Enjoy Happy Trails, the free monthly newsletter from Hiking For Her

Best Mount Rainier Day Hikes -
You've Gotta Do These!

Looking for the best Mount Rainier day hikes? These are Hiking For Her's top 3 must do day hikes. #hiking #backpacking #camping #mountrainier #hikingforher

By Diane Spicer

The best Mount Rainier day hikes?

  • That's what everyone wants to know!

I get lots of emails asking for my recommendations for the top 3 hikes to do when you're in Seattle and you've only got a limited time for hiking at Mount Rainier National Park.

So I've selected my 3 favorite day hikes in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park for you to enjoy.

They are presented by order of difficulty, with the most challenging hike first.

And each was chosen to highlight an aspect of Pacific Northwest hiking in the top left corner of Washington State, within easy driving distance from Seattle.

What each trail description
offers you

It's tough to single out just three Mount Rainier day hikes to share with you. Living in the proximity of Mt. Rainier gives a hiker an embarrassment of riches.

And because I don't know exactly what kind of hiker you are, I've tried to present three different options for the best Mount Rainier day hikes, a little something for everyone.

Each description offers you:

  • Trail information including difficulty level, tips on finding the trail head, and how to prepare for the hike;
  • Round trip mileage (out and back distance) and elevation gain/loss;
  • Insider information about why this hike absolutely is worth your time.


Let's go Mount Rainier day hiking!

Best Mount Rainier day hikes
Choice #1:
Burroughs Mountain

Trail information

Let's start off with the grandest of the grand day hikes that Sunrise has to offer a hiker: Burroughs Mountain day hiking.

It's also one of the most difficult trails, for reasons that will be explained below.

Drive 17 miles up a winding paved road to the Sunrise Visitor Center.

There is free parking in the large paved parking lot.

Head into the small Visitor Center to check on trail conditions or closures, and pick up a map if you need one.

Sunrise has an interesting history, so spend a bit of time in the Center after your hike and learn about how human interventions shaped this national park.

There's also a concession stand in a separate building, with the usual fast food choices.

And bathrooms.

  • Be sure you take advantage of the amenities before heading out, because this is a popular trail with no bathrooms (or vegetation to duck behind) along the way.

Distance & elevation changes

The Burroughs trail is actually three destinations rolled into one, giving a day hiker plenty of options.

The trail begins at the parking lot, heading up a paved trail until it quickly joins the Sourdough Ridge Trail. That's where the fun begins!

Hike upward on a wide, dusty trail (~400 feet gain) to a five way trail junction at Frozen Lake.

  • Here's your chance to choose a different destination if the snow field ahead of you looks daunting.
  • Consult your map for options to divert to Fremont Lookout or Skyscraper Mountain. These are awesome destinations, too.

The Burroughs Mountain trail takes you up a steep section of trail, where you will encounter the snow field and a steep drop off on your right hand side.

Tip: Steps from previous hikers will be punched into the snow, but they will likely be icy and may be spaced too far apart for smaller hikers.

  • Take your time here, using your trekking poles for stability.

You arrive at First Burroughs (elevation 7,000 feet) after hiking less than three miles, for a round trip of 4.8 mi/7.7 km. Elevation gain: ~900 feet.

Mount Rainier from First Burroughs MountainMount Rainier from First Burroughs

You can push on to Second Burroughs (elevation 7,400 feet), costing you a bit more mileage (round trip 7 mi/9.6 km round trip).

Highly recommended, because:

  • You gain an expansive view of Mt. Rainier's glaciers.
  • You can gaze down upon Glacier Basin, the next recommended hike.
  • You score sweeping views to the north, and on a clear day, you can see a long, long way into the Cascades.
  • Your chances of encountering goats improve.

After spending a lot of time taking it all in, you have a decision to make.

You can turn back here, and be highly satisfied that your leg power and sweat brought you to a fantastic destination.

But if you're a sturdy hiker, why not venture down the flank of Second Burroughs, over a barren plain, and up to Third Burroughs for a mind blowing, up close view of Mt. Rainier's glaciers?

  • There is an established trail that beckons you onward.
  • But it's going to take some effort to lose and gain more elevation, only to lose and gain it again on the way back.
  • If you green light this idea, drop down to the Glacier Basin Trail, and then head upward on an easy trail to gain an astonishing close view of The Mountain.
  • Tip: Going to Third Burroughs (7,800 feet) makes for a long day, no doubt about it. Pack extra food and water, and note that there is no opportunity for a pit stop because it's high alpine terrain (no trees to crouch behind).
  • Once on Third Burroughs, rest and rehydrate while you listen to chunks of Mt. Rainier thunder down her sides.

