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Guest author, Mark Bennett, covers the best Mount Rainier hiking trails from the Skyline Trail at Paradise to the Summerland trail.
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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ount Rainier is one of the oldest national parks in the United States. Its designation and declaration as a national park date back to 1899, and the majestic peak of the mountain is clearly visible from Seattle and Tacoma.

This is a vast park with more than 300 lakes and thousands of acres of sub-alpine wilderness forests. Although this peak does not look like a volcano, it is — and it’s an active one. However, the last recorded eruption took place more than a century ago.

The cone of Mount Rainier is covered in snow and ice; it is possible to summit because the climb is more like a hike, but you should only consider this if you are a seasoned climber in good shape.

Climbing to the top of this majestic peak is something that can you can accomplish in about eight hours, but it is better to do so over a two-day route that includes attending classes specifically for making this summit. Aside from the peak, there are many other trails to explore in this national park, and the park service maintains most of them in excellent condition. On any hiking trip, make sure to carry these 10 essentials of hiking.

The following trails are often mentioned as being the best for Mount Rainier hiking:

The Skyline Trail of Paradise Park

Skyline Trail Paradise Park Best Mount Ranier Hiking Trails
The Tatoosh Range from the top of Myrtle Falls at Mount Rainier National Park courtesy of LDELD on Flickr Under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Compared to other national parks, the Mount Rainier hiking trails tend to feature longer distances and higher elevation. It is essential to keep this in mind because you will want to be in reasonable condition, well-rested, and adequately hydrated before exploring the trails listed herein.

The Skyline Trail is the most family-friendly trail of Mount Rainier because its 5.4 miles present a gradual elevation of 1,400 feet. The alpine meadows along this trail often feature colorful wildflowers at the end of spring, and throughout the early summer. You can also enjoy views of creeks, small waterfalls, and even a glimpse of the mountain range.

The Pacific Crest Trail Section

The PCT section is not the most scenic trail in Mt. Rainier, but it has the distinction of being part of a mountain route that runs from Mexico to Canada. Dedicated PCT hikers tend to make camp here for a day or two before continuing north or south; this section of the PCT runs for about 10.5 miles and features an elevation of about 1,000 feet, but you will not feel it as much because it falls and rises.

Tolmie Peak

Tolmie Peak Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier from Tolmie Peak, northwest Mount Rainier National Park, courtesy of Jonathan Miske on Flickr under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Despite being a difficult trail to reach, Tolmie Peak is very popular because of the dramatic view you get once you pass Eunice Lake and settle at a vantage point which rewards you with gorgeous vistas. Tolmie Peak is an easy hike that goes for 5.6 miles and does not elevate over 990 feet. Unfortunately, getting to the trailhead is tricky because you will have to drive more than 15 miles off-road on gravel surfaces. This trail is popular with photographers because of the fantastic shots they can get of Mt. Rainier.

The Gobblers Knob Trail

Gobblers Knob is probably the most comprehensive trail in the national park because it offers everything from wildlife sightings to scenic lookout points and from mountain biking to camping. Prepare your backpack for an overnight stay; this trail goes for more than 11 miles, during which the net gain elevation is 2,635 feet.

You should expect to encounter some portions of the trails that call for scaling rock walls, but they are not entirely vertical, and you should be able to negotiate them without climbing equipment. You can even swim at Lake George during the summer, and the first four miles of the trail are ideal for mountain biking.

The Comet Falls Trail

Comet Falls Trail
A hiker jumps as they approach Comet Falls. NPS Photo by Ivie Metzen, courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park on Flickr under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

The first thing you will notice about this short trail is that it was well-designed with hikers in mind. For most of the route, you will be following an upstream mountain creek that culminates in a spectacular waterfall.

You’ll find the trailhead for Comet Falls on a parking lot right off Paradise Valley Road. You will be challenged a couple of times by steep sections of the trail, which measures 3.8 miles from the beginning to the base of Comet Falls, but walking along the creek and being surprised by the thundering waterfall is worth the physical effort.

The Summerland Trail

The Summerland Trail
Trail through Summerland courtesy of brewbrooks on Flickr under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

If you want to explore a trail that is scenic from beginning to end, head over to the northwestern section of Mt. Rainier National Park and enjoy the 11 miles of Summerland. As its name suggests, the best time to make this hike is from about June to August. Why then? Because you will want to see the prairies full of wildflowers in full bloom.

The 2,650 feet of net elevation is smoothly distributed over rolling hills, but you may encounter switchbacks towards the end of the trail. Aside from colorful prairies, you will also see snowy peaks, lakes, sub-alpine forests, meadows, and plenty of wildlife.

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