Hiking The Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 25 May 2024 |

I saw a photograph of the alpine meadows in Mount Rainier National Park. I had no idea where Rainier was but I knew in my heart that I had to go and hike in those mountains.

We home-swap and I found a fabulous swap with a family near Olympia in Washington State. And amongst other things we visited this majestic mountain and hiked the Skyline Trail.

We’ve hiked around the world and this hike still ranks as one of the best days we’ve had.

Mount Rainier taken from the Skyline Trail

Trailhead at Paradise : Rainier National Park

I didn’t do any research. I rather naively thought that we’d simply arrive and walk. As a Brit we’re still not quite used to the enormous distances folks travel in the US. I never expected that we’d need overnight accommodation. As a result there was very little choice.

In an ideal world we’d have stayed at the Paradise Inn but instead we looked for a bed in the nearest town. We stayed in Ashford at Whitakers Bunkhouse.  It was ok but we wouldn’t book again. We felt it was expensive for what was offered.

If I were to ever visit again I would book accommodation well in advance and I’d choose from one of the following :

Top Tip : Make sure you know where you are going to be walking. We initially booked a bed more than an hour’s drive away from the trailhead. There are a great many hikes at Rainier so double check your start.

Ensure You Have A Rainier National Park Permit

This notice is from the Rainier Website. This was not in force when we visited so if you plan to hike the Skyline Trail then do ensure you heed this advice

Mount Rainier National Park has experienced an approximate 40% increase in visitation over the last 10 years, leading to overcrowding during the summer and damage to fragile ecosystems. In 2024, Mount Rainier National Park will implement a pilot timed entry reservation system to improve the visitor experience to the park by reducing wait times, congestion, and resource impacts on trails caused by overcrowding.

Visit the National Park Website for the most recent information.

Colleen and Gerry at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

Start The Skyline Trail At Paradise

We left at sunrise. We wanted to avoid the heat of the day and we parked at the Paradise Jackson Visitor’s centre; almost empty at this early hour. 

The Skyline Trail is the most popular hiking route at Paradise.  Walking on Rainier’s south side it is also one of the more popular hikes in Washington State. And no wonder as it provides hikers like us a unique opportunity to see up close the breath taking beauty of Washington’s grandest mountain.

The Skyline Trail Stats

The Skyline Trail loop map in Rainier National Park in Washington State
The Skyline Trail loop elevation in Rainier National Park in Washington State
  • Distance : 9.68 km
  • Elevation gain : 556 m
  • Elevation loss : 556 m
  • Max elevation : 2145 m

We climbed the steps from the car park, where the American Flag was now flying at half-mast to honour Queen Elizabeth, who’d died the day before.

As this is a loop you have the choice of going left or right; we chose left.  Looking back to the parking area, we could see the sky change colour from grey to apricot and finally to blue; I love this time of day!

In early summer the hills are adorned with alpine meadows full of lupins, mountain heather, scarlet paintbrush, cascade asters and bistort. All gone of course in September but it was nonetheless spectacular. And I couldn’t help compare these mountains to our fabulous hike over Fuenta De in the Picos de Europa on the Camino Lebaniego in Spain.

morning sky at rainier

Upwards we walked, we weren’t alone as this is a popular route.  Along the route there are choices, there are little spurs you can take to take a closer look at the glacier.  All of these trails appear well marked and we were happy to deviate at times.

We passed a Groundhog, he seemed to be greeting this morning hikers.  We reached Nisqually Glacier Vista and stopped for photos and a drink.  We could look down through the valley and see the glacial’s retreat. 

Many hikers turn around here and walk back to the trailhead, but not us.  We were walking on.  I can’t understate the beauty of this trail.  Even as we left the tree line and on past the retreating snow and walked across the stony alpine scree it remained beautiful. 

hiking skyline rainier

Onwards to Panorama Point.  There were less and less hikers and the terrain became more rustic. 

We reached the high point of our walk, at 2,149 metres we stood on a particularly windy point and took a selfie.  Around us in the distance through the morning haze we could look out at the other giants that the area is famous for, namely Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and an a clear day Mount Hood.

The High Skyline Trail

We continued up along the high Skyline Trail, picking our way along and down the path and soaking up the views.  Onwards and onwards and down and down we continued, and slowly the landscape changed back from stone to green, with plants and trees and streams and waterfalls. 

The lower we walked the busier the trail became again until we reached Paradise Inn.  We thought of stopping for a drink but it was busy and we decided instead to refill our water bottles in the visitors centre and head home. 

We came to Washington to visit Rainier. We weren’t disappointed.  Today ranks as one of our greatest hiking days. 

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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