Mount Rainier National Park: A user's guide
This icon of the Washington state landscape is the most glacieted peak in the continental U.S. — and also an active volcano.
Mon, Jun 11 2012 at 6:17 PM
Visible from Puget Sound to the west, Mount Rainer looms above the Cascade Range at 14,410 feet above sea level. This peak of fire and ice — an active volcano that is the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states — is the centerpiece of the country’s fifth-oldest national park.
Very few visitors will tackle a climb to the top of Mount Rainer. Most will be happy enough exploring old-growth forests, waterfalls and alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers that surround the peak.
Congress established Mount Rainier National Park on March 2, 1899.
Things to do:
Serious backpackers will want to add the Wonderland Trail to their bucket list. The 93-mile trail circles Mount Rainer, a taxing trek that traverses lowland forests and high alpine meadows.
With about 260 miles of trail, Mount Rainer offers plenty of less ambitious options day hikes. The Nisqually Vista Trail, a 1.2-mile loop trail, features views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier. The Silver Falls Trail is a fairly level walk along the Ohanapecosh River to a 75-foot waterfall.
While there are no designated bike trails in the park, mountain bikers can share the Westside Road with cars — for a little bit — and hikers. The gravel road climbs more than 1,000 feet over 13 miles where it ends at Klapatche Point. The first three miles are open to motor vehicle traffic, but the last 10 miles are an auto-free zone.
Why you’ll want to come back:
Heavy snows create a winter wonderland for sledding, snow tubing, skiing and ranger-guide snowshoe walks.
Flora and fauna:
The elevation within Mount Rainier National Park ranges from less than 2,000 feet above sea level to more than 14,000, creating a diversity of wildlife habitats. The park is home to 54 species of mammals and 126 species of birds.
The lowland forests of Douglas fir, western hemlock and western cedar shelter the Douglas squirrel. Above the tree line, the meadows of the alpine zone are home to the hoary marmot and pika. In between, visitors may spot Columbian black-tailed deer, elk, black bear, beaver and mountain goats. Mount Rainer National Park is also home to the “silver phase” red fox that has gray and black fur mixed with the typical red fur.
Birds spotted in the park include dark-eyed juncos, red tail hawks, blue grouse and Steller’s jays. The northern spotted owl, listed among threatened and endangered species, also lives in the park.
Just the facts:
- Website: Mount Ranier National Park
- Park size: 236,381 acres or 369 square miles
- 2011 visitation: 1,038,229
- Funky fact: Just 4,920 of the 10,643 people who attempted to climb Mount Rainier in 2010 made it to the summit.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
MNN tease photo of Mount Rainer: Shutterstock
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