Hiking in Mount Rainier is one of my favorite things to do in the summer. Some of my favorite trails like: Naches Peak Loop, Burroughs Mountain, and Pinnacle Saddle are in Mount Rainier National Park!
This guide provides everything you need to know about accessing the trail, hiking the trail, and what to pack. Since Skyline Trail – Paradise is a 100 Classic Hike of Washington, as always, I will make a determination as to if the hike should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington!
Hiked on: August 3rd, 2023
Complete Hiking Guide to Skyline Loop Trail
Map to Trailhead
Skyline Loop is located on the ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Nisqually tribes. We are grateful for the stewards of this land past and present. We are honored to be and recognize that we are guests on this land.
Skyline Loop Trail Overview
Region: Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 5.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft
Time: 4+ hours
When to go: July – Oct.
Pass/Permit?: America the Beautiful Pass
Dogs Allowed?: No
Important Trail Information
The easiest part of accessing this trail is the straight shot to the trailhead following the Paradise-Longmire Road.
However, the challenging part happens to be getting to the trailhead before anyone else. The parking lot at Paradise-Mount Rainier fills up by 7am on the weekends and weekdays. Set your alarm clock now!
Getting to the Trail
Enter via the WEST entrance of Mount Rainier National Park through Elbe.
You’ll know if you’re driving through Elbe if you see the different train cars for dining and overnight stays.
Continuing through the park entrance, you will take the Paradise-Longmire Road until it ends at the top of Paradise by the Jackson Visitor Center.
This trail is within National Park boundaries and you will need to enter with a National Park Pass or pay the standard daily entrance fee of $30.
There are a number of different passes that grant access to Mount Rainier National Park including a standard pass, annual pass(Mount Rainier NP Only), and Free Days.
If you frequent National Parks more than THREE times a year, I would suggest purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass which grants unlimited access to National Parks and Forests for an entire year. The cost is $80 which pays for itself in three visits to National Parks in a year. An America the Beautiful pass works in National Parks and Forests.
If you would like to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, you can purchase one here!
Looking for beautiful views of Mount Rainier outside of the park? Check Out High Rock!
The parking lot for the Skyline Loop Trail has some of the most accessible accommodations in the park because it is in the same parking lot as the Jackson Visitor Center, a Ranger Station, and the Paradise Inn.
There are plenty of places to go to the bathroom, purchase gifts and memorabilia, and eat. You could even stay at the Paradise Inn if you wanted to!
Season to Visit
At such a high elevation, the road to Paradise opens depending on how much snow was received that winter. However, the road usually opens at the end of June/beginning of July. Trails begin to clear of snow around then, but in early August there was still some snow on the trail for Skyline Loop.
Plan on hiking Skyline Loop Trail anywhere between mid-July and August for the best wildflowers and between September and October for fall colors.
The road to Paradise will usually close around November. Check specific closures on the official Mount Rainier website.
Now that we know how to get to the trailhead for Skyline Loop, amenities available, and the best season to visit, let’s hit the trail!
Hiking the Skyline Loop Trail - Paradise
The Skyline Trail – Paradise truly is a wonderfully marked trail in Mount Rainier beginning at the Paradise Jackson Visitors center. We opted to look around the visitor center after our hike to hopefully get ahead of the crowds on the trail.
The trail can be broken up into the following sections when hiking the skyline loop trail counterclockwise: paved ascent, winding switchbacks, panoramic views, and alpine meander.
From the parking lot of the Jackson Visitor’s center, the paved trail quickly gains elevation. If I am being honest, I really thought the paved section was going to be the easiest, but MAN it was steep. There were lots of people taking breathers and shedding layers along the way.
Last time I hiked this trail, I actually saw a black bear on this section of the trail! It was crazy how close he was to the larger crowds.
Not much can be seen along this section of the trail because you’re breaking out of a large number of trees, but once you do, Mount Rainier is absolutely glorious! The paved trail soon ends as you reach the subalpine meadows.
After reaching the subalpine meadows, Mount Rainier is in full view! If you keep your eyes peeled, you can actually see mountaineers on the mountain either climbing to Camp Muir or hiking down the summit. There will be large groups of people congregating in this section since the trail branches off to an overview of glacier vista.
This section has lots of rocky stairs, thanks to the amazing Mount Rainier trail crews. The trail continues to gain elevation along the rocky cliffs leading up to Panorama Point. The cliff can be sheer at points so watching your step and giving other hikers room is important.
I found this part of the trail had some spectacular views of the surrounding cascades and meadows.
Panorama Point is an amazing stopping point to take in all of the views of the local peaks. There is even a plaque there that helps you identify all of the peaks in the range.
There is even a pit toilet up here if you really need to go!
While Panorama Point was impressive, high panorama is where it’s at.
High Panorama Point is about 100 ft higher than Panorama Point but offers 360 views of the same cascades AND Rainier. It is breathtaking. Mount Rainier offers a number of hikes with epic views like this, but Skyline Trail is probably the most accessible for all hikers.
From High Panorama Point, the descent back into the valley is pretty straightforward. There are some rocky outcroppings that take maneuvering but once you’re back in the meadows surrounded by wildflowers.
The meadows on the east side of the trail were in full blossom. It was truly a beautiful sight to behold as I continued the trail back towards the visitors center at paradise. Hiking along this section of trail you’ll cross over meadow streams and a couple bridges.
For most of this section you will be losing elevation as you hike but there is a last section of elevation gain to get back up to Myrtle Falls.
Myrtle Falls is a popular waterfall in Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier backdrops the falls for visitors to take captivating photos.
After reaching Myrtle Falls that trail reverts back to a paved trail and before long you’ll find yourself back at the parking lot. What was special about the paved section of this trail is that the staff at Mount Rainier actually labeled some of the different plants along the trail!
What to Pack for Hiking Skyline Loop
I know what you’re thinking, packing for the Skyline Loop Trail is like packing for any other hike. Not really. The high alpine climate of Mount Rainier requires a little more packing and planning than a standard hike.
This section covers necessary items to pack on your journey around Skyline Loop.
Sturdy Hiking Boots
In the summer, this trail can definitely feel hotter than the current temperature. That thin alpine air can do a doozy. Make sure you bring lots of water on this trail, not just for heat in summer, but because this can be a strenuous hike at times! I recommend packing at least a 2 liter water reservoir and a filtering water bottle in case you run out.
This list is in addition to the ten essentials of hiking! If you’re not sure if you have the essentials, read the blog here!
Q + A for Skyline Loop
Here are some answers to common questions about Skyline Loop!
Should you hike Skyline Loop Clockwise or Counterclockwise?
Absolutely hike Skyline Loop COUNTERCLOCKWISE.
Hiking the Skyline Loop Trail counterclockwise keeps Mount Rainier in view for the longest amount of time while constantly keeping you in eyesight of the cascade range. Elevation gain is steeper this route, but you get it done quickly with gorgeous views.
Do you need to hike the entire skyline loop trail?
Actually…no! If you’re hiking the Skyline Loop Trail counterclockwise by the time you reach High Panorama, you’ve pretty much seen everything except Myrtle Falls. If you want to see Myrtle Falls you can always head that way from Jackson Visitor Center upon your return.
If you hike counterclockwise to High Panorama and back you are decreasing the trail length by a quarter and avoiding an additional 200 ft of elevation gain.
Can you backpack the Skyline Loop Trail?
No, you cannot backpack Skyline Loop. The Skyline Loop trail does overlap with the ascent to Camp Muir so if you’re looking to summit Mount Rainier, you’ll be completing part of Skyline Loop! This requires a permit. For more information on summiting Mount Rainier, look here.
Is the Skyline Loop Trail Easy?
It is not an easy hike. Even though the trailhead is easily accessible and near a large visitor center, this hike is not considered easy. I do believe that most people will be able to complete this hike in 4-5 hours on average, but there are many wonderful views along an easier trail if this trail is not for you. Consider hiking to the Glacier Vista if you have concerns and then gauging how you feel.
If you have any further questions about the trail, please leave a comment! I would be happy to answer it!
Should Skyline Loop Trail be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
I am hiking all “100 Classic Hikes of Washington”. But the question is, Should it be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
Skyline Loop Trail Paradise should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington. The popularity of the trail speaks to the phenomenal views that you will see along the way while also being a relatively accessible hike. However, after hiking this trail twice I do not believe that I will be hiking it again. The trail is crowded the entire way and with how many beautiful trails there are in Mount Rainier National Park, I will look elsewhere.
Let me know in the comments if you think Skyline Loop Trail should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington!