I first hiked the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park with my parents as a child when we moved to Washington. Since then, I have gone twice – the most recent time being in August, 2020 with my fiance, Austen.
This trail is spectacular and it’s easily one of the best hikes in Washington. If you have time to hike just one trail in Mount Rainier National Park then the Skyline Trail is definitely the best choice. In this blog post, I will share with you my experiences on the trail and provide a few tips for your visit. Hopefully by the end of the article you will be inspired to hike it yourself!
Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m Natalie: @natsnavigation on Instagram. I was born in Connecticut and moved to Florida as a toddler. I lived there until I was seven, at which point we moved to Port Orchard, Washington which is where I have lived since. We have family in Washington, so moving here wasn’t the first time I had been to the state.
I remember going to visit family here in Washington when I was a kid and being so awestruck by the mountains and the trees (remember Florida is about as flat as it gets, a hill here would be a mountain there, and the mountains there compared to Washington would be about the size of a molehill compared to our North Cascades and Olympic mountains).
Growing up, I didn’t go hiking a lot. I was always involved in school, clubs and sports – so that is where my time went. It wasn’t until after I was done with soccer (I played in college for two years at Columbia Basin College) that I felt like I had a hole in my life that needed to be filled with some sort of physical activity. I discovered hiking and realized how much I loved it!
Before, soccer and tennis were my main sports and priorities and so I felt like I couldn’t risk injury. I had done some hikes here and there over the years living in Washington, but it wasn’t until I was done with soccer that I started prioritizing hiking. I found ways to get out and go for a hike on the weekends, sometimes even craving vacation time so my fiance and I could go on backpacking trips rather than time at home or at a vacation spot.
My boyfriend at the time (now fiance) was also into hiking and so we got into it together and it became a shared activity of ours. He also took me on my first backpacking trip last summer with his family. It was amazing!
Skyline Trail – 5.6 Miles & 1,700 ft Elevation Gain
As mentioned, I first hiked the Skyline Trail with my parents as a child when we moved to Washington State. Since then, I have gone twice with the most recent time being in August, 2020 with my now fiance, Austen.
I had hiked through the Paradise region of Mount Rainier many times before and experienced all the beautiful wildflowers firsthand, but was specifically inspired to hike the Skyline Trail after perusing through AllTrails.
I saw a gorgeous shot of a waterfall with Mount Rainier in the background and layers upon layers of mountains in the distance in another photo, and knew I had to hike it! Also, I especially liked that it was listed as a loop trail – loop trails are nice because you see new views for the entirety of the hike.
Because the Skyline Trail has so many amazing views along the way it’s hard to give an estimate of how long it takes to hike. It’s 5.6 miles long with 1,788 feet elevation gain – so the trail is not long or hard in terms of elevation, but all the stopping points can make your overall time rack up.
It took us about three hours to complete. But I’m one of those people that stares at my feet while hiking and so I’m forced to stop if I really want to appreciate the views, which you 100% need to do on this beautiful hike!
Stunning Scenery along the Trail
Along the way, you will experience one-of-a-kind views. With Mount Rainier looming so close to you, it’s almost as if you could reach out and touch the mountain! Wildflowers sprawl out along the hills as far as the eye can see and a bridge crosses right over a gorgeous waterfall.
One of the main highlights is Panorama Point. As its name suggests, you get stunning 360 degree views with the ability to see as far as Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Hood – if you are lucky enough to be blessed with a clear day (hiking this trail when it’s sunny is best).
The other stand-out parts of the trail are just past Panorama Point (if you are headed clockwise on the loop) where Camp Muir Trail branches off and you come extremely close to Mount Rainier. Another fantastic spot is Myrtle Falls which is the stunning waterfall I mentioned before that features a log bridge crossing it and a lovely view of Mount Rainier directly behind it.
Overall, this hike is so beautiful that the whole time you will find yourself thinking there is no way it could get any better, only to be proved wrong again and again. Mount Rainier National Park is known for its colorful array of wildflowers in the spring time and that is no different when it comes to the Skyline Trail! The lovely wildflowers are certainly a highlight of the trail.
One fun thing about this area is the chance you get of seeing a marmot. Marmots look like a cross between a plump squirrel and a groundhog. They are known for making a “whistling” noise. I think it sounds more like a high-pitched scream that could be confused as a bird noise! We were lucky enough to happen upon two marmots on the trail, one to the side of us that “whistled” a few times and then another in the middle of the trail itself.
