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Camping at Mt. Rainier

Old growth, wild rivers and you

The snowpack at Mt. Rainier isn’t as high this year. Get camping! Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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Mt. Rainier is not far at all from Joint Base Lewis-McChord - just a little over an hour from most parts of Tacoma, and only slightly farther from the Olympia area. At 14,411 feet, Mt. Rainier is difficult to miss and a prominent fixture on the horizon. It's even better as you get closer, as glaciers and jagged definition come clear. Surrounding the mountain is Mt. Rainier National Park, a popular day and overnight getaway destination filled with pristine old-growth forests, hikes through meadows and wild flowers, streams and interpretive centers. The park also serves as a gateway to climbing the mountain.

While there's no shortage of ways to experience Mt. Rainier, camping is one of the best. There are a variety of camping experiences to be had on the mountain, too, with three car campgrounds, one walk-in and even backcountry camping with a permit.

Cougar Rock

Not far from Paradise, one of the two main visitor's centers in the park, Cougar Rock has 173 campsites, each with a parking spot for your vehicle. The campground is located at 3,180 feet and comes complete with a lookout where you can catch great views of the mountain. One of the best perks of camping on Mt. Rainier is close proximity to hiking trails and Cougar Rock is within close proximity of the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile trail surrounding the mountain. Facilities include drinking water, flush toilets, picnic areas, a ranger station and an amphitheater where presentations are sometimes held.

Cost: Individual site - $12-$15/Group site - $40-$60

Open: Late May through Late September

Ohanapecosh

Ohanapecosh is particularly beautiful campground with 188 sites. If you want to sleep among old-growth forest or commune with the trees, Ohanapecosh is for you. Not far away, you can wander among the Grove of the Patriarchs-a grove of some of the oldest (and biggest!) trees in Washington. Other nearby trails include Silver Falls, Laughingwater Creek Trail and the Cowlitz Divide Trail. The Ohanapecosh River runs through the campground, which makes a lovely place for a short walk, despite the fact that there isn't a view of the mountain from here. Facilities and amenities include the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, drinking water, picnic areas and flush toilets.

Cost: Individual site - $12-$15/Group site - $40

Open: Late May through Late September

White River

White River Campground is in the northeast portion of the park and at 4,400 feet in elevation, this is the highest campground around. White River is nearby and several streams flow through the campground. White River has 112 campsites and access to several great hiking trails, including the Emmons Moraine Trail, Burroughs Mountain Trail and a connections to the Wonderland Trail. Facilities include drinking water and flush toilets.

Cost: Individual site - $12/Group site - no group sites here

Open: Late June through Late September

Mowich Lake

Mowich Lake has walk-in sites only and is much smaller than other campgrounds at Mt. Rainier with only 10 sites. The campground is located at 4,929 feet in elevation and situated along the Wonderland Trail, but unlike the other campsites along the Wonderland Trail, no permit is needed. However, it's a small campground and you can't make reservations so it can be tough to get a spot! Hiking opportunities include trails around Mowich Lake, Spray Falls or even hiking up Tolmie Peak or Observation Rock. There is no drinking water or flush toilets at this site.

Cost: No fees, but you must register at the campground kiosk

Open: Early July through early October

Wildnerness Camping

If you stay overnight in one of the campgrounds, you won't need a permit, but if you want to camp anywhere else, you will. You can get those permits from any ranger station, as well as at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center, the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise, the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, the White River Wilderness Information Center near the White River entrance or at the Sunrise Visitor Center. This also applies if you plan to hike or camp along the Wonderland Trail.

For the most part, campsites are available the day you show up to the park, but you can make a reservation in advance for Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh via Recreation.gov.

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