Last updated: April 13, 2021
Roads in Mount Rainier National Park were specifically designed to enhance the park experience. Just like buildings are constructed in the aesthetic of National Park Service Rustic architecture and designed to fit in with the surrounding environment, park roads follow the flow of the landscape. Walls and bridges are constructed of local stone and framed with trees and plants. Curves of the road reveal spectacular views to the best advantage to those traveling along them. Even if you never step foot outside your vehicle, a drive through Mount Rainier National Park can be a rewarding experience.
One of the oldest national parks, Mount Rainier National Park was constructed following one of the first master plans in the National Park Service. The park, including all of the roads, is now designated a National Historic Landmark District. The original circulation plan for the park roads follows a great loop from the Seattle/Tacoma area via SR706 to Ashford, entering the park at the Nisqually Entrance to Paradise, traveling from Paradise via the Stevens Canyon Road to the southeast corner of the park, and exiting the park to the north via the Mather Memorial Parkway, returning to the Puget Sound communities via SR410. Sunrise Road was created as a side trip to draw visitors to a developed area that, it was hoped, would rival Paradise. You can trace this historic pathway on a road trip around Mount Rainier.
Road Trip Around the Mountain
Constructed primarily during the 1920s and 1930s, park roads do not meet modern standards. Instead, they are narrow, steep, and winding. Most roads do not have shoulders and the speed limit is 35 mph everywhere in the park unless posted otherwise. Drive carefully and follow the speed limit to watch for wildlife crossing the road. Most of the park roads close during the winter season. The road from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire stays open year-round, weather-permitting, while the road from Longmire to Paradise closes nightly during the winter. Always check road status before starting your drive. During the summer, the park can have extremely high visitation and congestion. Visiting on weekdays, and arriving in early morning or late afternoon, can help avoid crowds, long entrance station lines and delays, and difficulty finding a place to park. Pets are allowed on paved roads open to public vehicles and no more than 6 feet from paved roads. Pets are not allowed on trails. At all times, pets must be on a leash not more than six feet in length or in a crate/cage. At all times, pets must be with and under the control of their owners. Owners must pick up and dispose of all fecal matter.
A note on using GPS: Many visitors now use GPS (Global Positioning System) units to help them navigate while driving. However, the street address for Mount Rainier National Park (55210 238th Avenue East) leads to the Mount Rainier Administration Building in Ashford, Washington, NOT to the Nisqually Entrance of the park. To reach the Nisqually Entrance using GPS use the address 39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, WA 98304. This will take you on SR706 east past the Administration Building to the Nisqually Entrance. It is recommended that visitors refer to road maps in addition to using GPS units when driving to the park. Much of the park does not have cell coverage.
Start your journey at the Nisqually Entrance, in the southwest corner of the park via SR706. This entrance is open year-round. Large Douglas-fir trees were purposely left close to the road’s edge to immediately immerse a traveler in the old-growth forest. Stop at Kautz Creek for a first glimpse of the mountain and a rest stop before continuing on to Longmire. Longmire is home to a rare low-elevation meadow created by volcanic mineral springs. The settlement is the location of the park’s first administration building and a large collection of buildings built in the style of National Park Service rustic architecture. The National Park Inn is open year-round with a restaurant and gift shop, and stop by the Longmire Museum for information.
Continue your drive up the mountain to Paradise. Slowly the curves of the road will leave behind the lower elevation forest to reveal glimpses of the Tatoosh Range and Mount Rainier. Stop at Christine Falls and Narada Falls to view impressive waterfalls and cross over the wide Nisqually River Valley on Glacier Bridge. Open during the summer, Ricksecker Point Road is a one-way scenic loop drive with views of Mount Rainier and the Paradise and Nisqually river valleys. For a detailed exploration of the Nisqually Entrance to Paradise route, look for the self-guided “Journey to Paradise” tour in this app.
Paradise is one of the most popular destinations in the park. At 5400 feet elevation, Paradise is surrounded by subalpine meadows in summer and impressive views in every direction. Visit the Jackson Visitor Center, open year-round, or the historic Paradise Inn, open during the summer. During the summer, leave Paradise via the scenic one-way Paradise Valley Road to connect to Stevens Canyon Road.
Stevens Canyon Road connects the west side of the park to the east. The road through the canyon is a popular route for viewing wildflowers in summer and fall foliage in autumn. Popular stops include Reflection Lakes and Box Canyon. Note: There are two tunnels along Stevens Canyon Road, height limit 12’ 6”.
Stevens Canyon Road terminates at the junction with SR123. Head south to visit Ohanapecosh, tucked amongst old-growth forest, and exit towards Packwood, WA, or turn north to Cayuse Pass and the junction with SR410. Note: There is one tunnel north along SR123, height limit 13’ 1”.
From Cayuse Pass, travelers can divert east to Chinook Pass and visit Tipsoo Lake or continue north along the Mather Memorial Parkway (SR410). As hoped in the original master plan for Mount Rainier National Park, Sunrise has become a popular destination for visitors on the east side of the park. The White River Road branches off of SR410 and travels up the White River Valley. The Sunrise Road then climbs up to 6400 feet, the highest elevation accessible by vehicles in the park, to Sunrise. Stop at Sunrise Point along the way for 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and the Cascade Range.
Exit the park to the north via SR410 to reach the neighboring communities of Greenwater and Enunumclaw, WA, and the broader Puget Sound area.
Bonus: Visit Carbon River and Mowich Lake in the remote northwest corner of park via SR165. Or, do this route in reverse!
It takes several hours to drive through the park, depending on the number of stops. A break down of driving times is listed below:
- Nisqually Entrance to Longmire: 15 minutes
- Longmire to Paradise: 30 minutes
- Paradise to Stevens Canyon Entrance: 45 minutes
- Stevens Canyon to White River Entrance: 30 minutes
- White River Entrance to Sunrise: 45 minutes