Mt Rainier Self Drive One Day Tour

Mt Rainier - First view of the morning

The first time I ever visited Seattle I only had three days in the city. On one of those days, I decided to book a full day tour and travel south of the city to visit an area around a mountain by the name of Mt Rainier. Needless to say, I fell in love with the area and knew it was somewhere I would return to. Having some spare time while in Seattle again I decided to rent a car and go exploring around Mt Rainier.

Planning To Visit Mt Rainier

Even though I had previously taken a bus tour to the area, it was not a great assistance in planning day for myself. By driving myself, I was hoping to explore some areas that the tours did not stop for. However, as it turns out Mt Rainier National Park has an extensive amount of hikes and walks.

I spent some time trying not to get overwhelmed by choice and started with choosing which direction I would approach from. It helped to exclude some options, but left me with Silver Falls Trail, Comet Falls Trail and visiting the area known as Paradise. At the end of all the planning, I only visited the area near Paradise but found some other great areas along the way.

The First Sighting

As I headed south from Seattle, I was very happy to see a fairly clear day ahead. It is especially useful as you get close to Mt Rainier on a clear day you get a beautiful view of the peak.

Mt Rainier - First view of the morning

As it turns out this would be almost the best view of Mt Rainier today. By the time I reached the entrance to the National Park, there was a significant cloud cover. Thankfully this did not in anyway impact the rest of the day.

Alder Lake

One interesting spot I came across along the way is a location I had photographed on my last visit. The waterway is known as Alder Lake, and on my last visit to the area, the lake was almost empty. Today it was in stark contrast to my last visit, with a reasonable amount of water.

Mt Rainier - Alder Lake

There was one more stop before arriving at Mt Rainier National Park. It is a picnic area that is on the shore of Alder Lake which does create a beautiful scene. It is far from a busy day in the area, and I think this will make it a great day to be exploring this area.

Mt Rainier - Alder Lake from Picnic Area

Kautz Creek

My first stop inside Mt Rainier National Park was at a creek known as Kautz Creek. At the moment this is a fairly small stream what has a brown/copper colour to it. It used to be a much larger river, but due to some heavy rainfall in 2006, there were some changes. The rain washed debris down the creek and at a small narrow part the creek dammed up. The result was the water got pushed in another direction which carved out a new path for the creek.

Mt Rainier - Kautz Creek

Carter Falls

Although I had taken some time to plan the day a little bit, the first hike I decided on was unplanned. I spotted a sign for a waterfall by the name of Carter Falls, which is on the Paradise River.

The hike starts with the need to cross the Nisqually River, at present a very wide bed of rocks and silt. Which is followed by crossing the river itself on a reclaimed bridge. The bridge to cross the rapidly flowing water is quite creative using material from the surrounding area I imagine.

Mt Rainier - Bridge over Nisqually River

The Nisqually River is right next to the road and is quite easy to pass. The next 1.8km (1.1miles) is a reasonable hike to get the heart pumping. The walk is mostly uphill taking you from an elevation of 2960 feet to 3660 feet, an elevation gain of 700 feet (213 metres).

Two aspects make this hike very much worth the effort. First, the falls themselves are quite spectacular, although difficult to photograph clearly. You hear the roar of the water coming over the falls well before you can see them. The second is the absolute peace and tranquillity, the only noises that you can hear are nature and the water.

Mt Rainier - Carter Falls Mt Rainier - Carter Falls Pathway

More Waterfalls

The following two stops were both waterfalls and both much easier to access than Carter Falls. They are both very close to the roadway and well worth stopping for.

Christine Falls

Christine Falls is a spot that I visited the last time I was in the area, but that was fun to make the stop again. These falls are in three tiers, which it is tough to capture in the one photo and pass directly under the roadway.

Mt Rainier - Christine Falls

Narada Falls

The second waterfall I stopped at is Narada Falls. It is very close to the road, but it is tough to see the falls properly from the parking. The photo below is from a view point directly opposite the falls access by walking to the right of the falls in the picture. It is a slow walk but as you can see worth the time.

Mt Rainier - Narada Falls

Roadside Stops

One thing that I have found very beneficial is the number of accessible roadside stops. They very from vast areas to just enough space for a couple of cars. But they allow you to stop along the way and capture some photos of different areas. The views here would be even more spectacular without the clouds that have moved in today.

Mt Rainier - View South


The primary destination today was the area known as Paradise. It is also the highest point on Mt Rainier that you can drive a car to located at an elevation of 5,400 feet. I have previously visited this area as part of the tour I was on last time but knew there was plenty more here to explore.

There are a large number of hiking tracks that all start from this area, which all cross back and forth going up the mountain. In the end, I decided on heading to a point where you have a closer view of one of the Glaciers. Coincidently the particular location I was heading to is named Glacier View.

Mt Rainier - Near Paradise Visitors Center

Skyline Trail

I decided to set off up the Skyline Trail, which starts directly behind the visitors centre. As it turns out the hike from the Paradise Visitors Centre to Glacier View covers some 2.4km (1.5 miles). You go from an elevation of 5,400 feet up to 6,300 feet, gaining some 900 feet (275 metres) of elevation.

The walk turned out to be a lot more demanding than I had anticipated. It turns out walking 2.4km becomes much more challenging when you are gaining so much elevation. Especially when you are already at such a high altitude. There was also another hazard I had not counted on, and that is that even coming into Autumn there is still snow covering vast areas of the mountainside. All of this did make the hike a little more challenging than anticipated. But the result is most definitely worth the effort.

Mr Rainier - Snow still plentiful Mt Rainier - Waterfall above Nisqually Glacier Mt Rainier - Nisqually Glacier

There is also an added extra to the view from here that I had not anticipated. That is the view of Mt Adams to the south.

Mt Rainier - View to the south of Mt Adams

Heading Back To Seattle

I did end up spending more time at Mt Rainier than planned. Although, I am still heading down off the mountain in daylight, which is a significant benefit. I had not expected to get another photograph of Mt Rainier today, but it turned out that I timed it just right.

I captured the below image from almost the same position as the photo I shared at the beginning of the post. There is just a thin layer of cloud forming over the peak of Mount Rainer. It was only minutes later that the peak was again covered in thick cloud.

Mt Rainier - Cloud Halo

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