    Up close and personal with Mount Rainier from Third Burroughs Mountain, as close as you can get to this glacier covered active volcano without climbing itUp close and personal with Mount Rainier from Third Burroughs. See me in the lower right corner? Puny human!

    Why this hike is
    a spectacularly good idea

    You won't be the only person heading up to Burroughs, as this is one of the most popular Mount Rainier day hikes.

    So get an early start for several compelling reasons:

    • to score a parking spot,
    • to guarantee an entire day to enjoy the beauty of this hike,
    • and the earlier you start, the better your chances of seeing wildlife. Marmots munching lupine in dew encrusted meadows are a common sight here!

    The Burroughs Trail hands you an opportunity to get right up close to Mt. Rainier, "in her face" as a mere day hiker.

    The trail also gives you a chance to practice your snow hiking skills, if you go early in the season.

    • There are snow fields that might not melt out even by summer's end.
    • If you don't have good foot wear, and are the least bit hesitant about your footing, choose one of the other hikes on this page. NO KIDDING! Sliding off a steep drop off does not a good day hike make.
    • Hiking with kids? Be absolutely sure of their abilities, or choose a different destination.

    Once you've safely navigated the snow field, you are in for a treat: barren alpine flatness with The Mountain looming close by, and possibly a close encounter with the resident goat herds.

    For more details, photos and a video, go here.

    Trail Tip

    You can make a loop out of this hike (check your map), heading back to the Visitor Center on a different trail offering fresh vistas.

    However, there is a snow field that lingers into summer on this route, although it's not as dicey as the previously mentioned one.

    • If you want safer Mount Rainier day hikes, take a look at the other two options on this page.

    Best Mount Rainier day hikes
    Choice #2:
    Glacier Basin

    Trail head information

    No need to drive all the way up to Sunrise for spectacular Mount Rainier day hikes.

    Instead, at five miles from the White River Entrance Station (where you've paid your access fee or shown your annual pass), turn left into the White River Campground.

    Park in the daily visitor lot (it's free but can fill up with climbers and hikers on a fine summer day).

    The trail head is at the upper edge (toward the mountain) of the camp ground, and is well marked.

    Distance & elevation changes

    This trail gains 1300 feet with a round trip distance of 7 miles.

    Not only is this one of the most splendid Mount Rainier day hikes, it's also used by climbers to access the Glacier Basin camp and a climbing route up the mountain.

    • If the idea of passing hard breathing, heavily laden climbers is your idea of a good time, chances are this hike will deliver your brand of fun.

    A lot of time and effort was put into the trail recently, so it's a dream to hike: no snow field to navigate, while the trail is wide, well graded and not too rocky (it used to a mining road).

    So this hike can be done in half a day, with moderate effort. And it's highly suitable for kids.

    • Make time to explore the White River below the campground after your hike. The sound of huge rocks smashing together under the force of the river is amazing!

    Why this hike is
    a spectacularly good idea

    Hiking into Glacier Basin puts you in touch with three amazing Mt. Rainier features:

    • the White River (the trail stays right beside it for most of the way into the Basin, giving you lots of opportunities for diversions)
    • the toe of the Inter Glacier
    • Emmons Glacier moraine (this is only one mile from the trail head)

    And here's why this is one of the best Mount Rainier day hikes for families:

    If you're hiking with folks who don't like to push it, the trail begins with a gradual up hill grade.

    • Any one can turn back before the steep push into the Basin.
    • There are plenty of "resting spots" along the way for family members to wait for you.

    Once you're in the basin (after a bit of an uphill push), sit down along the river and spot the mountain climbers on the Inter Glacier as they push upward to Steamboat Prow.

    Or turn your attention to the flowers and serenity.

    Purple lupine, red paintbrush, and white bistort on a day hike at Mount Rainier National ParkPurple lupine, red paintbrush, and white bistort on a day hike at Mount Rainier National Park

    This day hike often gets overlooked, but that's good news for you:

    • Most folks head "up the hill" and do day hikes from the circus that is called the Sunrise parking lot.
    • You'll have less people encounters on this hike, but still have great views of Mt. Rainier.

    Best Mount Rainier day hikes
    Choice #3:
    Dege Peak and beyond

    Trail head information

    You've seen Mount Rainier day hikes that start high (from the Sunrise parking lot) and low (a mere five miles from the entrance, at the White River campground).

    Now let's try something in between.

    Drive past the White River campground on the road to Paradise, but keep an eye out for the Sunrise Point pull out, approximately 10 miles from the White River Entrance Station.

    • It's hard to miss, because it's located on a hair pin turn that will definitely slow you down, with paved parking available.
    • And if you miss it, hey! you've got lots of options up at Sunrise, as noted above.

