a hiker enjoys the view from tolmie peak lookout

How To Hike Near Mt. Rainier this Summer Without Permits

For the first time, Mount Rainier National Park has instituted permits to access the two most popular portions of the park. The Paradise and Sunrise sections will require timed entry permits for anyone who wishes to enter the park between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The first day Paradise will require permits is May 24, while Sunrise (which opens later) is July 3.

But just because Mount Rainier has a permit policy does not mean the park is off-limits. There is a lot of the park you can still see and enjoy.

Hiking and Exploring Mount Rainier Without Permits

Check out the Northwest Corner of the Park

The northwest portion of the park, closest to Seattle, sees far less traffic than the two above locations. And honestly, it’s pretty dang beautiful. This area is split between the Carbon River and Mowich Lake portions of the park.

Carbon River is the easiest to reach, while Mowich Lake requires a 25-minute dirt road drive that can be done in any car.

Hikes to Check Out

Spray Park and Spray Falls – Mowich Area

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Spray Park is a hidden gem (okay, plenty of people know about it) with gorgeous wildflowers during the summer months. It’s also a perfect place to see bears as they enjoy hanging out here. There’s also a stunning waterfall on the way that is worth the slight detour.

  • Length: 5-8 miles (There’s not a definitive turnaround point)
  • Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Tolmie Peak Lookout – Mowich Lake Area

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Tolmie Peak is an epic trail and one of the few fire lookouts directly in Mount Rainier National Park. The trail is moderate and shouldn’t take more than two hours to hike up. Once at the top, you’ll have unbelievable views of Rainier and the Olympic range.

  • Length: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

Carbon River Trail – Carbon River

While there are many routes in this area, most of the trails require going in on the Carbon River Trail. It used to be a road, but after a few washouts, the park closed it down. You can bike five miles on it, and it’s flat.

Unfortunately, this can be a very long day of hiking if you don’t have a bike. However,r if you’re looking for backpacking routes, there are plenty, and these are easier to obtain than other sections.

Summit Lake Trail – Just outside the NW side of the park

a view of summit lake and mt rainier
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

If you’re looking for gorgeous views of Rainier without a super hard hike, the Summit Lake Trail is your best bet. It’s a 6-mile round-trip hike but pretty mellow and great for backpacking (also with no permits). Do note, though, that the road up is terrible, and having high clearance is necessary and probably AWD/4×4, too.

  • Length: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

All Hikes off the 123 and 410 Highways

On the east side of the park, you do not need timed entry permits to drive north and south along Route 410 or Route 123. You won’t be able to access Stevens Canyon or White River, but all hikes along it are fair game.

This means that if you enter from Packwood/Ohanapecosh, you can drive all the way north with no problems.

Hikes to Check out

I’ll be upfront with ya’ll; I haven’t done any of these except for the Naches Peak Loop and Tipsoo Lake. But I plan to hit these less traveled trails this summer. But they look pretty good and will give you a good roadmap for hiking ideas.

Naches Peak Loop

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

If you go in July/August, you’ll get exceptional wildflower blooms; then, during fall, you will have excellent fall colors. It’s a great hike (crowded) but will give you pretty incredible views. That said, you don’t really get Rainier views, but you’ll see other peaks in the area.

  • Length: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 660 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Dewey Lake Loop (Add on to the Naches Peak Loop)

  • Length: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Tipsoo Lake

Tipsoo Lake visiting mount rainier national park washington
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

It is a very chill walk around the lake that offers fantastic sunrise photography opportunities.

  • Length: 0.5-1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: Flat
  • Difficulty: Easy

Crystal Peak or Crystal Lakes Trail

  • Length: 8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,800 – 3,100 feet (the peak trail is higher)
  • Difficulty: Hard

Shriner Peak Lookout

Another of the fire lookouts inside the park boundaries. This will be a butt burner with lots of switchbacks, but I imagine you’ll see way fewer people compared to other nearby trails.

  • Length: 8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard

Deer Creek Falls to Owyhigh Lakes

  • Length: 10 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard

Eastside Trail to Stafford Falls

  • Length: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Silver Falls (two routes)

  • Length: 1-3 miles depending on route
  • Elevation Gain: Mostly flat or 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Cowlitz Divide Trail

  • Length: 10 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard

Three Lakes via Laughinwater Creek Trail

  • Length: 11 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts on These Non-Permitted Trails Near Mount Rainier

There is a reason why the Paradise and Sunrise sections of the park are now permitted. They’re incredibly beautiful and the trails are much more friendly to people who may not want to do a strenuous hike.

As you can see above, many of these long trails have serious elevation gains. If this is your cup of tea, jump at it! But if it’s not, check out the other easier hikes or wait until 3 p.m. to head into the Paradise/Sunrise area for a nice sunset hike!

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside