One of the most popular hikes in Mount Rainier is heading out to Panorama Point in the Paradise district. And its popular for good reason. We have seen amazing and beautiful scenery in over 30 National Parks. But the two times we have done this hike have been among the most spectacular. We hiked the trail once in mid-July during our summer stay in Oregon. We had no idea before we showed up that wildflowers would be blooming. And, uh, they were mind-blowing. We absolutely fell in love with Mount Rainier National Park on that visit and so when I had a conference in Seattle last year, we decided to extend our trip a few days to sneak in an anniversary trip to visit the park. The conference was in early October and we visited right before that trip in late September. And guess what? Mount Rainier is beautiful then, too! We had no idea that fall colors would come to the slopes of the mountains the way they did but we could not stop soaking in the beauty. The shrubbery and small plants covering the lower slopes of Mount Rainier turn brilliant red and orange in autumn. Down here in Georgia, autumn comes in late October but apparently, late September is the right season for the slopes surrounding Mount Rainier.
The Skyline Trail is a loop so you can take it in either direction. We’ve hiked it counterclockwise both times and have enjoyed solitude up until we reached Panorama Point. Note that both times we made the hike, we started in civil dawn with enough light we didn’t need headlamps but before sunrise. From what we can tell, the most popular route is to hike up clockwise. Be warned that it is a steep climb if you go this route! The counterclockwise wise route spreads out the elevation gain. You have amazing views as soon as you start regardless of which direction you go.
Either way, the hike starts at the Paradise Visitor center. If you head counterclockwise, you’ll start by passing over Myrtle Falls. You can make a choice after the Falls to take either the Golden Gate Trail or stay on the Skyline Trail. The Golden Gate Trail is shorter (about 1 mile) compared to the Skyline Trail (about 2 miles) but they both take you to the same place. You gain a lot of elevation here and the views are spectacular, so take the longer route if you have time. After reaching the second intersection of Golden Gate with Skyline, you have a little over a mile to get to the crossings to Panorama Point. The lower panorama point trail will likely be covered in snow (it was when we went in July and in September) so most people recommend you take the upper trail. There is an upper lookout above Panorama Point just passed the intersection with the Pebble Creek Trail (which takes you to Muir Camp) that makes a perfect spot for breakfast, lunch or a snack. From there, continue on the Skyline Trail back down to the Paradise Visitor Center. By this time, you’ll likely be passing hoards of people. Seriously, we have never seen crowds like this on a trail. Once you get past a tight section of trail, crowds spread out and you can get a sense of quiet again. Despite the crowds, this hike is a must-do, especially on a clear day in summer or autumn.