    Expect a lot of folks taking photos from this vantage point, but don't expect m(any) of them to join you on this hike.

    That's good news! Everyone is focused on getting to Sunrise, which means you'll have a good chance for some solitude. That can be mighty hard to come by on Mount Rainier day hikes.

    Distance & elevation changes

    This hike is easy in terms of exertion, and it's not for you if you yearn to get really close to The Mountain (see Pick #1 above).

    Round trip mileage is a mere 2.5 miles, with an elevation gain of 400 feet (most of it at the end, 200 feet, to access the convenient flat spot atop Dege Peak).

    It's one of the best Mount Rainier day hikes in the Sunrise area for lots of reasons beyond the easy trail (see below).

    Optional: You can drop off of Dege Peak and continue on to the Sunrise Visitor Center, about 2 more miles one way, for great views of Mt. Rainier.

    • The modest elevation gain (600 feet) might be worth it on a clear day when you're in the mood for a perspective on Yakima Park (where the Center is situated).

    Caution: If you're a heads down, hard charging hiker, skip this one and do the Burroughs Trail two days in a row, with different destinations.

    Why this hike is
    a spectacularly good idea

    How about this? 360 degree views are yours on this peak, when the weather is clear, giving you a "five volcano" day: Mt. Rainer, plus Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Glacier Peak and Mount Baker.

    And for so little effort!

    Mount Rainier from SunriseMount Rainier from Sunrise

    The Cowlitz Chimneys are up close and personal, allowing you to daydream about Mt. Rainier's eruptive past.

    You can also look back at Fremont Looutout, a hiking option from the Burroughs Trail above.

    There is a flat spot to sit on when you reach the peak, but it's small and may be populated with other hikers.

    • Do the right thing: Use the view point for your photos, but don't hunker down and hog it for hours and hours.

    Tip: Only do this hike on a clear day, because it's frustrating to sit on top of Dege hoping for the clouds to part (ask me how I know).

    Or do this hike on a foggy day if you like to tune into wildlife.

    • I've heard coyotes howl, seen all kinds of birds and critters, and met no one else on this trail in less than clear weather.
    • Wild flowers line the trail, and it's a special kind of tranquillity as you inhale the vegetal scent of the wet dirt and trees.

    To extend your day hike, there are two choices.

    You can drop off the peak and hike toward the Sunrise Visitor Center on the Sourdough RIdge trail, adding another four miles to your day while enjoying great views of Mt. Rainier.

    Or you can hike the trail back to Sunrise Point and pick up the Palisades Lake trail, which drops off the ridge.

    • No Mt. Rainier views are available, but there are a string of several alpine lakes (visible from your vantage point atop Dege Peak) to explore.
    • Camping is permitted here.
    • This trail is one of the best Mount Rainier day hikes for kids and those who like to meander.

    Things to know
    before you go
    on these hikes

    There are some important pieces of information you need before you decide to tackle these hikes:

    • All 3 hikes use the Highway 410 White River/Sunrise entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park.
    • You will need to purchase a permit to enter (per car, not per person).
    • Sunrise is open only part of the year (late June to late September), so there are no snowshoe opportunities on any of these trails (it's a different story at the Paradise entrance to Mt. Rainier).
    • You will have plenty of company on these hikes, but the further away from the trail head you hike, the fewer people you will encounter.
    • As the people thin out, expect to see large mammals such as marmots, deer and mountain goats. Plus lots of smaller ground critters (pika, ground squirrels) and birds! You know the drill: Don't feed or harass them.
    • If you hike at the peak flower season, prepare to be amazed at the dozens of different types of wild flowers you will gaze upon. The Hiking For Her Pinterest board on alpine flowers is a good preview.
    • These are the best Mount Rainier day hikes from the perspective of a hiker who has done them many times, in all kinds of weather, by herself or with other people. Your results may vary.

    Mt. Rainier trail guides
    worth owning

    Although there are many hiking guide books written about the Mt. Rainier trails, there are only a few that really hit the mark.

    If you're looking for more information about these 3 hikes, as well as ideas for other hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, this is the hiking trail guide to get.

    Enjoy your Mt. Rainier hiking!

    Mount Rainier is truly one of the most spectacular hiking destinations in the continental United States.

    You can immerse yourself in the wildlife, the flowers, the alpine terrain, or just gawk at The Mountain Herself.

    Here's wishing you true blue skies and plenty of time to enjoy your Mount Rainier day hikes.

    More great Mount Rainier day hikes for you to explore: photos, trail descriptions and video!

    Home page > Pacific Northwest Hiking >

    Best Mount Rainier Day Hikes