Mount Rainier National Park
Tahoma Woods, Star Route
Ashford, WA 98304-9751
Mount Rainier National Park -- located in central Washington, about 50 miles southeast of Tacoma -- draws hikers and mountain climbers from around the world. Mount Rainier, one of several volcanoes in the Cascade Range, is the centerpiece of this national park, with its flowered meadows, its numerous glaciers, and its challenging two-day hike to the summit. This park offers visitors scenic vistas and many different outdoor activities, including fishing, backpacking, and snowshoeing.
Entrance fees: $10/vehicle for seven days or $5/individual for seven days
Visitor centers: Longmire Museum is open daily. Jackson Visitor Center-Paradise is open daily from mid-April through mid-October, weekends only from mid-October through mid-April. Other visitor centers are open seasonally.
Other services: A museum, two wilderness information centers, two park inns (one is closed for rehabilitation until 2008), and six campgrounds.
Accommodations: Sunshine Point Campground is open year-round and operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Five other campgrounds are open variously from mid-May through mid-October. Reservations are available at 800-365-CAMP. National Park Inn (360-569-2275) is open year-round. Paradise Inn (360-569-2275) is open for the summer season.
Visiting Mount Rainier National Park
The highest of the great peaks of the Cascade Range is Mount Rainier, a gigantic mountain that is covered with 26 active glaciers, more than any other peak in the lower 48 states. The mountain is a mecca for climbers around the world, and quite often it claims a life or two.
Even though the mountain is its most prominent feature, the nearly quarter-of-a-million-acre national park offers a number of other attractions. Below the extensive snowfields that cap Rainier are such wildlife as mountain goats, black-tailed deer, black bears, and beavers.
Downslope, the forests are almost like a cathedral, with enormous western and mountain hemlocks and western red cedar that tower to awesome heights thanks to the more than 100 inches of rain the area receives annually. The high spruce and fir forests are known for their summer wildflower displays.
Summer is the best time of year to visit Mount Rainier, because the area is legendary for its deep snows. Autumn is short, with snow storms commencing in some years as early as late September.
Mount Rainier National Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and athletes alike. If you’re interested in adventure sports, check out the ice climbing article, video and images at Discovery’s Fearless Planet.
For active outdoors enthusiasts, Mount Rainier National Park offers countless activities, including the two-day hike up Mount Rainier. On the next page, we'll provide sightseeing tips.
Sightseeing at Mount Rainier National Park
Sightseeing at Mount Rainier National Park obviously starts with the great mountain. Weather permitting, you can see the snow-capped summit of Mount Rainier from more than 100 miles away. It is one of the world's largest volcanoes, and at nearly three miles in height, it also has the distinction of being the tallest peak in the Cascades.
Mount Rainier National Park has many attractions in addition to the mountain itself. Spectacular fields of wildflowers burst into bloom in late spring and summer. As the snow melts, an astonishing array of color marches up the slopes. Here, you will see a profusion of monkeyflowers, buttercups, avalanche lilies, Indian paintbrush, asters, and lupines, rushing to bloom during the brief respite from the cold that often ends during the final week of August.
Where there are not meadows, there are great forests, some with trees that are more than 1,000 years old. The woods provide a home for countless birds and animals, such as tiny chickadees, lumbering black bears, and curious, golden-mantled ground squirrels that look like chipmunks without their stripes.
Higher up on the slopes, mountain goats forage for food on ridges blown free of snow. Here too, finches nest in the rocks in summer and feed on heather buds and high-altitude insects, while hoary marmots and tiny pikas hoard dried grass for winter food.
Mount Rainier National Park Photo Opportunities
Mount Rainier National Park is filled with scenic vistas -- including snowy glaciers, meadows of wildflowers, and, of course, the view from Mount Rainier's summit -- that are perfect for photographs. Here are some suggestions:
- Mount Rainier: The mountain itself, visible from up to 100 miles away on clear days, is just begging to be photographed.
- Emmons Glacier: Emmons Glacier, on the north side of Mount Rainier, is the largest glacier in the continental United States.
- Mount Rainier wildlife: Photogenic mammals in the park include black bears, Columbian black-tailed deer, and mountain goats.
- Christine Falls: This is just one of the beautiful waterfalls you'll find in the park.
Climbing Mount Rainier Almost 10 percent of the surface of Mount Rainier National Park is permanently covered by ice. Even as eruption after volcanic eruption built the mountain, glaciers from the Pleistocene ice ages were carving valleys and canyons on the mountain's slopes.
Today, 26 major glaciers remain. This is the largest collection of permanent ice on a single mountain in the United States south of Alaska. Emmons Glacier is at a lower elevation than any other glacier in the nation.
Austere and serene, the summit of Mount Rainier draws mountain climbers of every age and ability from around the globe. The ascent takes two days, with most of the first day taken up by a long hike through the forests and rocky slopes of the mountain's lower two-thirds.
The second-day trip to the top crosses the weathered surface of a moving glacier, one of six that drops down from the summit. Using ice axes, crampons, and steel spikes fixed to their boots, climbers make their way between deep crevasses that have fragmented the ice into fissures and canyons. In some places they cross crevasses on bridges of unmelted snow.
At the top of the mountain is a small crater left by the most recent eruption a little more than a century ago. Climbers usually walk around it to the Columbia Crest. At 14,410 feet, this is the highest point on the peak; on clear days you have an unsurpassed view of the Pacific Northwest.
Mount Rainier, along with several other peaks in the Cascades, has a fiery history as an active volcano. On the next page, learn how Mount Rainier was formed.
History: How Mount Rainier Was Formed
Mount Rainier was forged by fire and shaped by ice. Most geologists believe its birth occurred less than a million years ago on a mass of solidified lava left by earlier volcanoes.
New upswellings of lava, ash, and pumice (lava formed with trapped bubbles of gas) poured from the young volcano's vent thousands of times. Gradually, layer upon layer of debris piled up, forming a summit cone about 16,000 feet high.
Scientists used to think that about 1,500 feet was missing from the top of the peak because it had been destroyed in a great eruption. But today they believe the missing summit was lost in a huge mud flow that took place about 5,600 years ago.
Even without its original top, Mount Rainier is one of America's great peaks and the dominant volcano of the Cascade Range. When naturalist John Muir wrote about the mountain, he stated what many people who have seen it feel: "Of all the fire mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest."
Rainier simply overwhelms the surrounding 6,000-foot mountains, which look like courtiers paying homage to a monarch. The mountain often seems to float alone among the clouds, and when you see it from a great distance, its enormous height, compared with the neighboring peaks, makes it appear closer than it is. In the evenings, as the sun begins dropping below the Pacific horizon, the last light bathes the great mountain's summit, washing it in a warm, pink glow that lasts long after darkness has come to the lowlands.
Modern-day visitors to Mount Rainier National Park follow in John Muir's footsteps and share his appreciation for the park's great mountain. Whether visitors want to try to climb the mountain or simply view it, Mount Rainier National Park is a special place. Find out for yourself.
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