Make the best of your family trip to Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park with these ten great tips.
Paradise is one of the quintessential Northwest visitor destinations, offering stunning views of Pacific Northwest’s iconic Mount Rainier and the surrounding region. Anybody living in the area or visiting this region has to visit this beautiful place at least once in their life, but once is never enough. (On more about Mount Rainier visit our page ‘Happy Birthday Mount Rainier‘.)
The National Park is located in west-central Washington state. Visit the NPS website for detailed directions on how to get there from every corner of the region, or just ask Siri.
Yes, getting kids our of the house early in the morning can be tough, but Paradise is currently incredibly busy. If you need ideas on how to get the family ready and out the door read our 18 Tips for an amazing family adventure into America’s Wilderess.
Parking is plentiful around the Visitor Center for normal days, but on sunny, summer days, every overflow area is, well, overflowing. The earlier you get there, the less walking to the Visitor Center you will have to do. If you come with a stroller and little kids, parking along the side of the road is not the greatest option.
Mount Rainier is over 14,000 ft. tall. The mountain makes it’s own weather. A sunny and clear day back home can turn into something entirely different on the mountain. You might be up there at the Visitor Center at 5,600ft. and you might not see the white ghost at all, or worse it may be much cooler, raining or even snowing. Check our live webcam of Paradise with up-to-date weather information.
To add to the previous point. Mount Rainier sits in a different climate zone from our home cities by the water. What might be sandals-and-shorts weather back home can quickly turn into a chilly affair at 6000ft. above sea level.
Come prepared. Bring extra layers, especially for the little ones. The wind chill can turn any easy day hike into a serious alpine affair. It’s a mountain – not your neighborhood zoo. Wondering what other things you should have in your backpack? Here are our ‘Ten Essential Things every Kid should have in their Backpack‘.
Right now, wildflowers are exploding everywhere on the subalpine meadows around our National Parks of the West. Animals are out and about, and aside from the breathtaking views of the jagged peaks, those are the reasons why millions of people flock to the parks every year. It’s amazing to witness- both, the meadows in bloom, and the people enjoying them, taking selfies for their Instagram feed, for friends and family back home or rather on Facebook.
But! Please remember when you’re out there that this wild ecosystem is fragile. You’re a guest in someone’s home. The marmots and other cute critters, even birds, cannot and should not be fed, under any circumstances. The mountain goats and bears are afraid of you and might just attack you if you try get them into your selfie. They can also get quite dependent on human food, and just one might might lead to an incident that injures another visitors, or even the animal you fed.
And the wildflower meadows are way to fragile for you to walk through them.
Leave them all alone. Take your picture and enjoy them from a distance. If you need to get closer, buy a stuffed marmot toy at the gift shop, or a zoom lens.
The Visitor Center has been recently rebuilt from the ground up, and although I miss the old circular structure, the new building is fantastic. On the lower floor you will find an information desk – make use if it, ask question, grab a map – the Rangers are really friendly and helpful there.
(If your kids are up for it, they can participate in the Junior Ranger program there too.)
Bathrooms are located just outside the main entrance and inside you will find a few places to sit and take a rest. There’s also a snack bar where you can buy food, but I reccommend you bring your own picnic. There are plenty of picnic tables just outside. There’s also a nifty water bottle refilling station – which is awesome.
The upstairs of the Visitor Center has a gift shop, which is always busy, and a small interpretative center/museum with a few details on Mount Rainier’s history, the realities of living in the shadow of a volcano and the effects of climate change on the glaciers.
My kids love the area that talks about the different animal poop – go figure.
The lodge is a fantastic historic structure made out of great old wooden beams, with beautiful detail and two grand old fireplaces. The atmosphere is exactly the way I envision what President Truman might’ve discovered in 1945 when he visited the lodge and played the piano there. The atmosphere is subdued, majestic, and relaxing. If the main Visitor Center provides too much hype and noise, head over to the Lodge for a more relaxed way to sit and take a rest. The Lodge has a nice restaurant featuring local cuisine, a gift shop and a snack bar.
Make sure you walk through the upper level of the main hall and marvel at the great cloth printed lamp shades, find small tables to rest and reflect after a long hike on the mountain.
Paradise is the main starting point for many expeditions heading to the summit of Mount Rainier. Guide services like RMI, Alpine Ascents and others drop off and pickup serious climbers, with serious gear almost all day during the Summer. This is a great spectacle to watch. The weary climbers, with skis, snowshoes and other gear coming down the main steps to the parking lot intermingling with vacationers in flip flops make me feel like I’m back in the Chamonix, France or Bolzano, Italy in the Alps. Now all I need is a great street cafe and an iced coffee.
Paradise offers a variety of different trails, which can get a bit confusing.
There are trails heading away from the mountain you can reach by crossing the road behind the Visitor Center, but your best bet is to walk up the stairs and head toward the mountain.
Remember to grab a map at the ranger desk and ask about current trail conditions, many trails on the higher elevations can be under snow late into the Summer.
For the first mile or so, most trails will be asphalted (is that a word?) So you can easily take a stroller, or as we saw this weekend a motorized scooter – now I’ve seen it all.
Those trails can lead straight up, so even if they are paved the can easily take your breath away if you’re pushing a stroller.
All that work is worth it, at almost every turn the view of the mountain gets more and more stunning. Don’t forget to turn your head and look back! The Tatoosh Range rises in the South and on good weather days you can see Mt. St. Helens, Mount Adams and even Mount Hood in the distance.
My suggestion for what trail to take is: ‘it depends’. Are you kids ready for a challenge? Take the Skyline Trail, which will take you to 7,000ft. and you feel you can almost touch the snow-covered peak.
If you have little ones, stay on the Alta Vista Loop trail, and make a side step to the popular photo stop at Myrtle Falls.
Any road you take to Paradise will offer incredible road side stops, and here is a list of our favorites. If you have only one day in the park and you have to make the most of it, it might make sense to stop at some of those places. But in my experience, especially with little children in the car, you might only get chances you can yank them out of the car seat, and buckle them back up a few minutes later after you snapped some shots of that incredible waterfall.
My recommendation for families is to skip those stops, head straight to Paradise and spend your entire time there. At Paradise, you get to experience it all and if you played it right, you actually get to spend some good time there and you’re kids aren’t already exhausted from road side parking lot hopping along the way.
If you live close to a National Park and love road trips, the National Park Annual Pass is one of the best $80 dollars you can spend for your family. If you’re an international visitor or you get to spend only a single day at the park, the cost to enter is $20 per car for a day. Not per person, per car – that is so cheap!
Even if you are not sure if you will make it back to the park, living in Washington State you have two more parks to discover, along with all the National Forest land and any other public lands, like the Mt. St. Helens National Monument and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The annual pass I buy every year make me the happiest I could be for $80 bucks. It’s so worth it.