Visible from what seems like the entire Pacific Northwest, Mount Rainier looms over western Washington, enticing us to explore. Full of incredible sights and destinations, the mountain also acts as a way to see the coming of new seasons. With each passing storm front that rolls over the cascades, a fresh coat of snow drapes the active volcano, covering the exposed ridges with a white blanket. While many will see the new snow at the high elevations as a reason to no longer visit Mount Rainier National Park, the cold weather triggers a change in the alpine plants, bringing a stunning display of fall colors that are awaiting your discovery. From stunning scenic drives recommended by National Park Service staff to breathtaking hikes from outdoors experts, an autumn trip up to “The Mountain” will reward you with an explosion of fall colors and experiences.

The Best Time to Visit

The best time to see the fall colors up on Mount Rainier is October and November, as the cold air helps the region’s plants erupt in colorful beauty. The main challenge you’ll have finding fall colors is dealing with seasonal road closures, as many of the higher roads (like the road to Sunrise) will close after the first heavy snowfall. While you’ll have to battle rainy and cloudy days, the autumn months have enough sunny days to give you plenty of time to explore the region. The best light for pictures will be early morning and late afternoon, though if it is sunny, don’t hesitate in spending the whole day up there. Always check the weather before heading to the park and make sure you are aware of any road closures. The weather changes quickly on the passes and around the mountain, so use your best judgment.

The Drives

Throughout the greater Rainier region, autumn’s hues impress PNW residents. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

One of the favorite drives for fall enthusiasts at Mount Rainier is driving east along the Stevens Canyon Road. Recommended by rangers in the park, this road starts off with stunning views from Reflection Lakes and ends at the gorgeous forests and waters around Ohanapecosh.

The Stevens Canyon Road weaves around the southern side of the mountain, showcasing huge vistas full of colorful hillsides of deciduous trees and shrubs near incredible mountain views. With numerous pullouts and short hikes, like the Box Canyon Trail, you’ll be wow’d by the fall colors found along this drive.

As the days turn crisp and cool, trails like Spray Park erupt in stunning displays of fall colors. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

Another classic autumn drive is the route from the White Pass Scenic Byway to Tipsoo Lake. Along this route, you’ll see golden Tamaracks, better known as Western Larches, and the deep reds of the huckleberries. Once you reach Tipsoo Lake, turn around and head back toward White Pass to take in the sights one more time on your return home.

For an even better day, once you reach the Scenic Byway, head east to the top of White Pass and down to Rimrock Lake to see newly fallen snow, more fall colors and maybe even a cloudless sky. If driving doesn’t sound like a fun day, consider heading to the small town of Elbe and splurge on a fun and scenic train ride through the autumn bliss. This year on the weekends of October, the theme is the great Pumpkin Patch Express, giving kids a pumpkin and a chance to meet Charlie Brown and Snoopy. November will see a Polar Express style ride, complete with hot chocolate and cookies.

The Best Hikes

Once fall reaches Mount Rainier, the high-alpine landscape erupts in one last gasp of colorful beauty. Photo credit: Abhinaba Basu.

While nearly every corner of the park will showcase stunning fall colors along the trails, there are a few regions that must be explored before the snow closes them for the season. The first hiking region is one many overlook, largely due to the fact that it is a longish drive on a bumpy gravel road. While that may dissuade most, those who do make the drive up to the Mowich Lake will see jaw-dropping fall colors around the Spray Park Trail. Located on the northwest side of Rainier, the trail quickly leads to a stunning meadow that turns hues of oranges and reds in the fall months.

Not feeling like driving all the way to Mowich Lake? The short 2.5 mile trail to Bench and Snow Lakes off of Stevens Canyon Road is a breathtaking family friendly hike that showcases the brilliant colors of huckleberry plants. This trail also gives great views of Rainier on sunny days, so if you see a crisp, clear day in the forecast, don’t miss this trail.

Stevens Canyon Road is one of the more scenic and stunning roads in Mount Rainier to drive during the fall months. Photo credit: Elke Peterson.

Finally, if Sunrise has already closed, don’t miss the final chances to hike the Alta Vista Trail or the Skyline Trail out of Paradise. While the highest points of the trail may be snowy, even hiking it for a few miles will have you surrounded by the high alpine beauty of autumn.

At the very least, hike to the incredible views found at Myrtle Falls near Paradise. Tumbling down a rocky route, the falls are one of the most picturesque destinations in Mount Rainier, made better in the fall months.

For more fall hiking ideas, check out the top ten fall trails by Visit Rainier.

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