4 Places You Don’t Need a Timed Entry Permit in Mt Rainier National Park

Mt Rainier National Park is a wildly popular national park with locals and visitors alike and crowding has been a huge problem in recent years. I initially wrote this article several years ago when I was working as a guide in Mt Rainier National Park to help park visitors find places to explore and enjoy the park while avoiding crowds, just like I did for my guests as a guide.

In 2024, Mt Rainier National Park has implemented a timed entry reservation system for the busiest summer months. The hope is that this will mitigate crowds and the immense frustration for visitors finding parking and waiting in line for hours to even get in the park!

But what if you didn’t plan ahead but still want to see the park? I’m here to help with three places and one time to visit where you won’t need a timed entry permit and ALSO won’t have crowds. Hooray!

The opportunity to get up close and personal with an active volcano is a unique opportunity not to be missed. In addition to the mountain itself, Mt Rainier has fairy tale wildflower meadows, dazzling waterfalls, gorgeous rivers and big trees so it’s totally worth it to make the extra effort to visit.

These are areas of the park that don’t require a timed entry permit:

#1 Mowich Lake

Mowich lake at Mt Rainier National Park
Mowich Lake at Mt Rainier National Park

At Mowich Lake there will still be people, but far, far less. You’ll need to drive on a dirt road to get there, on the northwest side of the park. If you have a kayak or canoe, you could take it out on the lake, or you could enjoy a hike to Tolmie Peak or Spray Park.

Both hikes have amazing mountain views and expansive wildflower meadows. Make sure your car is equipped for the rough road and that you have your 10 essentials in this remote area (no services are available on this side of the park except an outhouse and trash can. Also be mindful that you will need a park pass or day pass (purchase at Paul peak trailhead-signed as you approach).

The road to Mowich Lake is typically open July through September, but check with the park service for current road conditions before heading up.

Mt Rainier from Tolmie peak
Mt Rainier as seen from the lookout at Tolmie Peak
Avalanche lilies and paintbrush in Spray Park

#2 Ohanapecosh and Eastside trail

Silver falls Mt Rainier national park Eastside trail
SIlver Falls along the Eastside Trail

Big trees, gorgeous river, stunning waterfalls and cool shade await you on the little used Eastside trail on the east side of the park in the Ohanapecosh area. This is the absolutely best place to avoid crowds in Mt Rainier and it has by far the least people of any part of the park. Ohanapecosh has a tiny parking lot which fills up, but you can usually park at the campground in the day parking area, or the pullout along Highway 410 always has room.

There are no views of the mountain in this part of the park, but you can combine this with Chinook Pass (above) or stop at the Crystal Mountain Gondola on your way or on your way back for some seriously epic views.

Mt Rainier in Washington State from the summit of the Crystal Mountain gondola
Mt Rainier from the top of the Gondola at Crystal Mountain

#3 Carbon River Valley

The forest in the Carbon River Valley

The Carbon River Trail is open all year, though you may encounter snow in winter (but not always). The former Carbon River Road has been converted to a trail and follows the old road bed on a wide and gentle trail for up to 10 miles round trip.

You’ll pass through miles of old growth forest and have the opportunity to take side trails to three waterfalls as well as an alpine lake. The Carbon River Trail allows bikes, if you’d like to find a way to make the miles pass more quickly.

There are not views of the mountain here (unless you make the 19 mile round trip trek to Carbon Glacier), but you’ll get to see the other wonders of the park including huge trees, beautiful forest and waterfalls like Ranger Falls.

A waterfall tumbles down through an evergreen forest full of moss and ferns near the Carbon River Trail. About halfway down, the waterfall splits into two falls.
Ranger Falls along the Carbon River Trail

#4 – Chinook Pass

Chinook Pass is another place that is extremely busy during the day, especially since it’s on a main highway route to Yakima. It does not require a timed entry permit but it will still be very crowded on weekend days during peak wildflowers.

Evening is the perfect time for the Naches Peak Loop, one of my favorite wildflower hikes in the park!

Wildflowers and rocks along a hiking trail in Mt Rainier National Park
Wildflowers on an evening hike on the Naches Peak Loop in early August.

Bonus – Try an evening visit

This is a very effective way to avoid crowds in Mt Rainier and go at the last minute without a permit. Not only will you be able to find parking and enjoy trails with only a small number of people, the lighting is better for photography. Our long summer evenings promote lots of fun evening exploring.

This is a great strategy for visiting Paradise, especially during peak wildflower season. Our long summer evenings make it a great time for a hike or even just wandering around the parking lot checking out the view. I love the Skyline Loop and if you want something shorter there are lots of shorter trails around Paradise, including the Nisqually Glacier Nature Trail and Myrtle Falls.

If you are venturing out onto the trails in the evening, it’s particularly important to make sure you have a headlamp or flashlight with you. This is always an important thing to carry on any hike, but it’s especially critical when you know you’ll be returning close to dark.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!