Rainier’s hiking season is quite short: most trails are snow-free only from mid-July to mid-October, though trails at the lower elevations may open earlier and remain snow-free later in the year. It’s always advisable to dress in layers for all seasons when hiking in the Cascades, wearing cool synthetics, wool, and rain gear.
About 300 miles of hiking trails crisscross Mount Rainier National Park, many miles of which are suitable for day hikes. More than a dozen of the most popular day hikes are accessible from Longmire, Paradise, Stevens Canyon/Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River; drop by one of the hiking or visitors centers upon your arrival for up-to-date trail information.
Mount Rainier National Park has a helpful Wilderness Trip Planner available by mail; get a copy from the park’s backcountry desk (360/569-2211, ext. 3317). A number of companies lead guided hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, including REI Adventures (800/622-2236, www.rei.com). Contact the park for other concessionaires with similar services.
Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips in Mount Rainier National Park throughout the year and are available for free if you wait until 24 hours before leaving on your trip, or $20 to reserve the permit ahead of time. Get them from the wilderness information centers and ranger stations in Longmire, White River, Wilkeson, Ohanapecosh, and Paradise, or print out a reservation from the Web (www.nps.gov/mora) and send it in with the fee.
Permits are available up to 24 hours before you depart. If you’re heading into a popular area on a busy weekend, your first choice may be full. Sunday–Thursday nights are far less crowded, so head out on these days if possible.
Fires are not allowed in the backcountry, so bring a stove along. Be sure to filter or otherwise treat any drinking water, since the protozoan Giardia and other harmful microorganisms may be present. Always practice no-trace camping and haul out any garbage. Hikers in backcountry meadows should stay on the trails at all times; plants here have only a brief growing season, and damaged areas take a long time to recover. Pets are not allowed on any park trails.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition