Wildlife makes a good day in any national park amazing, and an amazing day a memory you will never forget. For most who visit our federally protected lands, wildlife watching goes hand in hand with amazing experiences in and around our national parks. From river valleys full of birds, elk and deer, to high-alpine ridges populated by pikas, marmots, and the mountain versions of both lions and goats, a wealth of life thrives in the Pacific Northwest.

hc lodgingCulminating around Mount Rainier, the animal populations seem to gravitate toward the iconic mountain terrain just like we do. There is little wonder why we call this place paradise. You can watch for wildlife on Mount Rainier from many places, but since it can be elusive, staying at a hotel, motel or lodge near Mount Rainier can be the perfect way to go.

Types of Wildlife at Mount Rainier

Mountain goat on Mt. Rainier
While rare to see, those who explore the rocky ridges around Mt Rainier might see a mountain goat. Photo courtesy: The Outdoor Society

Mount Rainier National Park is home to a wealth of wildlife. Most know that Rainier has breathtaking views, but very few realize just how diverse the area is. Our iconic mountain national park has 65 mammal species, 14 species of amphibians, 5 species of reptiles, 182 species of birds and 14 species of native fish. Spread across nearly 13,000 feet of elevation change, wildlife lovers will rejoice at the rich bounty throughout the region.

The drastic elevation change helps create a variety of ecosystems in Mount Rainier, with different animals found at each life zone change. In the lower elevations, visitors will be able to see elk and deer as well as the occasional black bear, roaming in the river valleys. In the middle elevations, Rainier is flush with wildlife, including elk, deer, bear, fox, marmot and pika. Rainier is also an incredible birdwatching destination, and everyone should try to see all the birds on the official Mount Rainier Birding Checklist. The higher elevations see less wildlife, but up on the windswept ridges, high above the trees, mountain goats seem to dance along the craggy cliffs.

Wildlife watching at Mount Rainier is mostly based on luck and guesswork, but there are a few tips to have the best chances of seeing an animal. Each region of Mount Rainier is unique, giving not only the most incredible views of the volcano, but also a chance to see different ecosystems and the animals that live there.

Lodging near Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier Lodging
Rooms at the Nisqually Lodge combine comfort with convenience with nearby access to Mount Rainier.

In order to have the best opportunity to see the widest variety of animals, you will need to hit the roads of the park as close to dawn as possible, heading out again in the hour or two leading up to dusk. This is when the animals are most active. To best look for wildlife, a stay in the shadows of Mount Rainier will give you not just amazing views and incredible access to the stunning, glaciered peak, it will let you enjoy the wildlife for the entire day.

There are several options of places to stay both in the national park and nearby. A stay in the Crest Trail Lodge or the Cowlitz River Lodge, both in Packwood, will have you waking with herds of elk roaming the river valley around the hotel. Packwood is an amazing starting point during the summer months, when all access roads are open and the animals are most active. From here, a drive up the scenic highway 123 toward Ohanapecosh will give you a chance of seeing more elk and deer, as well as the rare bear sighting. From Ohanapecosh, those hoping for glimpses of marmots and pikas should head up to Paradise, while marmots, pikas and the occasional mountain goat can be seen by those heading toward Sunrise, the highest point on the mountain you can get to in a car.

Mount Rainier Hoary Marmot
In the higher elevations, listen and watch for Hoary Marmots warming up on rocks. Photo credit: NPS Emily Brouwer

Those wanting an animal-watching adventure closer to Longmire and Paradise will enjoy waking up at The Seasons Motel in Morton, the Mill Village Motel in Eatonville or the Nisqually Lodge in Ashford. These locations will help nature enthusiasts access the southeast corner of the park, which is full of elk, deer and the occasional black bear. These places also provide an excellent basecamp to head to the often-overlooked and animal friendly region along the Carbon River. Along the Carbon River, deer, elk and bears can be seen with access to higher elevations possible for hikers. Hikers in the area will see marmot, pikas, mountain goats and herds of elk along stunning ridges leading up the flanks of Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier Pikas
In the higher elevations around Mt Rainier, keep an eye out for pikas! Photo courtesy: The Outdoor Society.

Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed when visiting Mount Rainier, but a stay near the park will ensure you have the best chance to see the wildlife who call the iconic region their home. The animals out at Mount Rainier are wild, unpredictable and beautiful, just like our mountain. Seeing elk herds in the river valleys, hearing the whistle of marmots in the rocky sections and seeing foxes roaming the alpine areas as mountain goats look down upon them is an experience. Just remember to follow all wildlife watching rules so future generations can enjoy as well.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email