If there’s a single day hike inside of Mt Rainier National Park that offers a little bit of everything to visitors, it’s the Skyline Trail at Paradise. This 5.5 mile loop is an excellent chance to see many of the beautiful treats of Mt. Rainier all at once; from the summer wildflowers to the year-round glaciers. This hike yields close-up views of Rainier, multiple waterfalls, alpine meadows, and the opportunity to catch a glimpse of neighboring peaks Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and, on a clear day, even Mt. Hood.

The hike begins behind Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise, although visitors can also catch up with the trail behind Paradise Inn. Be sure to keep a good eye on the map and sign markings at this point; there are so many trails departing from the parking lot at Paradise that it’s easy to confuse them. Hikers can pick up free trail maps inside the visitor center, or print out our handy color-coded version so you can hit the trail immediately. Luckily, Skyline Trail is also well marked throughout the length of the trail.

The loop immediately heads in 2 directions from the parking lot, so hikers have the option of heading North and slightly West and passing Alta Vista first, or heading Northeast towards Myrtle falls. I prefer to head to the Northwest, which allows hikers to visit Panorama Point, and still have the option of turning back at Golden Gate Trail if they’d like to shorten their hiking distance. Hikers will head up the hill right from the beginning and will immediately have the chance to complete a few side hikes (marked in blue on our trail map). The Alta Vista trail shoots off to your right and through a meadow before connecting with the Skyline Trail again. Further ahead, hikers will find Glacier Vista to the left. A short 0.2 mile detour at 6300 feet in elevation, Glacier Vista allows visitors a magnificent view of the Nisqually Glacier sitting beneath the peak of Mt. Rainier.

Myrtle Falls ©Erika Klimecky

Head up to Panorama Point, where the hike gets close to its peak elevation (and your only chance along the trail to use a toilet, if needed). Perched at 6800 feet, Panorama Point is where the views go from wonderful to breathtaking. Turning their backs to Mt Rainier and looking to the South, hikers can see Mt. St. Helens to the right, Mt. Adams to the left, and between these two peaks and much further away sits Mt. Hood, located across the Oregon border and about 96 miles from Mt. Rainier.

Skyline Trail ©Orion Ahrensfeld

The trail leaves Panorama Point and eventually begins to descend and head back towards Paradise. Those hikers not trying to extract every last mile will have a chance to take the shortcut back to Paradise via the Golden Gate Trail, a path to Myrtle Falls through another beautiful sloping meadow that is about 1 mile shorter than the main Skyline Trail. Those who choose to stick it out and continue on are rewarded with a visit to Sluiskin Falls, a 155 ft waterfall cascading down a rocky face. The Skyline Trail continues on from Sluiskin Falls and begins to head Southwest now, eventually meeting back up with the Golden Gate Trail. Both trails meet at Myrtle Falls, a 60 ft waterfall offering one of the finest photo opportunities in the Paradise area.   After Myrtle Falls, hikers have a short half mile walk down the hill to arrive back at the Paradise parking lot. Average hiking time tends to be about 4 to 5 hours, but photographers, side hikers, and slower paced hikers should allow some extra time. Luckily, Paradise is open until 7pm from mid-June until mid-September, so as long as you get started in the morning or early afternoon you should be OK (though we recommend starting earlier to miss the afternoon crowds). Be certain to bring the hiking essentials, and be especially careful near any snow and ice patches, particularly at the beginning and end of the hiking season.

 

Skyline Trail ©Orion Ahrensfeld

Season: Mostly snow-free from mid-July to mid-October

Length: 5.5 mile loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Variety: Loop

Elevation Gain: 1700 ft

Highest Point: Roughly 6800 ft to 7000 ft near Panorama Point

Maps: USGS: Mount Rainier East, Green Trails: #270S Paradise

Open to: Hikers only (no pets in National Park)

Passes and Permits: Mt Rainier National Parks Pass or America the Beautiful Pass

Average Hike Time: 4.5 hours

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