A place of undeniable beauty, Mount Rainier National Park includes rugged mountain peaks and stunning wildflowers blooms in rolling green valleys. Only 60 miles outside Seattle, Mount Rainier is an iconic part of Washington’s landscape. Check out these 11 amazing facts to expand your knowledge of this breathtaking national park.
Several Native American tribes called the mountain variations of Tacoma or Tahoma, which means “the source of nourishment from the many streams coming from the slopes.” Captain George Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound in 1792 and named the mountain after his friend Peter Rainier, who served as a Royal Navy officer in the Revolutionary War.
Mount Rainier National Park was established in 1899, 17 years before the National Park Service was created in 1916. John Muir, famous naturalist and preservationist, and Bailey Willis, a U.S. Geological Survey worker, led the charge to designate Mount Rainier a national park because of its unique beauty. Willis commented that the park is truly “an arctic island in a temperate sea” describing the stark contrast between the huge snowy peaks and bright wildflower filled valleys. The lifetime of Mount Rainier represents America’s growing relationship with public lands. During early years, park administrators primarily focused on attracting new visitors before the protection of natural resources. Hotels were built in sub-alpine meadows and roads were carved through forests. Treatment of the land evolved as environmental scientists developed best practices to protect and support the park’s natural environment. Understanding of how public lands should be treated has drastically changed since 1899 and will continue to shift.
The highest mountain in the northwestern Cascade Range, Mount Rainier has 25 named glaciers that adorn the mountain, the most of any mountain in the continental United States. Emmons Glacier covers the largest area of any glacier in the contiguous 48 states, stretching over 4 miles. Hikers can follow the glacier to the peak, as it spans from the White River Valley to the summit of the mountain. Mount Rainier’s glaciers provide an essential water source for six ice-cold rivers, including the Nisqually, Mowich and Carbon.
The Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, Muckleshoot, Yakama and Cowlitz all maintain relations with the park. Archaeological evidence traces indigenous use of this region back 9,000 years. For years, the park has reserved special areas for Native American rituals and worship. This process provides spiritual and cultural resources to the current generations, linking today’s tribal members to their ancestors, who lived in the shadow of the mountain for millennia.
After reaching the peak of Mount Rainier, John Muir wrote, “The view we enjoyed from the summit could hardly be surpassed in sublimity and grandeur." To witness this beautiful landscape comes at a strenuous cost. Each year, thousands of people attempt to reach the top of Mount Rainier, which rises a little less than three miles high. Less than half succeed. Climbers face a challenging vertical elevation gain of 9,000 feet over a distance of more than 8 miles. For those who make it to the top, extensive knowledge and training is a must. Jim Wittaker, the first American to successfully climb Mount Everest, trained domestically for the summit in the rugged conditions of Mount Rainier. Learn more about how to prepare for a climb.
Mount Rainier's trails connect hikers with nature. The park includes a hugely complex ecosystem producing diverse beauty and vegetation.The 93- mile long Wonderland Trail was used over 100 years ago by patrol officers and firefighters and was the first trail in the park that fully encircled Mount Rainier. It’s one of many trail options. The park offers over 260 miles of maintained trails for your enjoyment with some ranging from a few miles to over 20 miles.
Mount Rainier’s steep, cone-like shape was formed by layers of lava flows and ash clouds over a long period of time. This picture-perfect natural wonder has an explosive interior. Volcanic activity began one half to one million years ago, and Mount Rainier has erupted again and again, alternating between quiet lava-producing eruptions and explosive debris-producing eruptions. The most recent eruption was a small summit explosion sometime between 1820 and 1850. Though the colossus hasn’t woken in centuries, scientists have determined that the next eruption may be of larger size. You can see the effects on the landscape in the lava ridges and fumaroles, which expel steam and other gases through volcanic vents.
Artifacts provide meaningful information about the past and create a great understanding of past people’s lives within the park. Generations of Native Americans, explorers and settlers all lived in the area. These individuals left a rich archaeological history including hints to previous weather patterns, animals that roamed the area, and settlement remnants. The park’s first archaeological site was discovered in 1963, a 1,200-year-old rock-shelter containing charred goat, beaver, elderberry and wild hazelnut remains. Mount Rainier boasts several sites like these, that archaeologists use to better understand people’s historical relationship with the park.
The park is home to over 280 species of wildlife. Black-tailed deer, marmots and Stellar’s jays are some of the most memorable animals that live in Mount Rainier National Park. If you get very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a Pacific fisher, a house-cat sized member of the weasel family. The Pacific Fisher was eradicated by hunters from the area in the mid 1900's, but starting in 2015, the park, along with state and private partners, started to reintroduce fishers into the park.
Park winters supply an abundance of snow-covered views and activities. Popular ranger guided snowshoe walks provide opportunities to learn about Mount Rainier’s winter ecology. Families searching for winter snow play should look no further; Rainier offers sledding in the Paradise area, back-country winter camping, skiing and snowboarding.
Beautiful wildflowers transform meadows into an ocean of color in peak season at Mount Rainier. Most years, flowers will bloom in mid-July, and by August the park is awash with a beautiful seasonal hue. There are hundreds of species of wildflowers to be found in the park, from Alpine Asters to the Glacier Lilies. One of the best ways to admire the variety of flora is by driving up the road to Sunrise center, the highest vehicle accessible peak in the park. As you climb the drive, vibrant valleys of sub-alpine flowers follow you. At 6,400 feet, Sunrise Peak offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the park: a spectacular landscape of mountains, glaciers, and wildflower meadows.
Want to see huge valleys teeming with blooming wildflowers, trek down trails on snowshoes or just want to see the towering mountain in person? However you decide to experience this park, make sure it’s added to your bucket list. From visitors like Muir and Willis trekking the land over 100 years ago, to the thousands of people that explore the park today, Mount Rainier has been a source of inspiration and beauty. Plan your trip today.