Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks are easily accessible from Seattle. It’s about 2 hours to drive from Seattle to Rainier, 4-5 hours to drive from Rainier to Olympic, and then 2-3 hours to drive from Olympic to Seattle.
Day One: Head to Mount Rainier from Seattle. Hike up to Comet Falls. If you’re feeling ready for more, climb up further to Van Trump park or Mildred Point. The hike up to Comet Falls crosses over Christine Falls early on. For a spectacular under the bridge view of the falls, hike up the road just a hundred feet or so from your parking area to get to a viewing point. Check into your lodging in either Ashford or Packwood. Then head back to the Paradise area for sunset. This area is just delightful at dusk as light changes all the scenes. Check out Myrtle Falls or just stroll up and down wherever the paths take you.
Day Two: Head out to the east side of the park. You could try the Burroughs Mountain hike (8-10 miles; starts out of the Sunrise parking area) or the shorter Naches Peak Loop that starts near Tipsoo Lake. On your way back to your rental, check out one or two of the mini-hikes near the Ohanepecosh Visitor/Stevens Canyon entrance. Grove of the Patriarchs is a nice and flat forest walk and Silver Falls is located near that entrance as well.
Day Three: Paradise Loop. Plan to get an early start as this area of the park gets super crowded. If you start just at sunrise, you’ll have plenty of light for your path and views and will have near solitude for a few hours. Take the Skyline trail out past Myrtle Falls and up and back around toward Panorama Point. You’ll have sweeping views of the Tatoosh Range and Mount Rainier if it’s a clear day. The adventurous can plan to turn on the Pebble Creek trail to head up to Muir Camp. We haven’t done this so we don’t know how strenuous it is. The lodge back at the Paradise parking lot has yummy ice cream and the dining hall in the visitor center has fabulous pudding cups. Pick your treat and celebrate the day.
Day Four: On this day, we recommend you get an early start (always!) and drive up to Tolmie Peak on the northwest side of the park. This hike departs from Mowich lake, passing Eunice Lake on its way to a fire tower lookout. Clouds covered the peak of Rainier while we did this hike but it was still simply stunning. After this hike, make your way west to Olympic National Park! We are going to recommend you stay near Forks. It’s not a glamorous town but it’s nearest to the beaches and gives you access to the Hoh Rainforest and mountain access on your way back to Seattle. For our first visit to Olympic, this was a great home base. Next time, we might try to stay somewhere else, maybe even at the Inn at Sol Duc! To maximize your exposure to Olympic, we recommend you stop at some of the beach spots on the way to Forks. For sure, make a stop at Ruby Beach. If you stop at the Klaloch Campground, you can get down to the coast to view the Tree Root Cave, or Tree of Life. If you skipped Tolmie Peak, you might have time for a hike in the Quineault Rainforest, which you’ll reach about an hour before Ruby Beach.
Day Five: From what we can tell, the Hoh Rainforest is a magical place full of massive tress and moss. The road out to Hoh happened to be closed on our visit so we opted for a drive back down to hike the East Quineault Trail. But the Hoh River Trail is supposed to be simply lovely, a hike you can make just about any distance by turning around when you’re ready. It traces the Hoh river. Pack your rain gear for this day—it is a rainforest after all!
Day Six: Head up to the most northwestern part of the park—Shi Shi Beach (pronounced shy shy). This beach can be accessed in two ways—from a very long beach trek from the south or from a shorter forest trek from Makah tribal land. We found the tribal access route delightful. You’ll need to secure a Recreational Use Pass for parking. We found it easy to secure at a gas station in Neah Bay, where we also got friendly service.
Day Seven: This will be your last day of adventure but it won’t disappoint. Head out from Forks and head north. You’ll partially retrace the steps you took toward Shi Shi beach but will turn off to head east around Lake Crescent. Head out to Hurricane Ridge, a delightful mountain area in Olympic. We took the Hurricane Hill trail, which offered lovely views back into the Hoh valley and of Mount Olympus. A variety of other trails in the area offer a chance for exploration for as much time as you have. After your hiking, head down to Port Angeles and then over to Bainbridge Island to catch the ferry back to Seattle.
When to Go: We have been to Mount Rainier twice and both times were downright stunning. Once was in late July and wildflowers were blooming on every slope. The other was in very late September and fall colors were appearing around every corner. The best weather for the Pacific Northwest is in late July and August but this is also the same time as the busiest crowds. When we planned our trip for late September, it was around a work event. We knew we were risking rain but the storms never really came. We had some significant rain one day but the threats of rain on other days dissipated, leaving us with generally good weather. The crowds in Olympic were notably low this time of year—we had most of the beach hikes nearly entirely to ourselves and we didn’t see anyone while hiking on the Quineault trail.