“We have friends and family visiting this summer. We don’t hike but we want to give our guests great views of Mt. Rainier. Where can non-hikers go to show off the WOW factor of the mountain?” -J. Greene, Seattle, WA
We have two suggestions for you. One is to ride the Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain. The gondola opens in late June and operates through September. This 8-passenger gondola offers approximately a 10-minute ride with breathtaking scenery. On clear days, visitors can see Mount Rainier, Mount Baker AND Mount St. Helens! We suggest you ride the gondola and have lunch or dinner at the Summit House. The Summit House is Washington State’s highest elevation restaurant. Perched atop Crystal Mountain at 6,872 feet, the Summit House serves up views of the Northwest’s most famous volcanic peaks. It’s like dining at the top of the world. Walk around outside the restaurant after your meal for a few photo ops before taking the ride back down. It’s an easy stroll from the Summit House to the top of the Green Valley lift.
You could also take a short quarter-mile stroll from the Sunrise Visitor Center to the Emmons Vista. Another enjoyable walk with lots of “wow factor” is to walk clockwise on the mostly flat trail (just under a mile) around Tipsoo Lake. If you visit during late July or August the snow will be melted and you may be treated to wildflowers in addition to views of the mountain. Another easy walk is to the Grove of the Patriarchs and back.
We recommend staying overnight in the Crystal Mountain/Sunrise or Enumclaw area. These locations are close to the gondola, and they give you several options of comfy places to stay for multiple days of adventuring.
Our second suggestion is to drive to the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park to see the aptly named “Paradise” side of Rainier. Driving through the park will showcase views of the forest and waterfalls. As you wind your way up to Paradise be sure to stop at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise where you can take in panoramic views of the scenery. A short walk away from the visitor center you’ll find a spot from which you can view Nisqually Glacier. After enjoying the views, we recommend heading to the Paradise Inn for lunch or dinner. Then drive to Longmire where you can enjoy a short stroll (0.7 miles) along the Trail of the Shadows. Before leaving the park, make sure to stop at the steps with the John Muir quote, to get a terrific photo of Rainier in the background with your friends and family on both sides.
We suggest you stop at the gift shop at the Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center. Not only are there terrific displays (helpful to browse and learn more about the park) inside the beautiful lodge-like building but you’ll also find a vast array of souvenirs to shop from at the gift shop. You can stay overnight in the National Park or in the Ashford/Elbe area. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the legendary blackberry pie at the Copper Creek Inn. The pie is truly worth every carb.
To get to Paradise you’ll drive through the small town of Elbe, Washington. Stopping in Elbe during the summer months mean you could see a century old steam train arriving or departing from the Mt. Rainier Railroad depot. On a clear day guests can see Mt. Rainier from the train as it crosses the Upper Nisqually River. Also in Elbe is a small burger hut named Scaleburgers that serves epic milkshakes. Another charming stop is DeWitt’s Elbe Junction, this store is so inviting you may want to sit in one of the rocking chairs to stay a while before browsing their great selection of snacks, drinks and gifts, and their coffee alone is worth a visit.
Pro Tip: get an early start by arriving at the Nisqually entrance at opening time in the morning to avoid big crowds.
It’s a big mountain, and there are many ways to enjoy it without having to hike to a viewpoint. If you want to give your guests the quintessential PNW experience at Rainier, we highly recommend you stay overnight. Staying overnight in the area means you can enjoy more scenery without having a long day in the car. You can stay at a historic lodge at the mountain or book a posh cabin with a fire pit where you relax with your guests over s’mores at night instead of driving