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The best way to get a complete overview of Mount Rainier in a day is to enter via Nisqually and begin your tour by browsing in Longmire Museum. When you're done, get to know the environment in and around Longmire Meadow and the overgrown ruins of Longmire Springs Hotel on the 0.5-mile Trail of the Shadows nature loop.
From Longmire, Highway 706 East climbs northeast into the mountains toward Paradise. Take a moment to explore gorgeous Christine Falls, just north of the road 1½ miles past Cougar Rock Campground, and Narada Falls, 3 miles farther on; both are spanned by graceful stone footbridges. Fantastic mountain views, alpine meadows crosshatched with nature trails, a welcoming lodge and restaurant, and the excellent Jackson Memorial Visitor Center combine to make lofty Paradise the primary goal of most park visitors. One outstanding (but challenging) way to explore the high country is to hike the 5-mile round-trip Skyline Trail to Panorama Point, which rewards you with stunning 360-degree views.
Continue eastward on Highway 706 East for 21 miles and leave your car to explore the incomparable, thousand-year-old Grove of the Patriarchs. Afterward, turn your car north toward White River and Sunrise Visitor Center, where you can watch the alpenglow fade from Mt. Rainier's domed summit.