CAMPSITES: 173 | GROUP SITES: 5 | RESERVATIONS: Recreation.gov Page
AMENITIES: picnic tables, fire platforms, flush toilets, water, dump station | PROHIBITED: pets off-leash, firewood gathering
SEASON: late May – late September | MAX RV/TRAILER LENGTH: RV: 35 ft, Trailer: 27 ft
NEARBY: Longmire, Narada Falls, Paradise area hiking trails
WEBSITE: Recreation.gov Page
Each of the three drive-in campgrounds within the borders of Mount Rainier National Park has its own special vibe, as well as its own unique attributes and features that set it apart. Cougar Rock Campground is located in the southwest area of the park; the most-visited corner of the park on the road to Paradise, making it a convenient overnight stay for many visitors. With 173 individual sites and 5 group sites, along with a variety of nearby attractions, there is something here for just about everyone.
The campground itself sits at a bend in the road just up from the Nisqually River and, although it is a large facility, its layout gives each site a sense of privacy that is difficult to find in other camping areas of its size. Most of the individual sites are separated from each other by comparatively large green spaces, and the towering trees in between serve as buffers, lending a sense of privacy and quiet that might not be found elsewhere.
Cougar Rock is open for camping from May to October and individual sites go for $15 a night (2012) with a maximum stay of 14 days. Although there are some specific sites that are set aside on a first-come, first-served basis, reservations are heartily recommended, especially during peak use weekends. Most of the sites have excellent leveled tent areas and concrete fire platforms, along with picnic tables and ample parking. Restrooms are clean and well-maintained, although there is no hot water and showers are not available.
Pets need to be leashed or caged at all times and should be kept at the campsite or on paved roads. The entire area is home to a variety of wild animals and keeping household pets under control is essential for the health and safety of all involved. Similarly, feeding of wildlife – including birds – is prohibited, as this can lead to the animals becoming habituated to human contact, digestive problems, and possible injury.
At just over 3,100 feet, nights can be cool, even in summer. While fires are permitted, firewood gathering is not, so plan on bringing wood with you or purchasing it at the campground. During the summer, there is a ranger-led presentation each night in the amphitheater, as well as a Junior Ranger calendar of events specifically focused on activity-based programs for younger campers. Schedules and topics are posted at the kiosk near the entrance.
The trail to nearby Carter Falls (a section of the Wonderland Trail), is among the most popular in the immediate area and is the best choice for hikers staying at Cougar Rock. Just across the main road from the campground, the well-signed trail drops down to the Nisqually River, crosses it, and continues on up the other side. The trail is wide and suitable for young and old alike and meanders through magnificent old-growth as it climbs gradually toward the falls. Although the view of the Carter Falls is somewhat obscured by trees and underbrush, Madcap Falls awaits just a short distance further up the trail, closer to the path and much more easily visible.
The historical Longmire district is located less than two miles down the hill and Paradise a short (but stunningly beautiful) five miles in the other direction. Each of these locations offer a variety of day-hiking possibilities as well as visitor services that can add significantly to the park experience. The historic buildings at both areas stand as reminders of park history and development, while the new Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise (built in 2008), offers excellent displays and dynamic presentations that bring nature and history alive for travelers of all ages.
– Ken Campbell