This will be a series of posts containing our road trip itineraries for each park we visited in Washington state – Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks. This post contains our Mount Rainier road trip itinerary. Don’t miss days 5-8 in Olympic here and days 9-14 in North Cascades here.
Washington State is one of the most diverse and beautiful states for adventurers. From waterfalls to mountains, rainforests to tide pools, cities to wilderness, you see so much variety that you are all but guaranteed to find something to love!
As I went about planning our Washington road trip route and destinations I used my normal tools — the National Park Service webpage, Google searches, TripAdvisor, HomeAway, and the State travel page. In addition, the WTA is one of the best hiking guides I’ve seen (and includes a user community that logs their experience and conditions on the trails).
Since we were coming from the east and in July, our route was driven by our overarching goal – to visit all 3 National Parks in the state. We decided to start in the south due primarily to my finding that many of the trails in the North Cascades National Park can be snowed in until mid-July. We entered the state in the far southeast corner coming across Idaho through the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (better known as Lolo Pass).
We stopped first at the Nez Perce National Historic Park, 20 minutes East of Lewiston/Clarkston for a quick visit that emphasized the visitor center. Since we had previously visited Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana earlier that same day, we had some background on the Nez Perce and the reason this park is important. Since we were there at the end of the day, the Ranger asked if we would like to help take down the tepee and that will be a memory we will hold forever!
Shortly after crossing into Washington, on Hwy 12, the scenery changed dramatically after following a river canyon for most of our day. The rolling hills of this agricultural area were beautiful – I’m impressed that the tractors can run on some of those slopes! We spent that first night in Walla Walla. If your schedule allows (unfortunately ours did not) Palouse Falls looked pretty. I tried to convince Kim it was on the way, but she was on to me 🙂
Washington Road Trip Itinerary
Leaving Walla Walla, we headed to Whitman Mission NHS but it was closed so we were unable to visit. Instead, we headed on towards Yakima, where we ate lunch / brunch at the fantastic White House Cafe (though I would recommend requesting no powdered sugar on your plate), filled up on gas and food at Costco, and picked fresh rainier and bing cherries at Barrett Orchards right outside the city.
After that, we headed on to Mount Rainier National Park. While you can (and many do) take Highway 12 the whole way, we branched off onto Hwy 410 (Chinook Pass). If it is open, the drive from East to West up the Chinook Pass is simply amazing! At the top, you can climb around in the snow and once you enter Rainier NP you are greeted with the Mountain in all its’ glory over Tipsoo Lake. We drove from there up to Sunrise Visitor Center, but didn’t spend much time there as we had to head back down to Packwood to our rental home.
The following day, we began our morning with the short trip out to see the Grove of the Patriarchs. This hike is short and flat, which makes it a must for any family or if you have elderly folks with you. Read more about this hike in our post on short family hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. We then went to hike to Comet Falls, which is a strenuous hike. See more about this day hike here. After the Comet Falls hike we stopped at Paradise and enjoyed a well deserved ice cream from the visitor center cafeteria 🙂
The next day, we took it easy and went back to Paradise Visitor Center and hiked to Myrtle Falls (lots of Marmots there!) and stopped at Narada Falls and the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. We typically try to have a down day in between two bigger day hikes so our energy level stays up and our bodies get some rest! Read more about our Myrtle Falls and Narada Falls hikes here.
Our last day in Mount Rainier National Park, we chose to head back to the Sunrise Visitor Center area and hike the Mount Fremont Lookout trail. This strenuous hike is also detailed out here. It took us most of the morning and we had a great lunch break at Frozen Lake on the way back from the Lookout.
That’s it for now — we are headed on to Olympic National Park next for days 5-8 of our Washington State adventure!