Mount Rainier National Park during the summer is a wonderful opportunity to see a diverse range of wildlife, beautiful wildflowers, and breathtaking mountain vistas. However, if want to experience the stunning autumn foliage, then Mt Rainier in September or October is your best bet.
With an elevation of 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier reigns as the highest summit in Washington state. Its commanding presence can be seen from as far away as Seattle, but personally, I find the most spectacular and awe-inspiring views are those experienced in person and up close.
I’ve lived in Washington State for well over a few decades and have visited Mount Rainier numerous times and in all seasons. September is one of my favorites, for the flowers, the animals, the fall foliage and of course, the mountain itself.
Know Before You Go
* Check weather, road closures, and trail conditions at the park.
* Reserve lodging at Paradise Inn or National Park Inn in advance.
* Arrive as early as possible with your own food, water and layers.
Mount Rainier in September
September is a beautiful time of change at the park, so what you see will varies depending on when in September you go and the prevailing weather conditions. Wildflowers are disappearing and fall colors are starting to pop. And it is always amazing.
See the Wildflowers at Mt Rainier
Mount Rainier National Park is famous for its beautiful wildflowers. Some of the most common wildflowers found in the park include the purple lupine, fire-red paintbrush, charming avalanche lilies early in the season, the treasured trillium, and of course the delightful bear grass.
While wildflowers normally peak from late June through August, you may see them even into early September, depending on the weather. Particularly those years with heavy snow the previous winter, such as 2023.
Wildflowers are found in different areas of the park depending on the season, elevation, and weather conditions. For example, wildflowers at lower elevations tend to bloom earlier in the year, while those at higher elevations bloom later in the summer.
If the previous winter brought significant amounts of snow, you’ll often see the early species blooming right alongside the late blooming species.
There are many places at Mount Rainier to see wildflowers and spend time in nature, depending on your mobility, time and energy.
Viewing wildflowers here is simply a short walk along the lakeside trail. In addition to the breathtaking wildflower displays, the postcard-perfect view of Mount Rainier reflecting off the lake is a must-see if cloud cover allows for it.
Myrtle Falls is a relatively short and easy, mostly paved trail leading to a gorgeous waterfall, with a beautiful backdrop of wildflowers along the creek, if your timing is right. It’s less than a mile from the Paradise Visitor Center.
The Sheep Lake hike begins at Chinook Pass and gradually moves eastward towards the lake. As you make your way to the lake, look for Indian paintbrush and false hellebore. You may also see the delightful Western pasqueflower and smell the sweet valerian along your way.
Nisqually Vista Trail
The Nisqually Vista trail is also an easy and relatively short trail, just over a mile, through wildflowers to some magnificent mountain views. It’s also accessed directly from the Paradise parking lot.
Silver Forest Trail
For a slightly quieter but also easy hike you can choose the Silver Forest Trail near Greenwater and the Sunrise Visitor Center. This is a family friendly hike of about 2.5 miles, which takes you through a charming meadow of gorgeous wildflowers.
High Rock Lookout Trail
The High Rock Lookout Trail, near Ashford, is a 3.2 mile round-trip and moderate climb along a charming path bound by wildflowers on either side.
The hike ends at a newly refurbished fire lookout with a truly amazing view of Mount Rainier. Please note that this is not a place for young children to run around freely, as there are many steep drop-offs.
If you’re looking for nearly hidden gems at the park, you can take the gondola up to the top of Crystal Mountain and walk downhill through fields and fields of wildflowers.
While all downhill, it’s a somewhat long hike with many beautiful distractions along the way. The types of wildflowers change as you descend, so there’s always something delightful around every corner.
Grand Park, one of the park’s most impressive meadows, is a stunning plateau of wildflowers interspersed with silver snags and a breathtaking view of Mount Rainier.
There are two approaches to Grand Park, one that is longer and more difficult and one in which the road is steep and narrow, requiring a 4WD. Be sure to check the park website for updated road conditions and closures.
How do you know where the wildflowers are blooming in Washington state? Visit Northwest Wildflowers for a real-time update of where to find wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest.
Viewing Wildlife at Mt Rainier
Summer through fall is the best time to see wildlife at Mount Rainier. Look out for pikas, marmots, deer, mountain goats and black bears. The best time to see wildlife is in the early morning and late evening, and on weekdays when there are fewer people about.
While there are coyotes, fox, cougars and even moose at Mt Rainier, you’re less likely to see them during your visit.
Pikas are small, herbivorous and adorable mammals belonging to the Ochotonidae family. They’re also commonly known as rock rabbits, coneys, or whistling hares. Pikas are known for their distinctive high-pitched and charming alarm call, which they use to warn others of predators.
They are roughly the size of a guinea pig, with short ears and legs, and dense fur that helps them survive in cold mountain environments.
Marmots are large ground squirrels belonging to the genus Marmota. They are known for their stout bodies, powerful limbs, and thick fur, which helps them survive in harsh alpine environments.
They hibernate during the winter months, often in large colonies, and emerge in the spring to mate and forage for food. Marmots are herbivorous and primarily eat grasses, flowers, and other plant material.
They are also known for their distinctive warning call, which sounds like a piercing whistle and is used to alert others in the colony of potential predators. You will likely hear them before you see them, as they blend in rather well.
Mount Rainier National Park is home to two common species of deer, including mule deer and black-tailed deer. Mule deer are most common on the eastern side of the park, while the black-tailed deer are more common on the western side.
The two species look very similar to each other. They’re both known for their agility, speed, and keen senses, which help them to avoid predators. You will often find them grazing in meadows or wandering through forests in the early morning.
Mountain goats can be found in the subalpine and alpine meadows, rocky slopes, and cliffs of Rainier. One of the most popular places to observe mountain goats in the park is be exploring around the the Sunrise Visitor Center.
The hikes at Sunrise tend to offer excellent opportunities for viewing mountain goats in their natural habitat. Remember to observe mountain goats from a safe distance and to avoid approaching them, as they are wild animals and can be dangerous if provoked.
Black bears are commonly spotted throughout Rainier National Park. While some bears may look cinnamon or brown in color, these are also black bears. There are not any grizzly bears at Mount Rainier National Park.
Where to See Wildlife at Rainier
Sunrise visitor center has some easier hikes where wildlife are often seen, particularly the Sunrise Nature Trail and Frozen Lake via Sourdough Ridge Trail. Be sure to keep your distance, for your own safety.
The paths around the visitor center at Paradise also have many animal sightings, throughout the summer and fall months. While you are likely to see marmots on nearly every trail, fox and deer are often seen at Narada Falls in particular.
You can hike Naches Peak Loop or many other trails that have plenty of wildlife, particularly in the early morning hours. And the Elk Creek Wildlife Feeding Area is just west of Naches, is a great place to see elk during those same hours.
Take Some Scenic Drives
There are several opportunities for scenic drives in the park, with many unforgettable views of Mt Rainier and the surrounding landscape, as well as mountain ranges in the distance if the weather cooperates.
The beauty of scenic drives is the freedom of deciding just how long you want your trip to be. You can make it a few hours or all day, stopping every time you feel the inclination.
Loop 1: Circle Mount Rainier Drive
147 miles, starting and ending in Enumclaw, WA
This journey around Mt. Rainier lets you discover every facet of this breathtaking national park for yourself. You’ll pass through several mountain communities.
You’ll also pass by dozens of trails, if you’re feeling spontaneous, and absorb the untamed grandeur of this wild terrain in every direction.
Loop 4: West Side Drive
115 miles, starting and ending in Morton, WA
Take your time and take a tour of the Nisqually area, exploring the many amazing features that Mt. Rainier has to offer. Immerse yourself in the lush old-growth forests, stroll through fields of colorful wildflowers, and observe the diverse wildlife that call this area home.
The White Pass Scenic Byway is a series of picturesque wonders, one after the other. It’s an excellent opportunity to see the majestic Mt. Rainier and the beautiful landscape that surrounds it.
Fall for the Foliage
Late September to early October is the best time to see the park’s fall foliage. There are several areas in Mt. Rainier National Park where you can see fall foliage at its best.
The Sunrise area on the northeastern side of the park has some great fall foliage viewing opportunities. The Emmons Vista Trail and the Sourdough Ridge Trail offer stunning views of the changing colors.
Reflection Lake is located along the road to Paradise and is a popular spot for photographers looking to capture the reflection of the fall colors in the water.
The Comet Falls trail is 3.8-mile out-and-back and is located in the Paradise area. It takes you to a stunning waterfall surrounded by beautiful fall colors. The trail is considered moderate in difficulty and includes some elevation gain.
Skyline Loop Trail
The 5.5-mile loop of the Skyline trail is located in the Paradise area and offers spectacular views of the fall foliage and Mount Rainier. The trail is moderate in difficulty and includes some elevation gain.
Tipsoo Lake and Upper Tipsoo Lake are located on the eastern side of the park and offer unforgettable views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding fall foliage. It’s also easily accessible, just off the highway and with almost no elevation gain around the lakes.
The Naches Peak Loop trail is a 3.5-mile loop on the eastern side of the park that offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and fall colors. The trail is considered easy to moderate in difficulty, fantastic exercise for an even better view.
