It seems like summer in the Pacific Northwest might actually come sooner than July 5th this year. Fingers crossed because our annual camping trip to Mount Rainier is taking place in June*.
My favorite way to tackle the park is to leave Friday by 8:00 AM and head directly to the White River Campground via highway 410. White River doesn't take reservations but there's usually some sights available on a Friday morning. Once camp is set up head towards Chinook Pass for a hike. Naches Peak Loop and Sheep Lake up to Sourdough Gap are definite highlights.
After hiking, before heading back to White River, drive to the Sunrise Visitor Center for a dinner picnic. The view is insane.
Saturday morning pack up camp and drive slowly through the park towards Cougar Rock Campground - bypassing Paradise, stop at whatever hike or lake sounds good to you. Here are my favorites in order as you drive through the park: Grove of the Patriarchs (hike), Lake Louise (swim), Snow Lake (hike + swim), Reflection Lake (great photo opp, not for swimming though) and the must do, Comet Falls (hike).
Cougar Rock Campground is massive but there are some surprisingly private sites that rule. The best ones are in the D loop, in particular D20, D19, D18 and D25. You can reserve campsites at Cougar Rock six months in advance but if you didn't and they're full (which they will be in summer) don't fret! You can camp for free right off of Skate Creek Road (NF 52) in the Gifford Pinchot Nation Forest. Even though there are no facilities and your neighbors (a mile or so down the road) might actually be living in their campsite it's a great (and beautiful) option when you're SOL.
After a long day of exploring head to Copper Creek Restaurant right outside of the national park. They have the best onion rings (I'm sure out of a bag) and homemade blackberry pie.
Sunday morning wake up early and head to the Paradise Visitor Center. There are a bunch of trails to choose from but the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point will get you up close and personal with Mount Rainier. Try to forget about the fact that it's an active volcano.
After you've had your Paradise fill (a lot people just visit Paradise for a day so get out of there by Noon or you'll be in a crowd of many hundreds) and assuming you have to work on Monday, head back to Seattle via highway 706 / 161.
Mount Rainier is Seattle's gorgeous backdrop and it's easy to forget how unbelievable it really is.
* Some park roads (Sunrise) and trails are closed until July 1st. Most of Paradise was still covered in snow (definitely the Skyline trail) in late June.