Five Great Spots to Photograph Mount Rainier from Puget Sound

Heading to Puget Sound, WA? You won’t want to miss these five great spots to photograph Mount Rainier, AKA The Mountain. SNAPP Pro photographer Joe Becker shares his top 5 locations from which to best capture Washington State’s majestic icon and the USA’s 5th highest peak.

Joe writes: “Sure there are lots of other mountains in this region, but The Mountain truly dominates. If you don’t have time to visit Mount Rainier when visiting western Washington, there are still many great spots to photograph Rainier in the Puget Sound area. Actually, I think the views of Rainier from Puget Sound tell a better photographic tale – to me, The Mountain looks more impressive when photographed from sea level. Rather than depicting it in an alpine setting, images of Rainier from Puget Sound can combine the nautical and alpine in a single image, with your image fully encompassing elevations between sea level and 4,392 meters (14, 410 feet). Here are a few of my favorite spots to photograph The Mountain from Puget Sound.

1)  North Harborview Drive in Gig Harbor

Viewpoint: 47.338091, -122.591679

The view of Mount Rainier with a foreground of a boat-filled Gig Harbor is unsurpassed. There are several spots in Gig Harbor to view Mount Rainier, but for the best views, head to the west end of the harbor along North Harborview Drive where you can line up boats in the harbor with the mountain looming in the background. By using a telephoto lens, you can compress the scene and really draw the mountain into the image. The best time to photograph here is shortly before sunset, when the mountain is filled with alpenglow. However, at that point, the harbor itself will be in shadow, so you may want to use a graduated-neutral density filter or correct later in Photoshop or Lightroom. Or, alternatively, you can photograph a little earlier in the golden hour, when the last rays of light fall on the harbor.

2) South Beach Drive on Bainbridge Island

Viewpoint: 47.574736, -122.508175

Views of Mount Rainier across the waters of Puget Sound are good, but what makes a view great is a great foreground. Can there be a better foreground than another of Washington State’s icons – a ferryboat? While the mountain can be see (and photographed) from a number of different ferries, there are few places where a ferry can be photographed with the mountain in the background. Perhaps the best place to capture this type of shot is on the southern end of Bainbridge Island. Most Bainbridge Island is ringed with waterfront houses, and most of the waterfront roads on the island are on the inland side of those houses. But not at South Beach Drive; here, for a short 0.4-kilometer (quarter-mile) stretch, the road is directly above the beach and affords a fantastic view of Mount Rainier. Better yet, the Seattle-Bremerton ferry passes by this point 30 times a day (15 trips each way). The trick here is knowing when a ferry will pass. Luckily, the ferries run on a predictable schedule and pass the southern end of Bainbridge Island about half an hour after sailing from either Seattle or Bremerton. Giving yourself time to park (there is no parking available along this particular section of road so a bit of walking will be involved), aim to be there about 15 to 20 minutes after one of the boats leave port. Set up your tripod and wait a few minutes; you’ll see the ferries approaching well in advance. Quite often, both boats (one traveling to Bremerton and the other traveling to Seattle) will pass South Beach Drive within minutes of each other, so you could have twice the opportunity to capture the shot. I recommend a zoom lens for this shot (a 70-200mm lens should work), as you never know how close the ferry will be to shore.

3) Point Robinson Lighthouse

Viewpoint: 47.388226 -122.374748

Point Robinson Lighthouse has been shining on Puget Sound since 1885. It resides in a 10-acre park on Maury Island (which is actually part of Vashon Island). Point Robinson is on the southeast side of the island, giving it a great view of Puget Sound with Mount Rainier in the distance. There isn’t a better place to photograph Mount Rainier and a lighthouse in the same frame. As an added bonus, the Point Robinson Lighthouse is one of the prettiest lighthouses on Puget Sound. By setting up the open meadow west and slightly north of the lighthouse, you can frame Mount Rainier between the lighthouse and one of its outbuildings. The best time for the shot is late afternoon, either an hour or so before sunset, when there will still be direct sunlight on the lighthouse, or at sunset when there is alpenglow on the mountain (though the lighthouse will likely be in the shade at that time). The major shipping lane running from Seattle to Tacoma passes this spot, so if you time it right, you can get a ship in your photograph as well. Depending on how close you set your tripod to the lighthouse, you will want to use a normal to a short telephoto lens.

4) Cliff House Viewpoint

Viewpoint: 47.297546 -122.431663

The Cliff House Restaurant sits on the edge of a steep bluff in northeast Tacoma overlooking Commencement Bay and the Port of Tacoma. Above it all sits Mount Rainier. You can definitely see why they chose to place the restaurant here. Take your tripod and camera to the edge of the restaurant’s parking lot, and the view can be yours too. The view of the mountain will be best during the golden hours after sunrise or before sunset. You can use a telephoto lens to really pull the mountain into your shot or a normal lens to show more of the water and the ships in the harbor. Feeling hungry? Grab a table inside for dinner; at sunset, run outside and capture your shot; then come back in for dessert – though I think you will agree, the view is the real dessert here.

5) Cummings Park, Tacoma

Viewpoint: 47.287112 -122.487464

I love this spot because it is only a five-minute drive from my house. But the view is what really makes it shine. Cummings Park is central along the Ruston Way waterfront of Tacoma, a 5K (3-mile) strip of parks and open space along Puget Sound. While Mount Rainier is visible along most the Ruston Way shoreline, it is situated basically in line with the shore, so that if you look down the shoreline, you will be looking at the mountain. However, a building-covered hillside blocks the view of the bottom portion of the mountain. This makes the view better at some spots along the shoreline better than others. At Cummings Park, you can shoot from a small pier that sticks out from the shore, giving you a little more separation between the shore and the mountain. This pier is adjacent to group of old pilings. You can shoot with a normal to wide-angle lens to include the pilings in your image, or use a telephoto lens and shoot over the pilings and make the mountain appear to loom over the city. If the tide is out, you can get down amongst the pilings and use them as framing elements for the mountain.”

For more incredible locations from which to photograph Mount Rainier and to discover more great photo spots in the Puget Sound region, check out Joe Becker’s SNAPP Guide to photographing Puget Sound. Follow Joe and see more of his work here.