Try Their Ranger-led Programs
The park offers a variety of unique ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, campfire talks, and stargazing programs. The usually run from July through September.
Paradise Visitor Center offers interpretive talks and walks in the afternoons on weekends. They also have a fun Junior Ranger Program and even a Night Skies program.
The Sunrise Visitor Center has ranger led talks and walks as well. They also host a Whiteriver campfire talk at the amphitheater, all about glaciers and our natural environment at the park.
The Ohahapecosh area has a junior ranger program for children 6 to 11 to explore and learn about MRNP.
Be sure to check the park’s website for updated information about their talks, programs and tours.
The park has several lakes and streams where you can fish for trout and other species (with a valid Washington state fishing license). Dog Lake, Mowich Lake, Mineral Lake, Rimrock Lake, Packwood Lake, Alder Lake, Silver Lake and Leech Lake are the most popular ones at Rainier.
Seattle to Mt Rainier
There are three main ways to get from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park. Having a car however, makes a huge difference in flexibility and how much you will be able to see. Be sure to check with the park as part of your planning, as they’re not always open and may require reservations.
You can drive to the park from Seattle, which takes around 2 hours via the I-5 S and WA-7 S route. You can also take the scenic route by following the WA-167 S and WA-410 E.
You can take a shuttle from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park, which offers convenient round-trip transportation. You can find several shuttle providers online or at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The Mount Rainier Day Trip from Seattle will pick you up at your hotel in Seattle and take you to the mountain. You’ll see the breathtaking Christine Falls and Narada Falls, and spend most of your fantastic day at Paradise.
Weather at Mount Rainier National Park
The weather in September can be a bit unpredictable. You might encounter sunny and warm days, but it’s also possible to experience rain or even snow at higher elevations.
There can be also a huge difference in weather in early September vs the weather in late September, so be sure to check the forecast and bring layers of appropriate clothing.
In addition, smoke from wildfires in Washington seems to peak in September, so look for air quality reports when planning your trip.
Where to Eat Near Mount Rainier
There are many places near the park to find great food. We usually eat before and/or after visiting the park and bring snacks just in case we get hungry while exploring.
Mt Rainier Railroad Dining Co in Eatonville, 54106 Mountain Hwy E, Eatonville, WA 98328
Rainier Bar & Grill, 1623 Cole St, Enumclaw, WA 98022
Wildberry Restaurant, 37718 WA-706, Ashford, WA 98304
Where to Stay Near Mt Rainier
Make your reservations early if you would like to stay in the park itself. It’s well worth your time to make the extra effort. Otherwise there are many possibilities nearby.
National Park Inn, 47009 Paradise Rd E, Longmire, WA, 98304; Less than 10 miles from Mount Rainier National Park
Paradise Inn, 52807 Paradise Rd E, Packwood, WA, 98304; Less than 6 miles from Mount Rainier National Park
What to Do Near Mt Rainier
- Wildberry restaurant in Ashford has really fantastic blackberry pie.
- Northwest trek in Eatonville is a worthwhile drive-through visit to see their rescue animals.
- An elk herd moves throughout the area, so drive carefully especially in the early morning hours
- Travel Skate Creek Road to Packwood with many beautiful viewpoints along the way.
- Packwood has a fun brewery, the Packwood Brewing Co.
- The hike to Packwood Lake is a hidden gem worth your time.
Mt Rainier FAQs
Yes, September is a good time to visit Mount Rainier National Park. You may catch the end of the wildflowers or the beginning of fall foliage, and will likely see a number of wildlife.
There are no grizzles at Mount Rainier. Sometimes the black bears appear cinnamon in color, but they are not grizzly bears.
Yes, there have been moose spotted at Mt Rainier.
Yes! You can hike at Mount Rainier in September. There are many fantastic trails well worth your time and effort, including Skyline Loop Trail, Alta Vista Trail and Naches Peak Loop Trail.
The best time to visit Mount Rainier depends on what you’re looking for. If you would like the best weather and wildflowers, July through August is probably best. If fall foliage is your preference, September and October are ideal. For winter sports and fewer crowds, winter is the time to go!
If visiting Mt Rainier in September, be sure to wear breathable layers for whatever the weather holds, a raincoat and sunscreen.
Final Thoughts on Mt Rainier
During September, the park undergoes a transition period, and the sights you’ll encounter will be influenced by the year’s weather pattern and the prevailing weather conditions.
The wildflowers gradually fade away, and the golden colors of fall start to emerge. Crowds tends to decrease, particularly during weekdays, providing a more serene atmosphere.
Whenever you choose to go, you will surely be awestruck by the magnificence of Mount Rainier National Park.