTE: Many hikers have commented that this trail has many bugs, flies, and mosquitoes making the hiking experience less than ideal. Bring your bug spray, cover yourself up and wear layers. One hiker commented that wearing a mosquito net, helped tremendously. Also note that Rangers have said that hikers must hop one rock over a creek along the trail.

Distance: 2.5 miles

Elevation: 700 feet

Wildflowers and wildlife: There are plenty of summer flowers along the trails. Be sure to keep an eye out for blueberry bushes to pick a little treat along the way. Spy some fish in the lake too!

What to bring and some reminders:

  • Dress for the weather and in layers. Hiking boots are recommended for climbing over rocks, gravel and dusty paths.
  • Wear your sunscreen, hat and sunglasses on hot summer days.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks to sustain a day trip to the park.
  • Mosquitos and bugs: It’s a fact of life that there are bugs and mosquitoes out on the trails, especially in the summer. Choose your best bug deterrent, wear layers of clothes and don’t linger for very long. Hikers have gone home with many itchy bites all over their face and body.
  • Flowers, plants, and other pieces of nature should not be picked up or taken home. Pack out all your trash and belongings.
  • Pre-arrange a meeting place, should you get lost on your hike.
  • Do not feed or approach the wildlife, even the squirrels.
  • No pets are allowed at the park.
  • Avoid long wait times at the entrance and purchase your passes ahead of time.
  • 2023 Fee-free days are August 4, September 23 and November 11.
  • Summer weekends bring many visitors to the park, try to plan your trip for a weekday.
  • Visit All Trails and the Washington Trails Association for the most up-to-date reviews of these kid-friendly hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park.

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About the Author

Jasmin Thankachen

Jasmin is the Associate Publisher at Seattle's Child and an Eastside mom of two boys. She enjoys parenting with lots of love and laughter. Co-Founder of PopUp StoryWalk, she also loves children's picture books, essay writing, and community stories.