How to See Mt. Rainier in Seattle

Spend any sunny day in Seattle, and you'll notice a towering, snow-capped mountain rising far up over the horizon. Mt. Rainier is a unique sight for visitors who may not be used to such a massive mountain so close by, and a treasured sight for residents who enjoy when the mountain is “out.” (Local lingo pro tip: “the mountain” always means Mt. Rainier if you're in the vicinity of Seattle and “out” means there are no clouds, fog, or rain obscuring the view.)

The mountain is an easy day trip from either Seattle or Tacoma. It’s one of the national parks nearest to Seattle. Mt. Rainier is so prominent that it’s become a symbol for the area — you’ll spot it on license plates, t-shirts, postcards, and more. Once you get the lay of the land, having such a major landmark also serves as a great way to keep track of which direction you're facing.

  • 01 of 05

    Where to See Mt. Rainier

    Mt Rainier National Park
    ••• Mt Rainier National Park. Kristin Kendle

    So long as there aren't low clouds, you can spot Mt. Rainier from many places around Seattle — from I-5 southbound and from the shores of ​Discovery Park. You can also see Mt. Rainier from other Western Washington cities as well, including Everett, Tacoma, and all the way down to Olympia, the state capital. Depending on where you’re at, you may even get glimpses of other major peaks in the area, including Mt. Adams to the south, the Cascades to the east, and the Olympics to the west. Both the Cascades and the Olympics are mountain ranges that sandwich all of Western Washington. Mt. Rainier is located in the Cascades range.

  • 02 of 05

    How to Get to Mt. Rainier

    Tacoma Narrows Bridges
    ••• Tacoma Narrows Bridges with Mt. Rainier. Kristin Kendle

    The mountain is located to two hours south of Seattle. There are a few ways to visit it. All of them involve taking I-5 south from Seattle and then you can either branch off to 405, followed by 167, and then to Meridian, which goes out to the national park. Or, you can take I-5 all the way south to Tacoma and take State Route 7 (Pacific Avenue) from there.

    Both ways take the same amount of time, with the Pacific Avenue route being just slightly longer. Both Pacific and Meridian take you straight to the national park where Mt. Rainier is located, but to opposite sides of the park. Once you’re in the park, you can loop around the park, and come out on the other side of the mountain (or you can turn around and go back the same way you came in).

  • 03 of 05

    Mt. Rainier Height and Size

    Mt. Rainier National Park
    ••• Mt. Rainier National Park. Kristin Kendle

    Mt. Rainier is 14,411 feet high. It’s the tallest peak in the Cascade Range, which is why it’s so visible from the Seattle area. When it’s really clear out, it can even be seen from parts of Oregon and British Columbia.

    Mt. Rainier is visible from most of Seattle, but it’s even more visible in Tacoma, Seattle’s neighboring city to the south. Most parts of Tacoma are only an hour away from the national park entrance. In fact, Tacoma is named after the mountain. While today it’s called Mt. Rainier, Native Americans called it Tahoma or Tacoma.

    The mountain looks a bit different in Seattle than it does in Tacoma. In Tacoma, you can see more of the crater. In Seattle, the top of the mountain is more rounded, but you can also catch sight of one of the smaller peaks on the side of the mountain.

  • 04 of 05

    Fun Facts About Mt. Rainier

    Mt. Rainier from the air
    ••• Mt. Rainier from a plane. Kristin Kendle

    Mt. Rainier is the source of all kinds of rivers that flow through Seattle, Tacoma, and other cities in the area. These include the Puyallup River, which flows into the Puget Sound in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay.

    Mt. Rainier is a volcano, and it’s one of several volcanos in the area. Others include Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to the south, plus Mt. Baker to the north of Seattle. However, Mt. Rainier is by far the most dangerous. If it were to blow, it would likely set off what’s called lahars — giant mudslides — that could cause an emergency in valleys around the mountain. The estimated damage is so massive that Mt. Rainier is one of 16 Decade Volcanos in the world, and the only Decade Volcano in the U.S. other than Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Scenic Nature Spots Near Seattle

    Sunset at West Point Lighthouse, Discovery Park, Seattle WA
    ••• Joe Wolf/Flickr CC 2.0

    Mt. Rainier is just one of many natural attractions in Western Washington, which is known for its stunning scenery. You can enjoy ​​day trips from Seattle and Tacoma, from the German town of Leavenworth to the Pacific beaches. Even if it's just a hike in Discovery Park or Point Defiance, it's worth seeing Washington's green landscapes.