We planned for months to do a week-long camping trip at Glacier National Park but two days before we left we still were not able to get a Going to the Sun Road ticket (the website always crashed when everyone tried to buy tickets at the same time every morning and were instantly sold out) AND the weather was forecasted to be 100 degrees and smoky. 24 hours before we left, we decided to spend the week at Mt. Rainier instead! The weather was forecasted to be perfect and we called the park to make sure we thought we could get a first-come-first-serve camping spot. We are so glad we changed it up last minute!
Day 1: We had everything packed Thursday evening and left Friday morning for a family birthday party a couple hours from our house. We stayed in a hotel Friday night and left at 4:30am to arrive at Cougar Rock Campground by 7am. Seth waited in line at the ranger station until the ranger arrived at 7:30. There were 14 camping spots available for the day and we got the 6th one! Our camp spot was still occupied so we drove to Grove of the Patriarchs for a morning hike. Grove of the Patriarchs has enormous old-growth trees and a suspension bridge. Round-trip it is 1.5 miles and totally doable with little kids. In the afternoon we got to our campsite and set up our camp!
Day 2: Sunday we drove up to the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier. Looking back we probably should have gone on a weekday since we had to wait over an hour in line to enter the Sunrise area – they were letting cars in as cars drove out to make sure the parking lots were not overwhelmed. We were easily able to find a parking spot once we were in though! We did a hot and dusty 2-mile hike called the Silver Forest Trail. The views of Rainier were nice but were pretty much the same the entire way.
Day 3: We spent the day in the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier. The Paradise area is pretty much the only area in the park with full cell phone service. We took the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Fall and then continued on for about another 3/4 of a mile. There were gorgeous views of Rainier, wildflowers, streams and the trail had a good mix of shade and sun! The kids also completed their Junior Ranger booklets and got their Junior Ranger badges at the Paradise ranger station.
Day 4: This was our biggest day, and probably deserves its own blog post! We drove 3 hours south to Mt. St. Helens to hike the Ape Caves, a lava tube tunnel that is open to the public. Ape Caves does require a reservation and a $2 reservation fee, but it covers your whole car of people. There were plenty of spots available for a reservation when we booked a couple days in advance! There is an upper cave more difficult section and a lower, easier .75 mile section. We did the lower cave and it was perfect for the kids! It is definitely not wheelchair/stroller accessible but our kids were able to walk the entire way themselves.
Day 5: We woke up to cloudy skies and a colder campground on Wednesday. When it is cloudy at Mt. Rainier you aren’t able to see the mountain at all. We drove back up to Paradise and explored the Paradise Historic Inn. The kids enjoyed splitting a cinnamon roll from the cafe and Seth and I got some coffee. It felt warm and cozy and was a great morning of relaxing after our 6 hours of driving the day before. In the afternoon, we drove down to Longmire and walked around the 1/2 mile Trail of the Shadows nature trail. The clouds cleared by the afternoon and it ended up being the only cloudy day!
Day 6: Another out of park adventure day, we drove to Crystal Mountain Resort and took the gondola up the ski area. The views were incredible – you can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams from the top. We enjoyed our packed lunch at the top and did a little bit of hiking. There is a restaurant at the top for anyone wanting to pay $25 for lunch. You are able to hike down the 5 miles if you want, but the kids really wanted to ride the gondola back down!
Day 7: Our final day! We packed up our camp in the morning and explored part of the Carter Falls trail which starts right across the road from Cougar Rock Campground. This trail was really beautiful and we could have probably done more of the hike if we were ready with water and hiking shoes on the kids! We met some people on the trail from the Glacier area this day and they told us it was very busy, smoky, and hot in Montana – we were so thankful we chose Rainier!
I’d love to answer any questions about visiting or staying at Mt. Rainier National Park! It was a wonderful family camping trip! There are incredible longer hikes in the area too if you have older kids or no kids with you!