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Mt Rainier National Park
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Crowds and congestion at Mount Rainier National Park: Here’s how to avoid the lines

A car drives past the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

With vacations and plane tickets canceled, Americans are descending on national parks in hoards, seeking some drivable summer fun out in the fresh air.

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Two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I drove to Mount Rainier National Park to enjoy one of our favorite July wildflower hikes. We were just a handful of miles from the Sunrise Park entrance when we were stopped by uniformed park rangers, who told us there was a 3-mile, several hour backup at the park gate. We were asked to come back a few hours later.

Mt. Rainier National Park spokesperson Kevin Bacher predicts there will be a record breaking number of visitors at the park this year. He advises people to visit Monday through Thursday to avoid crowds, but if you do come on the weekend to hike or camp, avoid the lines by getting there early or late in the day.

But how early is early?

“It’s getting earlier and earlier because I think people are realizing that you have to get here early,” Bacher said. “To give you an example, I was over at Sunrise this past Saturday and hit the line at 8:30 a.m. and waited about half an hour. So I would recommend people get to the park before 8 a.m.”

Bacher says the best way to keep tabs on the park is to follow along on Twitter.

“Our Twitter is @MountRainierNPS. That is kept up to date with information about what the traffic is like in the park and when the parking lots get full. One of the challenges is that you lose cell service as you get close to the park. So you kind of have to check in advance and you have to know what the patterns are. Know that if you’re coming on a Saturday, it’s going to get full pretty quick.”

The campgrounds inside the park are now open, but the visitor centers remain closed. Bacher said there are park rangers set up outside the visitor centers and walking the trails, ready to answer questions and assist people. Not all hotels and restaurants are open, so go to the park’s website to see what’s open for business. All bathrooms are open inside the park and are being cleaned often.

“One of the best things to do is plan ahead,” Bacher said. “Be prepared, bring food with you, bring all of your supplies with you. Have in mind what you want to do for the day, but also have a second or third option in mind in case you get to your first option and find it overwhelmed with people and that’s not the experience you’re looking for.”

Like Bacher said, there is no cell service inside the park, so you can’t go online and research a new hike.

The park is aware that long lines and crowded parks isn’t ideal, so they are looking to find a solution.

“This issue of large crowds wanting to come into the national parks is something that has been building for many years, both here at Mount Rainier and other national parks around the country,” Bacher noted.

“If you think it’s bad here, there are other parks like Zion, Yosemite, Glacier National Park that have even worse problems than we do,” he continued. “We have a couple of efforts that we’re starting in the next couple of months to try and get some public input and find out what people are actually experiencing, to get some input on what the best way is to manage this.”

“Do we have reservations for the park? Do we have quotas for the park? Do we have people lining up for four hours waiting to get in as we do now? Do we need better information so that people know what to expect when they get here and know that the lines are going to be long? All of those are things we are trying to figure out so we can avoid the experience that you had last weekend.”

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