Hiking and camping go together like peanut butter and jelly. I’ve been doing both since just after the Ark made landfall, particularly at Mount Rainier National Park. So I’m sometimes asked which Mount Rainier campground is my favorite. That’s like asking a mom which kid is her favorite.
But I do have one. Just hang on for a minute.
First, there are three-ish main campgrounds at Mount Rainier National Park: White River (NE section of park), Cougar Rock (SW part of the park), and Ohanapecosh (SE section of park). I say “three-ish” because the Mowich Lake campground is more like a wide spot at the end of the road. No campfires and no running water unless you haul in your own or filter it from the lake.
Among these campgrounds, Mowich Lake is the highest in elevation. Read: cold nights! It’s perched on the Northwest shoulder of the park at 4,929 ft. Last time we were here in mid-September, tents were crusted with overnight ice each morning.
White River is next-highest, at 4,400 ft., followed by Cougar Rock (3,180 ft.) and Ohanapecosh (1,914 ft.), respectively. All have certain attractions and charms.
In terms of number of individual campsites, Ohanapecosh has the most, with 188. Cougar Rock has 173 individual camp sites. White River has 112. Mowhich Lake has 10 “primitive” camp walk-in sites. Tents only. The annual peak season fee as of this writing is $20 a night.
Mount Rainier campgrounds are typically open from late May to late September, depending on whether. Be sure to check the park web site for up-to-date information.
If I had to choose a favorite Mount Rainier campground, however, it would be Ohanapecosh. Hands down.
The Ohanapecosh Campground is located in the SE corner of the park, on Highway 123, 4 miles north of State route 12. It’s roughly 20 minutes north of Packwood and the nearest gasoline. If you’re looking for soaring evergreens, rushing water, old-growth canopies, and enough green to convince you you’ve landed in the Emerald City, this is the place.
If you’re looking for the campground equivalent of the Waldorf-Astoria, however, keep looking. Ohanapecosh is rustic. Flush toilets. No hot water. No showers. Fire grates at each camp site. It’s often wet in this neck of the woods, so be sure to select your campsite carefully, e.g., not in a hollow where passing rainfall will turn your tent into a boat float.
But you can watch daylight fade and twilight pour over Backbone Ridge. Hear owls hoot or varied thrush trill. Watch finches flit above the water, which is a chilly 40 degrees and an impossible shade of aquamarine. On a clear night, the stars go to infinity and beyond.
Another plus: The Silver Falls Loop – one of the park’s most popular, family-friendly trails – and Grove of the Patriarchs, Tipsoo Lake and the Naches Peak Loop trail are all nearby. Sunrise is located up the road about an hour.
Also, Ohanapecosh is the only campground in the park that hosts a visitor’s center.
I would not recommend either Cougar Rock or Ohanapecosh during peak season unless you’re fond of hordes and masses. Rowdy young adults have become somewhat of a problem during peak season as well. So if you can visit in the off-season – around mid to late June or mid to late September – Ohana is the place. A family favorite since 1964.
For more information, see: