From loop trails and waterfalls to alpine aeries and meadows marinated in wildflowers, Mount Rainier National Park is an awesome place for family hiking. But some trails are more kid friendly than others. What are the best Rainier trails for kids?
The answer varies depending on you and your child(ren). Factors to take into consideration include age, physical shape, and whether or not you and your children are used to hiking, especially at altitude. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these trails for very young children. But we’ve hiked all of these when our kids were ages six years and up.
Here are ten of our family favorites, in no particular order:
Distance: 3.5 miles RT
A popular trail with big rewards, this relatively easy loop trail has it all: pristine mountain tarns, kaleidoscopic wildflower carpets in season, beautiful sub-alpine meadows, a towering peak, and oh, yeah, jaw-dropping views of that snowy colossus in the distance.
- A gentle climb above Tipsoo Lake
- Eye-popping vistas + killer views of the Mountain
- Elev: 5,4000 feet+ – one of the first to close when the snow flies; one of the last to melt out in the spring
- An option for hiking down to Dewey Lake.
Good for older children who are used to hiking.
2. Silver Falls
Distance: 3.5 miles RT
Located on the Mountain’s southeast flank out of Ohanapecosh, Silver Falls is one of the best-known waterfalls cobwebbing the park. An easy loop trail through a spectacular old growth forest.
- Out of Ohanapecosh or the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the southeast side of the park, at a much lower elevation than trails out of Paradise or Sunrise.
- One of the first trails to melt out in spring.
- One of the most popular trails in the park.
- No major uphill climbing.
A good option for families with young children who are used to walking.
3. Sheep Lake – near Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Distance: 4.2 miles RT
A great choice for rookie hikers or families with kiddos who are good hikers, the trail to Sheep Lake includes sweeping vistas, towering trees, scores of wildflowers, and a splendid emerald-green lake lolling under an infinite blue sky!
- Climbing for the first mile or so, but the grade is gentle and not steep by Rainier standards.
- It’s outside park boundaries by a stone’s throw, so dogs and horses are allowed on the Sheep Lake trail, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
- First mile is rocky and exposed. Wear a hat. Bring plenty of water.
- Ringed by jagged mountains, Sheep Lake offers smooth-as-glass reflections of the quiet, conifered landscape and open skies. A great lunch stop.
Distance: 1.2 miles RT
This is a pleasant paved nature trail winding through a beautiful alpine meadow near the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise.
- If you don’t have the time or energy for longer, higher trails at Paradise, this is a perfect one-stop Rainier hiking experience.
- Sharp-eyed children may spot mountain goats near the Nisqually Glacier.
- Great photo opps!
Distance: 2.6 miles RT
Sapphire ovals set between jade green hills and emerald foliage, Bench and Snow Lakes are a Mount Rainier “must-see.”
- Starts on the south side of Stevens Canyon Road, 1.5 miles beyond Reflection Lakes.
- Enough ups and downs to thrill any step-aerobicizer – but they’re short.
- A hard, fast climb from the trail head which levels out on “The Bench,” a broad plain hosting killer views of the Mountain.
- The walk down to Bench Lake is short and steep and usually muddy. Snow Lake is an easier approach.
Bench Lake is a good turn-around spot for little legs.
Distance: 1.3 miles RT
This easy, 1.3 mile walk winds along the aquamarine waters of the Ohanapecosh River, ending in a splendid loop of soaring conifers that unhinge any jaw. Think Emerald City. Times ten.
- Some of the grove trees are hundreds of feet tall and up to 1,000 years old.
- One of the most crowded trails in the entire park.
- Arrive early to avoid trail traffic jams, particularly on busy summer weekends.
- You can complete the loop in under an hour, but a hike through this “green cathedral” is worth much more.
- You can combine this hike with the Silver Falls hike.
Note: The Grove of the Patriarchs parking lot is small. It fills up early on bright, sunny weekends in summer. Bathrooms, a drinking fountain and picnic tables are located at the parking lot, a short drive from the Steven’s Canyon entrance.
Distance: 5.0+ miles, RT
The trail to these two falls, one right after another, winds through an old-growth forest along the Paradise River. (Check with park rangers before heading out to make sure the foot bridge is in.) Carter Falls is semi-hidden behind foliage. If you continue up the trail, Madcap Falls breaks into the clear just a stone’s throw ahead.
Carter Falls was named for Henry Carter, a guide who built the first trail to the Paradise Valley. Past Longmire, near Cougar Rock Campground. Best for children who are experienced hikers and can safely negotiate the rickety foot log bridge crossing the river.
8. Narada Falls
Distance: A few hundred feet
Narada Falls drops nearly 170 feet from the parking lot viewpoint to the rocks below. For the full effect, hoof it down the short dirt trail to the lower viewpoint. On a warm summer day, children will enjoy the mist and the rainbow arc at the base of the falls.
On the Longmire-Paradise Road, about 14 miles from the Nisqually entrance. Tip: the parking area has picnic tables + a ‘comfort station’ that’s heated in winter!
9. Trail of the Shadows
Distance: Less than a mile
This interpretive trail of about .7 miles starts right across the street from National Park Inn in Longmire.
- Mostly level
- A net elevation gain of about 55 feet.
- You can hike the entire loop in about 30 minutes.
- This interpretive trail is a great introduction to Mount Rainier’s rich history as well as a nice option for families with young children.
Best season is June to November, but this trail is accessible much of the year except when snow levels drop below 2,750 feet. .
10. Panorama Point/Skyline – for hardy young hikers
Distance: 5.5 miles RT
Rating: Moderately Difficult (recommended for ages 10 and up, and only if strong hikers)
This steep, rocky trail out of Paradise lives up to its name with jaw-dropping in-your-face views of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Basin, the Tatoosh Mountains and beyond. You’ll want to be in good shape before tackling this puppy.
- An elevation gain of about 1,625 feet.
- Starts at Paradise behind Jackson Visitor Center. The trail is paved for the first half mile or so.
- The Upper Skyline trail option above The Point is about as close as you can get to the Mountain with an ice axe or strapping in to crampons.
You’ll find a “short cut” from Panorama Point along the Lower Skyline Trail. It includes a hazardous trek through a steep snow shelf, lopping off about a half mile from your hike. Park rangers don’t recommend it. The upper trail adds a climb of about 300 feet, but it’s safer. The upper trail joins the lower route eventually and winds through a rocky “moonscape” past Sluiskin Falls back to Jackson Visitor Center.
Always remember to check the weather forecast before hitting the trail and hike within your abilities. For more, see my post on How to Hike Safe and Sane.