Most Rewarding Parts of the Skyline Trail
Since the Skyline Trail is laid out in a loop, I would say the feeling you get when you reach the middle of the trail is the most rewarding because this is when you get closest to Mount Rainier and get to the highest elevation.
Reaching Panorama Point was so amazing that my boyfriend had to drag me away from there because it was so beautiful! I felt like I could spend the whole day just at that one viewpoint. Then as you get further (again this is if you are going clockwise, which is what I suggest doing), you come up closest to Mount Rainier and you feel like you could reach out and touch it.
This part of the hike has the best views and is breathtaking! You will not regret the time and the effort it takes you to get to this part of the trail. The rest of the hike is downhill from here, but the views are certainly not.
Now, if you have been going clockwise, you will head towards the beautiful mountain layers that had been at your back. As you descend you will see more of the wildflowers again and end with a stunning view of Myrtle Falls that feels like the icing on top of an already too-good-to-eat cake.
How Challenging is the Skyline Trail?
The hike is about a five out of ten on the challenging scale: it’s 5.6 miles with 1,788 feet elevation (according to AllTrails). So it’s a decent length and elevation, but the views are so amazing that it doesn’t feel like a trek!
The beginning part is the hardest, because either way you go you are met with the elevation in the first half which is the most arduous part of the hike, whereas the downhill part will fly by. If you can make it halfway then the second half of the hike will be a breeze for you and also much quicker.
It took us three hours to do the loop and that was with plenty of stops for photo-ops and snacks. I would say the beauty of this hike is that people of all sorts of experience levels can do it because you can choose how far you want to go and still get stunning views only a little ways into it.
For instance, if you are a beginner who wants to do this hike, you should start the loop counter-clockwise. This will take you to Myrtle Falls for a 0.8 mile round trip hike and a stunning view. If you want something longer that isn’t the whole trail, I suggest going clockwise and heading to Panorama Point – 4.1 miles roundtrip, giving you crazy beautiful views.
Good Times at Panorama Point
My favorite memory from hiking the Skyline Trail was reaching Panorama Point and trying to decipher which mountain in the distance was which. My fiance and I spent quite a bit of time there doing that, only to find out later when we looked up the names and locations of them that we were completely wrong about which was which! It was a good laugh and a fun experience together that was only made better by the beautiful view.
Getting Married on the Trail in August, 2021
My fiance and I will be getting married on this trail this August. We love to go hiking together and have a huge map of all the national parks in the US that we scratch off park-by-park once we have gone there together. Then the whole state scratches off once you have done all the parks in that state.
Mount Rainier National Park seemed like the perfect place to get married. It reminds us of a place we love to go together and our journeys around the state – with its remarkable mountains, river vistas, evergreens and alpine meadows, this trail embodies classic Pacific Northwest views.
Not to be too cheesy, but I think getting married directly in front of the mountain that defines the Pacific Northwest is a unique and monumental way to epitomize our love for one another. We can’t wait for August!
Where to Stay near the Skyline Trail
If you plan to hike the Skyline Trail then Paradise Inn might be the place for you! It’s within the national park and is at the base of this hike, making an early morning hike attainable. However, since it’s a part of the park, this would be an expensive way to go and also requires booking far in advance.
I’m lucky to have family members that own a cabin in Packwood, making the stay for me quite easy and about an hour drive if I go early in the morning before traffic hits. I would suggest booking an Airbnb in Ashford, WA if you plan to hike the Skyline Trail and elsewhere in Paradise, WA so that it’s easy to enter through the Nisqually Entrance.
Eco Tips for Hiking the Skyline Trail
Make sure you are following the seven trails principles in order to minimize negative impact to plants, animals, people and ecosystems. The National Park Service outlines them as follows: “Plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste properly; leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of other visitors.” – www.nps.gov/articles/leave-no-trace-seven-principles.htm.
The main things I see people do wrong are leaving their trash and not packing out what they take in, removing rocks or other “souvenirs” for themselves, and feeding wildlife. A great way to be more eco-friendly is to carpool with your friends. This also aids you and others in avoiding the oh-so-common parking dilemma every popular hike is faced with.
Need to Know Before you Go
Some overall tips for the Skyline Trail are to dress in layers because of the altitude gain, arrive at the trailhead early in peak visiting seasons (aka summer) to avoid crowds, and to hike the trail clockwise if you plan to do the whole loop because I think you get the best views this way. Enjoy!