Spectacular Sunrise is the second most popular destination at Mt Rainier, after Paradise.
Sunrise is a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle, on the northeastern side of Mt Rainier at an elevation of 6,400 feet.
The road to Sunrise is snowed in most of the year, so take advantage of the small window in warmer months when you can make the 16-mile drive up to Sunrise Mt Rainier, from the turn-off on Highway 410.
The spectacular 16-mile drive up to Sunrise, passes White River on it's gradual ascent up the mountain. There's a stop at the Sunrise Point Lookout, before the final stretch to the Sunrise Visitor Center where the road ends, and the full majesty of Mt Rainier unfolds, with soaring 360 degree views. From here you can explore stunning alpine meadows carpeted in wildflowers in summertime, and hikes to gorgeous lakes.
The seasonal Sunrise Visitor Center has an enchanting alpine setting that could be straight out of the Swiss Alps, and has a gift shop, cafe and ranger station. The closest lodging to Sunrise Mt Rainier is one hour away at Crystal Mountain.
Sunrise is lesser known than the more popular destination of Paradise at Mt Rainier National Park. Unlike Paradise it has no overnight lodging, but its jawdropping views of the east face of Rainier and Emmons Glacier make this a must-see destination.
10 best things to do in Sunrise Mt Rainier
1. Your first stop is the Sunrise Point Lookout.
Drive 2 hours from Seattle to the turnoff to Sunrise Road on Highway 410, then continue 13-miles to your first stop, the Sunrise Point Lookout (check Sunrise Road status).
The road is steep and narrow, with lots of twists and turns, and a bridge crossing over the White River, but you'll eventually be rewarded with panoramic views of five Cascade volcanoes; Mt Rainier, Mt Baker, Mt Adams, Glacier Peak and Mt Hood. There are some popular hikes that leave from the Sunrise Point Lookout, to alpine lakes like Sunrise Lake and Upper Palisades Lake.
Check out these 360 degree views from the parking lot at Sunrise Point Lookout. The lookout is on a sharp, hairpin turn on the way to Sunrise Mt Rainier.
There are incredible views of the Emmons Glacier from Sunrise Point Lookout.
Emmons Glacier appears so close, that you can see each individual crevasse and ridgeline. This is the big daddy of glaciers, with the largest surface area of any glacier in continental North America. Bring binoculars to witness climbers ascending Emmons Glacier, the second most popular climbing route up Rainier.
Look down at the pristine Sunrise Lake from the Sunrise Point Lookout.
There are gorgeous meadows, and scattered tree islands. It's difficult to imagine this carpeted under feet of snow for most of the year.
It's a 1.2 mile hike (roundtrip) down to Sunrise Lake from the Sunrise Point Lookout.
2. Explore trails from Sunrise Point Lookout to gorgeous alpine lakes.
There's a 1.2 mile hike (roundtrip) from the Sunrise Point Lookout to Sunrise Lake, with a steep descent down to the lake and an uphill climb back.
A longer 7.2 mile (roundtrip) goes to the spectacular Upper Palisades Lake, passing a number of other lakes on the way, like Sunrise Lake, Clover Lake, Dick's Lake, and Hidden Lake.
Check in at the Sunrise Visitor Center at Sunrise Mt Rainier for weather conditions and maps, let someone know where you are going, and always bring survival gear. Conditions can change quickly on the mountain.
3. Drive another 2.7 miles to your final stop, the Sunrise Visitor Center (6,400 feet).
It's another 2.7 mile drive west from Sunrise Point Lookout, up to the Sunrise Visitor Center at 6,400 feet. The road dead-ends here at a large parking lot. The Sunrise Visitor Center is Mt Rainier's highest Visitor Center, and is only open for a short window in warmer months.
4. Hang out at the cafe or gift shop at the day lodge in the Sunrise Visitor Center.
If you don't wish to hike, browse the gift shop, or sit inside the cafe at the historic Sunrise Day Lodge and enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of Mt Rainier, Emmons Glacier and the Cascades (check opening times here). There's also some geologic exhibits on Sunrise Mt Rainier.
5. Pick up hiking maps at the Ranger Station on the ground floor of the Sunrise Visitor Center.
There are many spectacular hikes at Sunrise, and Park Rangers can assist with maps and information. The Ranger Station is conveniently located on the ground floor of the Sunrise Visitor Center. Hikes range from a 20 minute walk, to a multi-day adventure (check a list of hikes here). You might also consider a ranger-guided walk. Never leave on a hike without first consulting with a Ranger.
Back-country permits can be obtained at the White River Wilderness Information Center along Highway 410 (summer only, check hours).
6. Peer up at climbers on Mt Rainier using telescopes available at the the Ranger Station.
7. Explore trails leading from the Sunrise Visitor Center across the glorious meadows at Yakima Park.
The striking Sunrise Visitor Center was completed in 1943, and is surrounded by breathtaking meadows known as Yakima Park at Sunrise Mt Rainier.
Yakima Park was once a summer hunting ground for the Yakima people.
You are now at the highest point in Mount Rainier National Park that can be reached by car, completely snowed in during winter.
Explore glorious sub alpine meadows with animal life, like mountain goats, hoary marmots, chipmunks, squirrels and American pika
Higher winds and a longer snow season, stunt tree growth at this elevation.
8. Take the 2.7 mile loop from the Sunrise Visitor Center to Shadow Lake.
Hike the 2.7 mile loop from the Sunrise Visitor Center, to beautiful Shadow Lake. Always stop by the Sunrise Visitor Center first to get a map and check weather conditions.
9. Stop by the South Blockhouse at Sunrise Mt Rainier.
The South Blockhouse was completed in 1932, and the North Blockhouse was completed in 1944. They are a short distance from the Sunrise Visitor Center, and both are national historic landmarks. The blockhouses have been used to house seasonal employees and administrative offices. Their log house "fortress" design resembles the original blockhouses that protected early settlers from Indian attacks.
10. Stay overnight at Crystal Mountain, or camp at White River Campground.
The closest lodging to Sunrise is 1 hour away at Crystal Mountain, just outside the Mt Rainier National Park. It has a popular all-seasons 10-minute gondola ride to a mountain-top restaurant, with stunning views of Rainier.
The popular White River Campground operates in summer only, with a stunning location on the edge of White River. It's just west of Highway 410.
Which is the best place to visit on Mt Rainier - Sunrise or Paradise?
Mt Rainier in Washington State has two main visitor destinations, Sunrise (6,400 feet) and Paradise (5,400 feet).
Paradise has more amenities than Sunrise, including the inn, restaurant, cafe and visitor center. In contrast, Sunrise only has a day lodge with a snack bar and gift shop. The other key difference is that Sunrise Mt Rainier is only open for a short window each year. However it's less crowded than Paradise and provides a greater sense of solitude.
It's a 1 hour and 40 minute drive between Sunrise and Paradise.