While there are quite a few options for Mount Rainier National Park family day hikes, we chose two of the best on our visit. Some of the ones we were thinking of hiking still had quite a bit of snow on the trail, which is always possible even into July depending on snowfall that year. Our top choices for day hikes in Mount Rainier were the Comet Falls trail and Mt. Fremont Lookout.
If you are looking for a good day hike in Mount Rainier, Comet Falls should be on your short list! It is rated a strenuous hike, and that is for good reason. (If you have questionable knees, don’t do this hike. Kim had knee trouble on this hike and she doesn’t normally). The trail climbs 1250 feet in its’ 1.8 miles (round trip of 3.6 miles), and parts of it are rocky and broken up. The trail is not heavy on switchbacks, but rather a persistent climb. Most all of the trail runs along Van Trump creek, so named after one of the first individuals to summit Mount Rainier.
There are a few other beautiful waterfalls along the hike, including one that I’m sure some have thought was Comet Falls if they missed the little sign that says Comet Falls 200 feet <–. You can choose to go an extra 0.2 miles after the lookout point to stand in the mist of the falls and we highly recommend this, particularly if it is a warm day! Be careful at the falls as I took a spill trying to help “Hank” on the snow and loose rocks.
This hike does have some logistical challenges to be aware of. First, the parking area at the trail head is very small. We arrived at the trail head around 9AM or 9:30AM, and were able to secure the final actual parking spot. Once we got back from the hike we saw a bunch of people creating their own parking spaces, but I can only assume that can bring tickets or even towing if you are particularly creative. Second, there is no privy at the trailhead and it is busy enough that you will find little opportunity to sneak off trail to take care of business, so to speak. There are privies fairly close at either Cougar Rock on the West or at the picnic area near Paradise on the East. If you are worried about it, you may want to make a pit stop at one of those spots on your way so you are ready for a good 3 hours of hiking.
If those two items don’t present an issue, make sure you bring water, as it gets hot on the trail, and I would also suggest hiking poles (you will particularly appreciate them on the return trip downhill).
Mount Fremont Lookout
In contrast to the Comet Falls trail where you are mostly in the woods, the Mount Fremont trail is all about spectacular views of Mount Rainier until you get over the last ridge at the Lookout. A no longer used fire watch tower built in 1934, Mt. Fremont Lookout gives a spectacular view really far into the Cascade range as far as weather conditions allow.
This trail leaves from the Sunrise Visitor Center which has food, restrooms, etc. and a large parking lot that does fill up as the day goes on. The first part of the trail climbs along a ridge inhabited by marmots and beautiful wildflowers towards Frozen Lake (about 3 miles roundtrip), the water source for Sunrise Visitor Center. Until you reach Frozen Lake, there is a good deal of traffic on the trail as many trails diverge from Frozen Lake, including the hike to Mt. Fremont. In early July, we encountered snow on the trail and the rangers in the visitor center were advising people without water resistant / waterproof shoes to avoid the trail as the snow cover on the trail was melting and slippery even with good hiking boots. If you want some amazing views of Mount Rainier and are not up for the full 5.6 miles (roundtrip) to visit Mt. Fremont Lookout, you can stop here at Frozen Lake and be very satisfied!
From Frozen Lake the trail continues 1.3 miles and climbs over 480 feet, which is also when the trail turns strenuous and the trail that is largely smooth prior to this point becomes increasingly comprised of broken up rock. To your left the entire trip up is a changing but ever present view dominated by Mount Rainier and a beautiful valley that we are told is often home to mountain goats and, on occasion, bears.
It is not until you approach the Lookout that you can see over the mountain and fully understand why this spot was chosen for a fire watch tower. From the lookout, you can see so very far and see bears, goats, and other animals playing in a large area called Grand Park below. A great way to spend a day!
One other item to keep in mind on this trail – there is essentially no shade on the trail, so you will want to be prepared with layers of clothing and sunscreen is a must! There were also some mosquitoes once we began the climb up after Frozen Lake, so some bug spray is also a good idea for this trail.
These two hikes were fun, beautiful, and challenging! We’d recommend both for someone looking to see beautiful parts of Mount Rainier National Park! For our top picks for shorter family hikes, visit this post Mount Rainier National Park – Short Family Hikes.