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Adventurer’s Guide To Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

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Established in 1899

Nestled in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state lies Mount Rainier National Park. Established back in 1899, the park, along with the mountain it is named after, are easily some of the most iconic features within the entire state. The park spans 236,381 acres around Mount Rainier and is a hiker’s dream as well as one of the most visited National Parks in the country. The active volcano sets the backdrop for the rest of the park, full of alpine meadows, old growth forests, glaciers, snow fields, rivers, and fields of wildflowers during the summer months. A trip to enjoy Washington’s beauty wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Mount Rainier National Park.


Alpine reflections on Tipsoo Lake at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Long before the region was established as a National Park, the land was home to Native Americans dating back to 4,000-5,800 BC. The Columbia Plateau Tribes inhabited the region from around 1000 to 300 BC. Prior to becoming a national park, the surrounding land was designated as a national forest. However, in 1899 then President William McKinley passed a bill that established Mount Rainier National Park. The park was the fifth national park in the entire nation.

In 1888 John Muir visited the park with a few other explorers. This trip is often attributed to his reinvigoration for conservation. His work helped transform the once national forest into the national park that it now is today. Finally, on the sixth attempt at pushing the bill, it passed and the park was established just before the turn of the century. Today the camp that sits at about 10,000 feet is named Camp Muir after John Muir and his work for helping establish the park.

Mount Rainier National Park is enjoyed throughout the year by locals and visitors alike, though most popular during the summer months. However, the park had to be closed in late 2006 when extreme flooding took place. The park received over 18 inches of rainfall in just a 36-hour period. Severe damage was caused to many riverfront campsites while some roads were completely washed out. The park reopened in the late spring of 2007 to allow tourist access.

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Geology, Flora, Fauna

Suspension Bridge to the Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Standing at 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest point in the Cascade Range. There are over 25 glaciers surrounding the mountain, feeding some of the major rivers and streams of the region. The Carbon Glacier sits on the northern slope of the mountain and is the largest glacier by volume in the contiguous United States. On the northeastern flank of the mountain is Emmons Glacier. This massive glacier is known for being the largest by area in the contiguous United States. The glaciers alone on the mountain draw thousands of mountain climbers each year.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano and scientists often discuss how it is past due for a massive explosion. Because of this, Mount Rainier is known as being one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. However, the peak is heavily observed. If and when the mountain erupts, the entire population of the Puyallup River valley would be at risk, which includes nearly 100,000 people. Experts estimate that Mount Rainier was once 16,000 feet tall but has eroded heavily over the past 5,000 years. Past lahars have traveled all the way to the Puget Sound to what is now Tacoma and Seattle. Though a massive explosion is unlikely in the very near future, the active volcano does cause about one earthquake per week that can be detected near the summit.

Turn your road trip into a memorable escape

Mount Rainier in full bloom at Paradise, Washington.

Mount Rainier National Park is known for more than just it’s impressive volcano. The park is home to some of the best displays of wildflowers in the entire world. There are over 1,000 species of plants and fungi found throughout the park. Popular wildflowers include lilies, asters, daisies, paintbrush, fireweed and numerous others. The best time to view these fields is from late July to early August.

Other sections of the park are dominated by over 90,000 acres of old growth forest. Here the forest is estimated to be over 1,000 years old, and is intermixed with younger sections of forest. Most of these forested sections are made up of Douglas fir, western red-cedar, and the western hemlock. Higher elevation forests are full of western white pine, noble fir, and the Pacific silver fir.

Watchful Eye – the endangered Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentallis) sits in on a branch.

Besides a range of diverse ecosystems and plant life, the park is also home to a variety of wildlife. On land, Mount Rainier National Park is home to over sixty types of mammals. Some of the most notable include elk, marmots, mountain goats, cougar, Cascade red fox, and black bear. The black bears in the park are often quite used to seeing humans though hikers should still express extreme caution when encountering one. The endangered Northern Spotted Owl lives within the park, helping protect it as its population tries to regrow. The waters of the park are home to various salmon and trout species. In the mid-1900s many of the lakes were stocked with fish though that ended back in 1972. Despite no longer being stocked, nearly 30 of the lakes in the park are home to fish populations.

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Main Attractions

While hiking is easily the best way to experience the region, Mount Rainier National Park has numerous sights to see that don’t require much hiking. The park was established as a National Historic Landmark District because of how well the original architecture at the base camps has been preserved. Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the three main base camps for impeccable views of the mountain as well as the rest of the park. Paradise sits at 5,400 feet and is the starting point for the main route up Mount Rainier. Longmire sits at a lower elevation and is the second most visited section of the park. Lower elevations allow for Longmire to be open throughout the year. Lastly, Sunrise sits at the northeastern section of the park. At 6,400 feet it is the highest point in the park that is accessible by car. True to its name, Sunrise is known for impeccable sunrise views of the mountain and its surrounding forests and meadows.



By far the most popular activity in the park is hiking. The expansive park offers a vast network of trails totaling 260 miles. The most iconic trail in the park is known as the Wonderland Trail. This 93-mile loop trail circumnavigates the entire mountain, taking hikers and backpackers through nearly every landscape within the park boundaries. While permits must be obtained to hike the entire loop and camp in the backcountry, day hiking is permitted. Encountering wildlife while hiking or backpacking is not uncommon at the park. Though most hikers may see marmots, mountain goats, and small woodland animals, black bears and elk are also present.

There are numerous fire lookouts throughout the park that offer panoramic views. Popular hikes include the Skyline Trail, Tolmie Peak, Mount Fremont Lookout Naches Loop, and Panorama Point. Whether hikers are looking for a multi-day backpacking adventure or a short walk around alpine lakes, Mount Rainier National Park has something to offer. While most visitors use these trails for hiking, the region is popular amongst trail runners as well. During the summer months many runners explore the park by trail running and fast packing.


Hikers on the way to Camp Muir in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

As the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, thousands of mountaineers travel to Mount Rainier National Park each year. Roughly 10,000 people attempt to climb the mountain each year with about 50% reaching the summit. Though there are various routes on the mountain, each requires technical mountaineering skills with crampons, ice axes, harnesses, and ropes. The most common route is via Disappointment Cleaver which passes through Camp Muir before ascending the final 4,000 feet of elevation up to the summit. Other well-known routes include Emmons Glacier and Liberty Ridge Route.

Morning reflections at Mowich Lake in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.


While there are many campgrounds just outside the park, the four within the park showcase the beauty of the park. One of the most popular campgrounds is at Mowich Lake. Camping right next to the lake allows for amazing views from your tent and easy access to some of the most iconic trails in the park. Other campgrounds in the park are Ohanapecosh, Cougar Rock, and White River.


Some of the rivers and lakes within Mount Rainier National Park allow fishing though varying regulations apply based on time of year and types of fish. Visitors should check with the National Parks official website before fishing in backcountry lakes.

Long exposure shot of Narada Falls in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.


While most visitors come to the park during the summer months, the park offers a variety of activities throughout the year. Snowshoeing can be found throughout the park with popular routes being Deer Lake, Narada Falls, and Sun Top.

Skiing and Snowboarding:

Both Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and White Pass Ski Area are located near Mount Rainier National Park. However, there are no designated ski areas within the park boundaries or on the mountain. Cross-country skiing, along with backcountry skiing and snowboarding can be accessed within the park for those who are equipped.

Nearby Cities

Located along the Puget Sound, both Tacoma and Seattle are under an hour and forty-five minutes from Mount Rainier National Park. While a day trip from the big cities is possible, there are also numerous small towns that surround the mountain. Enumclaw and Eatonville sit at opposite ends of the park, both about 40 minutes from their respective park entrances. Though not established towns, Ashford and Greenwater offer a final stop of civilization before visitors enter into the park.

A trip to Washington state wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the gorgeous Mount Rainier National Park. As a symbol of state, the mountain alone draws people in to marvel at its rugged yet beautiful landscape. Whether visitors are looking for a short hike to a viewpoint, or attempting to reach the summit, Mount Rainier will be a park one won’t soon forget.


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