Camping in and Near Mount Rainier National Park

Dec 15, 2016 |

Camping in and Near Mount Rainier National Park

By Nathan Paul Swartz

The weather in Washington doesn’t always play fair when it comes to appeasing sightseers’ highest ambitions for visiting one of the most majestic volcanos in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Mount Rainier itself is said to make its own weather, and what may begin as a sapphire clear sky morning can easily evolve into enough cloud cover to completely obscure the always snow-capped mountain which serves as the centerpiece for an all-around astounding national park.

Which makes sightings of Rainier in full view all the more spectacular. RVers and touring motorists alike can be found pulled to the side of the road on Washington State Road 410, cameras in hand, waiting for the last few wisps of fluffy white to dissipate in hopes of that perfect shot of the grand old admiral’s glacial cap and silver rocky gown. On a truly clear day, one can see Rainier’s fellow volcanos–St. Helens, Adams, Baker, and Hood–standing tall in the distance, a host of mythical heroes along the Pacific Northwest skyline.

Beyond and below the mountain itself, some of the country’s largest trees, most elusive wildlife, and pristine lush serenity await you and your RV camping adventures. Luckily, there are a plethora of campgrounds–from official sites in the National Park itself to private parks with full hookups just outside.

Mt Rainier Camping

The National Park Service provides three campgrounds that will place you directly beneath the big tree, mountainside splendor that is Mount Rainier. In theory, these are the best campsites–if you can score one.

They tend to be in high demand, and fill up more quickly than a rain barrel in Seattle. Larger RVs may find it even more difficult to secure a spot that will fit them–max lengths range from 35′ for RVs at Cougar Rock to a mere 18′ for trailers at White River. Personal experience tells us that these limits trend toward the very conservative side and rangers don’t tend to measure you on your way in–but again, even if you can make the hairpin turns through massive ancient trees, you won’t necessarily find a site that’s long enough to fit your bigger rig.

If none of that proves a barrier to your particular expedition, expect to get a spacious site for $20 / night, where a guy in a pickup truck will deliver wood for your evening campfire and trails lead directly away from any given campground to whatever adventure you can find. Each of the campgrounds feature a slightly different ecosystem, too, so if you’re lucky enough to visit the park during a rare slow moment, you can choose between Cougar Rock‘s easier access to the stunning flowery fields closer to the base of Rainier itself, the thick green undergrowth and massive Redcedars and Doug-firs of Ohanapecosh Campground, or the raging river and high altitude found at the campground near White River.

Should finding a place to call home within the park’s boundaries prove an impossible feat, however, tuck your fear back into your pack and keep those hopes higher than an eagle’s contrail, your options don’t end here.

Camping Near Mt Rainier

When the sites in the park proper are booked, the national forests surrounding Rainier are your next best bet for that classic camping experience, and typically allow for larger rigs than what the national park was designed to hold.

There are dozens of these national forest campgrounds in the region, but if you’re still dreaming of waking up to dive directly into the pomp and luster that is Mount Rainier National Park, a handful of spots are closer to the heart of it all.

North of the park, closer to the Sunrise and White River sections (it’s a big park, so nothing is exactly “close”), Ranger Creek Airstrip offers shaded, sizable sites next to a rarely used airstrip, or a bit farther away, Dalles Campground trends toward more availability but still packs a beautiful punch. The best of this bunch, though, for both visual awe and proximity to the park itself, is Silver Springs Campground.

Should your approach be from the southwestern side–via Packwood and into the Ohanapecosh region (home of the Grove of the Patriarchs, perhaps the greatest collection of trees in all of the Pacific Northwest)–it’s scientifically impossible to be disappointed with La Wis Wis Campground, a dew-dripping haven shrouded in velvet green complete with a heart-stopping cold hole in the river into which you can leap from a rocky cliff dotted with precipices of varying heights.

The best of show for nature lovers.

Those travelers tackling Rainier from the east will find Lodgepole’s riverside spots (most national forest campgrounds in the Cascades are next to a river, actually) along Washington State Road 410, or a host of campgrounds on US 12 near White Pass (one of the easier areas to get cell service, coincidentally).

Prices for camping in this region’s national forests run from $8 – $20, typically, and for the size of the spots, the ample nature, and basic amenities without as big of a rush to snag a spot every day of the week, they’re the best of show for nature lovers.

Mt Rainier RV Camping

Should roughing it with no access to electric, sewage or a cable TV hookup not be your idea of a glampers weekend on the mountain, there are a few additional options for those in search of full-hookups.

In the slow town of Packwood, Washington–the “biggest” town realistically near the park–Packwood RV Park gives you sewage, 30amp hookups, freshwater, warm showers and even access to a washer and dryer. A local bar, pizza joint and decent grocery store, as well as a library, coffee shop and mechanic, make Packwood a nice slice of civilization to call basecamp if you’re exploring this region for some time. Note though, that outside of US Cellular, there’s no cell service even in town.

Near the western entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, on your approach to Longmire and Paradise, a small, wooded campground by the name of Mounthaven Resort puts you only minutes outside of the park and a realistic drive to some smaller towns with basic conveniences.

Finally, for something completely different, Crystal Mountain–a ski resort just north of the park–offers access to electric hookups and camping in their parking lot, and as this is one of the few places in the area with cell service, this might make a decent spot for those full-timers who need access to the web but still want to be near Mount Rainier. From such a close distance, you might even have better luck scoring one of those coveted campsites directly in the national park itself, should the birds chirping outside of your RV come the weekend be early enough to get the worm.