Like any activity with teenagers, hiking in a National Park takes planning and patience. We had an awesome experience hiking in Mount Rainier with teenagers and we are excited to share all about it. This post will focus specifically on Mt. Rainier National Park as well as some tried and true tips and tricks about hiking and exploring outdoors with teens.
Mount Rainier National Park, WA
Mount Rainier is located in Washington state, about midway between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. The park was founded in 1899 by a group of conservationists, local businesses and railroad companies headed up by the famous John Muir. Mount Rainier National Park is part of the traditional lands of indigenous people who have been there for generations. The park is part of a complex history that deserves respect.
Upwards of 2 million visitors descend on the park each year as people seek a glimpse of the highest volcanic peak in the contiguous U.S. The geological wonders and incredible landscapes draw people in. One thing is certain, people seek out hiking in Mount Rainier. As visitors and park use continue to increase, please do your part to leave no trace as you enjoy the beauty.
Getting to Mt. Rainier
If you will be flying to get out to Mount Rainier National Park, you have two options for airports. You can either fly into Portland, OR or Seattle, WA. You will need to rent a car from there. The drive from Seattle to the Nisqually Entrance (open year round) takes about 1 hour 45 minutes. The drive from Portland to the Nisqually entrance takes about 2 hours 25 minutes. The other option from Portland is to enter from the South east at the Ohanapecosh Entrance station which will require about a 2.5 hour drive. The entrance fee per single vehicle is $30 and will provide a 7 day pass.
Lodging at Mt. Rainier
Like most National Parks, Mount Rainier is in a remote area with lots of wilderness around it. There are not a lot of lodging options. If you are looking for cabins near Mt. Rainier, check out Gateway Inn & Cabins just outside the Nisqually entrance or this A-frame near Packwood, WA. Lodging at Mt. Rainier is limited to the Paradise Inn which fills up quickly and the National Park Inn with only 25 rooms total.
Camping at Mt. Rainier may be your best option if you are willing. Fees are $20 per nite per site. With close to 500 individual sites you can get an incredible in park experience. If backpacking Mt. Rainier is what you’re after, make sure to get a backcountry permit before taking off on your adventure. You can obtain those permits at a ranger station. Climbing permits must be obtained also for getting on the glaciers. During peak season, you may get permits with advanced reservations. Check the site for further information. Hiking in Mt. Rainier is excellent no matter the skill level you have.
The Best Hikes in Mt. Rainier
Mount Rainier offers over 260 miles of trails to choose from. Keep your hiking plans flexible as weather in the area can change drastically and parking lots fill quickly during the busy summer months. Have a back-up plan ready. Keep in mind that bicycles and pets are NOT allowed on most of the trails inside this park. As always, stay on the trails so as to protect the meadows and resist the temptation to feed the wildlife. Keep nature wild, y’all!
Day Hikes in Mt. Rainier
Due to the close proximity to major metropolitan cities of Settle and Portland partnered with the lack of nearby lodging, Mt. Rainier hiking trails are extremely popular for day hikers. As mentioned above, try to keep your plans flexible and your hiking group to less than 12. Your best bet for parking is to arrive at your trailhead as early as possible. For example, the park visitor center located at Paradise fills quickly. The upper parking lot near the trailheads was 75% full by 7:45 am on a Sunday morning in late July.
- Silver Falls Trail: Located near the Stevens Canyon entrance station you have two options to start this trail. One is to begin at the campground and loop all the way around for a 3 mile hike with 300 feet of elevation gain. The other is to start across from the parking area at Grove of the Patriarchs and do a 3 mile out and back hike, turning around at the bridge. This trail can experience wash outs if the rains have been heavy so be prepared. The water is impossibly blue and the deep growth forest cover makes this a popular family hike. Our teenagers loved climbing out on the rocks to get a better look at the falls. Beware that rocks can get quite slippery.
- Grove of the Patriarchs: this easy 1.3 mile loop trail near the Stevens Canyon entrance station will give tree lovers lots to gawk at. These monster trees reside on an island so you’ll cross a low swinging bridge over the Ohanapecosh River. This is one of the best hiking trails for kids, but also impressive to teens.
- Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls: park in the upper parking lot at Paradise and take the paved path to the right. The wildflower meadows and marmots will keep you entertained as you trek upward. Take the small offshoot trail down to get a good look at the falls and then cross over the bridge and continue on narrow trail to go deeper into the meadows. The views of Mount Rainier are incredible! You can make this hike as long as you want for an out and back, but if you turn around at the falls it’s only a 1 mile roundtrip hike.
- Skyline Loop: If you’re looking for a more strenuous hike, but still want to see Mt. Rainier in all its glory, this is the one. This 5.5 mile loop trail will take 1700 feet of elevation gain. Give yourself about 4 hours to complete this one, but it’s well worth it for the best view of Mt. Rainier.
- Pinnacle Peak: Another great day hike that is less popular because the trailhead is at Reflection Lakes and not at Paradise. 3 miles roundtrip with 1100 feet of elevation gain, this hike will take about 3 hours to complete and is a fabulous day hike to push yourself a bit more.
Backpacking Mt. Rainier
Teenagers are often looking to prove themselves and are looking for an adventure that pushes the limits and offers some healthy risk. The Wonderland Trail is a multi-day, 93 mile backpacking trail that encircles Mount Rainier. Demand in the summer months is high, so it’s recommended to make a reservation for a wilderness permit, which is required. Plan accordingly as camping along the trail is only allowed in designated camps. There are 21 campsites to choose from, but not all can accommodate a group. Do your research for teen backpacking. This could be an incredible opportunity for a hiking in Mount Rainier as a small group of teenagers. How incredible it would be to accomplish together or as a fantastic family bonding experience with your teens?
Teen Hiking Tips
I’ll be the first to admit that we do not have hiking with teenagers completely figured out. It’s taken some trial and error to figure out a few things that keep teens happy on the trail. First, it’s really important to let your teen feel heard. This doesn’t mean caving into their complaining, but it does mean encouraging them to be positive about what they DO want. Ask them for suggestions on places they want to see. Take really high quality snacks of their choice with you. Teach them basic life skills for teenagers like map reading skills while you are out on the trail to demonstrate your confidence in them. Have a list of conversation starters to keep minds off of the physical work.
Let them complain and agree with the difficulty…and then remind them of the hard things they’ve already done. The best vacation for teenagers is the one they can go back home and brag about what they DID. They may roll their eyes, but take photos to document the memories. In time they will appreciate it.
Teen Hiking “Tricks”
This is the time to allow your teen to take some risk. Most teenagers are looking to blow through boundaries. The outdoors allows them to push the limits in a healthy way. Yes, the rocks are slippery and there’s a good chance they will fall, but they need to know it’s okay to fall and then try again. Teenagers will find any way they can to apply risk. As parents we have to become comfortable with them applying risk in outdoor adventure. In fact, I truly believe we must provide those opportunities. The best vacations for families with teenagers give ample freedom and space to be active and wild.
One last tip for keeping teens engaged while hiking is to do it with another family. Multi-family vacations and adventures are good for everyone. When teens have peers to pass the time and to bond with, the experience is all the more rich. We have traveled several times with another family when visiting National Parks and it has been a win for the teens and the parents alike.
Hiking Gear for Teenagers
As I’m sure you’ve witnessed, teens grow at irregular intervals and at lightening speed pace. Gear can become expensive quickly. Our best advice is to purchase high quality essentials such as hiking boots and base layers that you can resell or pass down to a sibling. Check out my in-depth guide for more gift giving ideas. If you want your teens to enjoy being outdoors it is important to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Don’t hesitate to borrow or rent equipment as you and your teen are trying new things.
Hiking is one of the best activities for teenagers. All teens need to spend outside for fresh air and time away from screens. It feels good for everyone to get time away from the daily grind and to embrace nature. The opportunity to physically push the limits is also pretty great. We can’t recommend hiking in Mount Rainier National Park enough. We snuck in several trails during our 10 day long PNW road trip and I think it’s safe to say that we will make it back again some day.
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