For a fun, family-friendly adventure on the quieter eastern flank of Mt. Rainier, you and the kids can pack up and head to Crystal Mountain and Sunrise. There you can soar 2,456 vertical feet on the Mt. Rainier Gondola, walk the trails with a forest ranger, dine in the alpine air and much more.
Located six miles from the northeast entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, just off SR 410, Crystal Mountain Resort offers families a variety of summer activities, including the Mt. Rainier Gondola, scenic hikes, ranger walks, disc golf and guided horseback rides.
When you arrive at the resort, try to park in the large upper parking lot, just steps away from the main lodge and the Mt. Rainier Gondola. Open year-round, the gondola will whisk you up to Crystal Mountain’s 6,872 ft. summit in less than ten minutes. Tickets are available for purchase at the Mountain Shop, located in the main lodge. You can also pick up a free map of the resort’s trail system.
After purchasing our tickets from the store, my husband Erik, our three-year-old son Finn and I hopped on board the gondola’s next available cabin. Each one is bright red, round and spacious, with wide windows. We ascended, marveling at the rolling hills and carpets of colorful wildflowers beneath us.
At the summit, disembark from the gondola and pause for a moment to enjoy the wide-angle view of Mt. Rainier’s 14,410 ft. summit and the surrounding Cascade Range. After taking in the awesome views, you and your family can fuel up for your hike. Enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the wooden tables or dine at the resort’s Summit House restaurant.
Beautifully renovated in 2004, the Summit House offers families both a kid-friendly and fine-dining experience. Last year an attractive outdoor patio was added, allowing diners to eat in the alpine air. Summer hours are 11 am to 4 pm, with limited evening hours on dinner nights. Reservations are recommended but walk-ins are welcome, with space subject to availability.
For easy hike around the summit, Erik, Finn and I joined a Forest Ranger-guided interpretive walk to learn about the area’s alpine landscape, local wildlife, volcanic history and more. Weather permitting, the hikes are usually offered Thursday through Monday in the summer and depart at 11 am and 1 pm from the Summit Shop. The walks run 45 minutes to 1 hour and all ages are welcome.
For a moderate hike try the 2.5-mile Crystal Mountain Trail to the Silver Creek Trail. From the gondola, walk south along the wide service road towards Green Valley chairlift and Powder Bowl. The trail meanders around ski runs, Henskin Lake and an old mining area, Jim Town. At the Jim Town junction, take the Silver Creek Trail for a 1-mile walk back to the base area.
After working up an appetite on the trails, my family and I enjoyed a hearty yet casual dinner at the Alpine Inn. Located in the base area across the footbridge in the upper parking lot, this charming Bavarian-style dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the summer. The next morning we left Crystal Mountain and drove the 26 miles to Sunrise.
At 6,400 feet, Sunrise is the highest point accessible by car in Mt. Rainier National Park. There is a nominal fee to enter. There you and the kids can explore the visitor center and the surrounding subalpine trails while enjoying majestic views of Mt. Rainier and the Emmons Glacier.
From Crystal Mountain, take SR 410 east six miles to Sunrise/White River Rd. Follow Sunrise/White River roughly 14 miles as it zigzags up to Sunrise. If possible, park in Sunrise’s large upper lot next to the Sunrise Visitor Center and the Sunrise Day Lodge.
Generally open daily from early July to early September, the visitor center offers fun exhibits, guided walks, hiking maps, nature books and more. The day lodge, usually open the same hours as the center, is home to a gift shop and a small cafeteria.
Before our hike, my family and I stopped by the center to pick up a free trail map and check out the interactive exhibits, many of which explore Mt. Rainier’s volcanic history. We all enjoyed the lava and glacier display, Finn happily pushing the button and turning the small wheel while Erik and I were fascinated to read about the mountain’s glaciers and how they were formed.
After exploring the center, you and your family can feast on burgers, salads and cold beverages at the day lodge’s cafeteria. Or pack a picnic lunch to enjoy outside at one of Sunrise’s wooden tables.
Ready to the hit the trails? For an easy hike, try the 2-mile Silver Forest Trail, with a gentler elevation gain of 150 ft. Erik, Finn and I had a great time meandering along this wildflower-lined path on a bright July morning, stopping often to take in the wide-angle views of Mt. Rainier and the Emmons Glacier.
For a moderate hike with panoramic views of the mountains, try the Sourdough Ridge Trail. The trailhead is located uphill from the parking lot, behind the restrooms. From there you can head west to Frozen Lake, a 3-mile hike along the ridge trail with a 500 ft. elevation gain. From the lake you can loop back to Sunrise via the Wonderland Trail and the Old Campground Trail.
Or walk east along the ridge trail for a 4.2-mile hike to Dege Peak. The fourth in a series of small peaks, 7006-ft. Deke Peak is the only one with an established trail to the top. Standing on the peak’s summit with Mt. Rainier the only other thing taller for miles around, you may feel on top of the world.
After your hike, you and the kids can cool down with a frozen treat at the day lodge. Not yet ready to call it a day? Then pile back into the car and head east on SR 410 for the 12-mile drive to lovely Tipsoo Lake.
While an exhausted Finn slumbered in his car seat, my husband and I took turns walking the short 0.5-mile loop around the crystal-clear subalpine lake. Afterward, we turned west on SR 410 and drove to Enumclaw for a family-friendly dinner before heading back home.
When you go:
Getting around: Go here for maps and general information on driving around Mt. Rainier.
Entrance fees: The National Park Service charges a nominal entrance fee for visitors. Click here for current rates on fees and passes around the mountain.
Crystal Mountain Resort offers several kid-friendly lodging choices, including spacious suites at the Silver Skis Chalet and the cozy Alpine Inn. Another great option nearby is the charming Alta Crystal Resort, located at the bottom of Crystal Mountain Blvd, just off SR 410.
In the summer the Summit House Restaurant is open daily for lunch, with limited evening hours. Reservations are recommended but walk-ins are welcome, with space subject to availability. Or try the Alpine Inn’s Bavarian-themed restaurant, located right next to the upper parking lot. The restaurant is open daily year-round for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Written by Carrie Uffendell