Visiting Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
One of Washington State’s most popular destinations is Mount Rainier National Park. Located just fifty miles southeast of Seattle, this natural wonder of the Pacific Northwest makes for a great day-trip from the Seattle area.
Designated a National Park in 1899, Mount Rainier has much to offer for the outdoor enthusiast. Mount Rainier is the highest peak in Washington State and the 5th highest mountain in the lower 48 states. With its beautiful natural scenery and wildlife to its amazing mountain views and hiking trails, Mount Rainier National Park draws over two million visitors every year.
At 14,410 feet Mount Rainier is visible from almost anywhere in western Washington. If you've been to Washington State then no doubt Mount Rainier’s immense presence and proximity to Seattle has made you wonder, what would happen if it erupted? Mount Rainier is an active volcano and it is currently on the Decade Volcano List, a dubious distinction that identifies the sixteen volcanoes with the greatest possibility of causing significant loss of life in the event of an eruption.
Mount Rainier’s last minor eruption was over 150 years ago in the mid-1800S. Although there are no present indications of volcanic activity it has been approximately one thousand years since its last major eruption. On average, there are small eruptions of Mount Rainier every hundred years or so and many volcano experts feel that the mountain is overdue for a period of volcanic activity. What makes Mount Rainier so dangerous is the tremendous amount of glacial ice on the mountain that would presumably melt in the event of an eruption. Mount Rainier currently has 26 Glaciers, the most of any peak in the lower 48 states.
Paradise Jackson Visitor Center
The park currently has five areas that can accommodate visitors although a few of them are pretty basic. The new Paradise Jackson Visitor Center is the park's most visited location and is the site of the historic Paradise Inn. Visitors wishing to stay overnight in the park can stay at the historic lodge here that was built in 1916.
The visitor center has much to offer visitors including exhibits, ranger programs, a film on the park, and all the general information that you will need to make your visit enjoyable. The main attraction of the park, however, is the mountain itself and the extensive network of trails that take you through beautiful alpine fields and offer amazing views of the mountain.
The Paradise Visitor Center has a vast array of trails of varying degrees of difficulty ranging from an easy mile or so to a more challenging multi-mile trek. Visitors need to remember that Paradise is located at an elevation of 5,400 feet where the air is thinner so make sure your conditioning is good before heading out on any of the longer hikes.
Sunrise Visitor Center
The second most visited area of Mount Rainier is the Sunrise Visitor Center. Located in the northeast section of the park Sunrise is the highest point in the park accessible by car at an elevation of 6,400 feet. The visitor center here also offers exhibits, ranger guided programs and a picnic area so pack that picnic basket. As in other areas of the park there are numerous hiking trails of varying distances and difficulty but they all offer amazing scenery, great views of the mountain and the possibility of seeing wildlife.
Longmire Museum and Visitor Center
Longmire is the site of the parks original headquarters and is now a museum that details the history of the park's early days. Named for James Longmire, an early settler in the area, this historic section of the park contains four buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located in the southwest corner of the park, Longmire is also the site of the Longmire Wilderness Information Center where visitors can get camping and hiking information as well as wilderness permits. This center is open from May to October and does close in the winter. During the winter months, visitors can get information and permits from the Longmire Museum which does remain open year-round.
What to Do
Just driving through the park and stopping at the various vistas and waterfalls makes for an enjoyable day. Along the way be sure to stop at any of the visitor centers to learn more about the park and the history of the area. The roads and trails in the park make for a great bike ride so don’t be afraid to take your bike along.
The most popular activity among visitors to Mount Rainier National Park is to hike the trails in the park and Mount Rainier has over fifty trails to explore. The most famous of these is the Wonderland Trail which is a 93-mile trail that circumnavigates completely around the mountain. This multi-day hike does require a permit and should only be attempted by seasoned backpackers. For those just visiting for a day or two, there are numerous short and easy trails that will afford you the opportunity to see the beautiful alpine fields and get amazing views of the mountain.
When to Go
The best time to visit Mount Rainier is during the months of July, August, and early September. While Washington State is famous for its rain their summers are generally dry with comfortable temperatures and little to no humidity.
You should try to schedule your visit on a day that is forecast to be clear so that you can enjoy the magnificent views of the mountain. We have made four visits to Mount Rainier over the last 15 years and each visit has revealed something new and interesting about the park. We have always gone during either July or August and the weather has always been terrific. If you’re looking to visit one of America’s most beautiful National Parks consider a trip to Mount Rainier.
Wildlife in the Park
While there are no guarantees that you will see wildlife while visiting Mount Rainier National Park it certainly is possible. The park is home to over 160 species of birds and 63 different species of mammals.
Some of the more commonly seen birds in the park include Eagles, Ptarmigan, Thrushes, Kinglets, Gray Jays, Stellar Jays, and Finches. Some of the large mammals who make their home in the park include Black Bears and Cougars. Although the chances of seeing the elusive cougar are extremely rare they are here. Cougars tend to avoid people and live solitary lives. Black Bear sightings are much more common and they are much less shy about interacting with people. Always on the lookout for an easy meal, their great sense of smell will draw them to open or discarded food so please leave food in your car or in a sealed container and never leave trash in the park as this tends to draw bears.
Other wildlife more commonly seen in the park include Coyote, Red Fox, Marmot, Columbian black-tailed deer, and Mule deer. Sighting any wildlife while in the park certainly is a highlight and makes for an unforgettable experience.
The fee to enter Mount Rainier National Park is $15 for a private vehicle or $5 per visitor if coming on foot, bicycle or motorcycle. Your entry fee allows you to enter the park for a seven day period so this is a pretty good deal. A Mount Rainier annual pass is also available for a fee of $30. Entrance fees and passes can be purchased at any of the entrance stations to Mount Rainier.
Enjoy your visit to Mount Rainier National Park, one of this country's most beautiful landscapes and a true gem of the United States National Park system.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio