Looking for something different to do at Mt Rainier? Want epic mountain views while eating your lunch outside? Looking to be swept to a mountaintop without hiking? What to hike to a destination others rode a gondola too? If any of these sound like you then you’ll love a day trip to ride the Crystal Mountain Gondola on the east side of Mt Rainier.
This is a fantastic place to bring out of town visitors or anyone who wants epic views but doesn’t hike (and for those who do want to hike there is plenty of opportunity for that here too).
The Crystal Mountain Gondola is on the homeland of the Yakama, Puyallup and other Coast Salish people.
Parking Pass: None, though you pay if you ride the gondola
Cost: A summer ride on the Crystal Mountain Gondola is $34 for adults ($29 if you go before 11am or after 3p), $29 for youth age 13-22 or seniors age 70 or older ($24 before 11am or after 3p), $24 for children age 5-12 ($19 before 11am or after 3pm), children under 5 are free. It’s highly recommended to purchase your ticket online before you leave home.
Dog Friendly: Yes! The hiking trails, the gondola and the outdoor seating area of the Summit House Restaurant are all pet friendly.
Is the Crystal Mountain Gondola right for me?
As mentioned above, this is an excellent place to bring an out of town visitor, a new arrival or anyone who appreciates really epic mountain views. The views from the top of the gondola are really quite astounding. Not only do you have IN YOUR FACE views of Mt Rainier, you have a 270 degree view of distant mountains including Mt Adams, Mt St Helens and Mt Baker.
If you’re nervous about the actual gondola ride, it’s very mellow and gentle and takes about ten minutes. The really amazing views come out as you approach the top so if possible keep your eyes on the uphill side of the gondola car as you ride up. You can do this!
This is an excellent place to bring out of town visitors or to go with a mixed generation family. There are places to sit and look at the view as well as hiking trails, so those who want to hike can do so and those who want to sit and take in the view can do that too!
Make sure to bring lots of sunscreen and sun protection, including hats and sunglasses since there is no shade whatsoever except under the umbrellas on the patio at the summit house restaurant. At this high elevation (nearly 7000 feet) the sun is even more intense so make sure to protect yourself!
When is the best time to ride the Crystal Mountain Gondola?
While you can take a scenic gondola ride on the Crystal Mountain Gondola when the ski area is open, this is focused on a summer visit.
The exact hours vary from year to year, but generally the Crystal Mountain Gondola is open daily in July and August, and often on weekends only in June and September.
This is also a great outing to add to a summer day trip to Mt Rainier, especially a visit to the Eastside Trail which is a wonderful place to find solitude. The Eastside trail doesn’t have views of the mountain though but if you combine that with a visit to the Crystal Mountain gondola then you can have it all!
Where is the Crystal Mountain Gondola?
The Crystal Mountain Gondola is part of the Crystal Mountain ski resort on the east side of Mt Rainier National Park. It’s about a two hour drive from Seattle or Tacoma.
To get there, head east on Highway 410 towards Mt Rainier and Yakima. Continue on Highway 410 through Enumclaw and the small community of Greenwater. Just before the entrance to Mt Rainier National Park, turn left on Crystal Mountain Boulevard. The turn is well marked.
After the turn you’ll climb steeply for 8 miles until the road dead ends at the Crystal Mountain Resort. You will see the gondola to the right with it’s red cars going up the mountain. If you bought your ticket ahead of time you can head right to the base of the gondola. If you need to buy tickets, you can do that directly in front of you as you leave the parking lot.
Things to do
This is a wonderful place to experience epic views of Mt Rainier and the surrounding mountains without hiking and without as many crowds. Here are some things not to miss on your visit:
Ride the Gondola – this might seem obvious, but the scenic gondola ride is really fun! Like I said before, it’s mellow and gentle as it whisks you up to nearly 7000 feet above sea level
Hiking – if you like hiking, you have a couple of options. You can skip the gondola ride (and the cost) entirely and hike up to the top of the gondola for the same view for free. You can also ride the gondola and then hike from there. You can get maps there of the many hiking trails. If you’re a hiker, I recommend at least hiking along the ridge in either direction from the top of the gondola, which gives you the chance to stretch your legs and explore without having to climb forever.
Eating on the patio at the Summit House Restaurant – The Summit House Restaurant has indoor seating also, but to me the best thing about it is the patio with gorgeous flower baskets and amazing views of Mt Rainier as well as about a million other mountains. You can also grab a drink here instead of a meal.
Sitting on the chairs on the ridge between the gondola and the restaurant – they have conveniently set up comfy chairs to take in the view. Slow down for a few and just take it in!
Trying to name as many peaks as you can – they have a helpful interpretive sign to make it easier. Or bring a map and test your skills!
However you decide to do it, the Crystal Mountain gondola is a lovely way to spend a day, a afternoon or an evening.
Electric Vehicle Charging
The closest fast chargers to the trailhead are in Puyallup or Auburn, which are still a bit too far for my EV, especially with the steep climb up to Crystal Mountain. If you have a longer range you could make it no problem, although keep in mind that the climbing will reduce your range on the way up.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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