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Tips for Camping in Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is an icon, not just for Washingtonians but for all outdoors enthusiasts. At 14,410 feet of elevation, Mount Rainier is one of the tallest peaks in the contiguous United States. It is also the most glaciated U.S. peak (outside of Alaska, of course): it’s the starting point for five major rivers! So it’s no wonder that camping in Mount Rainier National Park is a very popular and worthwhile adventure.

The park covers a massive 235,625 acres with over 260 miles of maintained hiking trails. Mount Rainier itself is an active volcano, and the surrounding area has wildflower meadows, forests with thousand-year-old trees, and tons of amazing wildlife. Ready to start planning your trip? Let’s dive into our top camping tips to get you started!

Plan Your Trip Thoroughly

The first thing to know about the park is that it is huge. There are five entrances, three drive-in campgrounds, two inns, and so much more. It’s essential that you know where you plan to spend your days and nights, so you don’t waste time driving around. Luckily, the National Park Service has loads of maps to help you plan, as well as information about road closures and other alerts.

Where to Camp

There are plenty of options for staying overnight in Mount Rainier National Park, but be sure to book early, as sites fill up fast during the summer months. For drive-in camping in Mount Rainier, two excellent options are the Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock Campgrounds.

Ohanapecosh Campground

  • Number of sites: 188
  • Fee per night: $20
  • Attractions: Surrounded by old-growth forest and close to popular hikes
  • Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire pits, grills, picnic tables
  • Other information: Groups larger than 12 people must stay at Cougar Rock Group Campground.

Book at Recreation.gov

Cougar Rock Campground

  • Number of sites: 173
  • Fee per night: $20
  • Attractions: Lookout point of Mount Rainier, close to a wildflower meadow, access to the Wonderland Trail
  • Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire pits, grills, picnic tables

Book at Recreation.gov

Mount Rainier
Photo by Dan Purdy

Backcountry Camping in Mount Rainier NP

For backcountry camping, there are also many fantastic options. Very little of the park is accessible by car, meaning that the rest is just for wilderness camping. To get an idea of where you might want to camp, you can check out all of the trails of Mount Rainier. Once you know where you want to camp, you can refer to the Trails and Backcountry Camping Conditions to double-check that your desired site is open.

The most popular backcountry camping options, and for good reason, are along the Wonderland Trail. This 93-mile long trail encircles Mount Rainier and covers a lot of elevation gain and loss along the way. The National Parks Service recommends reserving your wilderness permit for this trail since the permits go fast. (More on that below.) 

Wonderland Trail
Photo by Danielle Plouffe

The Wonderland Trail has eighteen wilderness campsites and three non-wilderness campsites, one of which is the Cougar Rock Campground mentioned above. The best way to plan your trip is to use the Wilderness Trip Planner that shows all the campsites along the Wonderland Trail. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to camp within a quarter-mile of any trail or road. There are also three developed areas that are designated for day-use only: Longmire, Paradise, and Sunrise.

Finally, a few trails branch off from the Wonderland Trail to head higher up the mountain. The best of these is the Camp Muir Route, which ends at the Muir Public Shelter. This strenuous 9-mile round-trip trail has an elevation gain of 4,680 feet. Please note that this route is unmarked and only for experienced hikers and climbers. Before you go, be sure to check trail conditions and know your route!

Camp Muir View
View from Camp Muir: Photo by Dan Purdy

When to Go Camping in Mount Rainier NP

If you plan on camping in Mount Rainier National Park, the optimal season to visit is late spring through early fall. Average temperatures in these months hover in the 40s to 60s degrees Fahrenheit, with the best weather coming in August. Most important, though, is the average rainfall. The Pacific Northwest is notoriously drizzly, but the summer tends to be a bit drier, keeping hiking trails and campsites comfortable and safe.

That being said, if you choose to go during their peak visit times, know that you won’t be alone. Reservations book quickly, parking spots get taken, and entrance roads become congested and slow-moving. Be sure to reserve your sites and permits early. You can get up-to-date information on congestion updates via NPS Mount Rainier’s Twitter account, and be sure to check out their other summer congestion tips.

Mount Rainier Trail
Beautiful fall colors near Paradise on Mount Rainier: Photo by Danielle Plouffe

Know the (Permit) Rules

There are many different permits and reservations you could need in Mount Rainier National Park, including ones for weddings and military activities. I’ll stick to the basics and just cover what you’ll need to know to go camping in Mount Rainier. First, the single-vehicle park entrance fee is $30 unless you have a Mount Rainier Annual Park pass ($55/year) or an America the Beautiful NPS Park pass ($80/year).

Second, camping sites are $20 per night and can be reserved on Recreation.gov. Backcountry camping requires a wilderness permit, and NPS has an Early Access lottery for permits as the Wonderland Trail is so popular. 

Lastly, if you plan to hike/camp above 10,000 feet, climb, or walk on a glacier, you’ll also need to pay a Climbing Cost Recovery Fee ($52) and get a climbing permit. 

Mount Rainier Spring
Don’t forget your backcountry permits: Photo by Danielle Plouffe

Prepare for Unpredictable Weather!

Finally, one more very important tip for Mount Rainier camping is that the weather is extremely unpredictable. Even if you go in the summer, you should be prepared for it to start raining at any time. That means packing a waterproof shell and extra socks in your day bag. You should also check the weather every morning before heading out to make sure you don’t get caught in a storm.

If you plan to hike up the mountain, you’ll need to be extra prepared, as there will be different weather conditions than at lower elevations. For example, the snow around the 5,000-foot elevation mark on Mount Rainier doesn’t fully melt until July. Keep this in mind as you pack and plan your trip, as you might need heavier gear and better boots the higher up you hike on the mountain.

Final Thoughts

No matter where you stay in Mount Rainier National Park, you are sure to have an amazing time. You’ll see beautiful wildflowers, interesting wildlife, and of course, the awe-inspiring Mount Rainier. Plan ahead of time and pack well, and you’ll undoubtedly set yourself up for a memorable adventure!

Once you’ve picked out your camping spots, don’t forget to review our top camping tips to make your trip as fun as possible.

*Written by BestDraft LLC. contributor Benjamin Panico.