Towering above the landscape, Mount Rainier is the most dramatic and arguably most beautiful of the Cascade volcanoes. This mountain range stretches from northern California to southern British Columbia in Canada – and is dotted by old, sleeping volcanoes including Mount Rainier. Of the extinct volcanoes that draw hikers, mountaineers, and outdoors-folk, Mount Rainier is the only one designated as a national park. Like many other national parks, it’s also great for stargazing. If you want to plan a Mount Rainier stargazing trip, you’ve found the right resource!
In this post you’ll find stargazing spots in Mount Rainier National Park, where to stay the night, and what to do during the day at Mount Rainier too. Read on to plan an unforgettable stargazing trip to Mount Rainier.
Note: Due to the novel coronavirus, National Parks vary in opening hours and access. Be sure to check if the park you want to visit is open before planning a trip.
Featured photo credit: Bala Sivakumar via Flickr
How to Get to Mount Rainier National Park
The closest city to Mount Rainier National Park is Seattle; it’s a 1-hour, 40-minute to 2-hour, 20-minute drive depending on which part of the park you choose to visit.
- To visit Sunrise, it will take you one hour, 40 minutes by car. The primary route is to take I-5 South to Washington highway 410 East.
- If you want to visit the Paradise area, it’s a two-hour, 20-minute along I-5 South and WA-7 South.
- For another option, it’s a two-hour, 20-minute drive to access Mount Rainier at the Carbon River entrance. You’ll take WA-167 South and WA-165 South.
In the next section, I’ll cover the best spots for stargazing at Mount Rainier. I’ll also share which entrance each place is accessed by, so you know how long the drive from Seattle will be.
Where to Go Stargazing in Mount Rainier National Park
As you plan your Mount Rainier stargazing trip, it helps to know where the best spots are to actually see the stars. Below you’ll find three popular options, but it’s easy to strike out on one of the many trails around the mountain for your own nighttime adventure.
Sunrise Visitor Center
Hands down the most popular place for stargazing at Mount Rainier is in the Sunrise area. Specifically, base yourself from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center – on clear nights during Milky Way season, you’ll probably have company with plenty of other stargazers and astrophotographers.
Sunrise is only open during the summer months (which coincidentally overlaps with the best time of year to see the Milky Way) so keep that in mind if you’re planning a winter stargazing session.
Frozen Lake via Sourdough Ridge Trail
If you want to escape the crowds, regular stargazers report that a short night hike will give you an even better view. From the Sunrise area, take the Sourdough Ridge Trail toward Frozen Lake. You only need to hike a mile or so to get a great view; the trail is 1.6 miles each way so it’s a nice stroll under the stars even if you do the whole hike.
From the Paradise area, there are plenty of stargazing spots too; one of the most popular is at the Paradise Inn (more on that below). They offer stargazing programs which makes it a great spot for those who want to do a multi-day stay in this area of the park and love having a guide to the wonders of the night sky.
While these three areas might not sound like a ton of options, you can definitely just plan to do a night hike out onto the trails from either Paradise or Sunrise and go stargazing on your own. Be sure to plan ahead – bring all the gear you need including headlamps and red flashlights so you’ll be safe out there.
Where to Stay Near Mount Rainier National Park
Hotels near Mount Rainier
As mentioned, there is lodging within Mount Rainier National Park. There are two properties, both in the Paradise area:
- Paradise Inn – Over 100 years old, the Paradise Inn is a national park institution and located the furthest into the park. They offer stargazing programs too! Book on Hotels.com.
- National Park Inn – With an on-the-nose name, the National Park Inn is located a bit further toward the park border in the Paradise area. Book on Hotels.com.
There are also loads of accommodation options outside the park, pretty much in every area of the park. The best place to browse these options is on the Visit Rainier official tourism site.
Camping in Mount Rainier National Park
If your idea of visiting a national park isn’t complete without camping in the great outdoors, Mount Rainier National Park has you covered. There are four campgrounds in the park:
- Cougar Rock (SW section of park)
- Ohanapecosh (SE section of park)
- White River (NE section of park)
- Mowich Lake (NW section of park)
With the exception of Mowich Lake, the other three campgrounds are all accessible by car; Mowich Lake requires hiking in to the campground. They also require registration fees, again with the exception of Mowich Lake. The easiest way to plan your camping trip in Mount Rainier is to review the details of each campground here on the Mount Rainier national park site.
What to See & Do During the Day in Mount Rainier
During the day, Mount Rainier is an outdoor playground – especially for those who love hiking and mountaineering. Unlike other national parks, all of the activities in Mount Rainier National Park focus on the mountain itself and the adventures it provides. Some popular activities include:
- Hiking – There are over 275 miles of trails on/around the mountain.
- Cycling – You can ride on park roads throughout the national park.
- Fishing/Boating – There are some alpine lakes and rivers on the mountain slopes, for aquatic adventures.
- Mountaineering – If you want to climb Mount Rainier, doing so will likely include a chance to see the night sky.
So if you’re planning an overnight stargazing trip to Mount Rainier, you can also do one or more of these activities during the day to enjoy what draws most visitors to the park.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Mount Rainier National Park
Have other questions about stargazing in the Mount Rainier? Hopefully these FAQ will answer them!
When is the best time to go stargazing at Mount Rainier?
As Mount Rainier is located in Washington and the greater Pacific Northwest, it’s known for cloudy and rainy weather. The winter months are certainly more overcast than the summer months, which means that summer is the best time to go stargazing at Mount Rainier. For your best chances, plan a trip during the early summer, between June and the Perseids in August; later summer/autumn visits may be affected by wildfires or wildfire smoke.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Mount Rainier? When?
Absolutely, yes, you can see the Milky Way while stargazing in Mount Rainier National Park. The Milky Way is visible in part throughout the year, though the best time to see the Milky Way is during the summer months. If you need extra help planning your trip in an attempt to see the Milky Way, I’ve got a guide to help!
Can you see the northern lights from Mount Rainier?
It’s pretty uncommon to see the northern lights in Washington at all, so seeing the northern lights from Mount Rainier is unlikely. That said, if you’re totally set on it and the forecast (both for clouds and aurora activity) is good, your best bet is to visit Sunrise or even Carbon River on the northern side of the mountain.
Is Mount Rainier National Park open at night?
Yes, Mount Rainier National Park is open at night. The entrance stations, visitor centers, and Longmire Museum may not be open if you arrive during certain hours, but you can always access the park.
Are there guided night tours in Mount Rainier?
There are some night sky programs offered in Mount Rainier National Park. Specifically, there is a ranger-led “Night Skies Program” offered at the Paradise Visitor Center during the winter months. To determine if the event is scheduled when you plan to visit, the National Park Service recommends calling the astronomy hotline for current information at (360) 569-6230.
Is there a dark sky festival in Mount Rainier?
No, there is no dark sky festival offered at Mount Rainier; plenty of other national parks that are also great for stargazing do offer those programs though.
Have other questions about stargazing in Mount Rainier National Park? Let me know in the comments!