Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is a United States National Park located in the American state of Washington, some 54 miles (87 km) south-east of Seattle. Established in 1899 and 368 miles² / 235,625 acres (954 km²) in size, the National Park is centered on the spectacular cone of Mount Rainier, an massive active stratovolcano some 14,410 ft high.

Mt. Rainier, wildflowers and stream

Understand

History

The park was established as America's fifth national park in 1899 (following Yellowstone in 1872 and Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant National Parks in 1890). The founding of Mount Rainier National Park was led by both local groups, including mountaineering clubs, newspaper editors, businessmen's associations, and University of Washington faculty, as well as by scientists throughout the country, primarily geologists.

It was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1997 as a showcase for the "NPS Rustic" style architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.

Landscape

Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet, is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range. The mountain stands nearly three miles higher than the lowlands to the west and one and one-half miles higher than the adjacent mountains. The volcano, which last erupted approximately 150 years ago, is encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice. The park's total area is 235,625 acres, of which 97% is designated Wilderness. In addition to the mountain, the park contains outstanding examples of old growth forests and subalpine meadows. The park contains 26 named glaciers across 9 major watersheds, with 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams and over 3,000 acres of other wetland types.

Flora and fauna

The park is part of a complex ecosystem. Vegetation is diverse, reflecting the varied climatic and environmental conditions encountered across the park’s 12,800-feet elevation gradient. Approximately 58 percent of the park is forested, 23 percent is subalpine parkland, and the remainder is alpine, half of which is vegetated and the other half consists of permanent snow and ice. Forest ages range from less than 100 years old on burned areas and moraines left by receding glaciers to old-growth stands 1,000 or more years. Some alpine heather communities have persisted in the park for up to 10,000 years.

Species known or thought to occur in the park include more than 800 vascular plants, 159 birds, 63 mammals, 16 amphibians, 5 reptiles, and 18 native fishes. Commonly seen animals include Columbian black-tailed deer, Douglas squirrels, noisy Stellar’s jays and common ravens. Other animals that are less-commonly seen but still popular include mammals like elk and black bear, which range in many habitats throughout the summer. Mountain goats typically remain in alpine or subalpine life zones.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°F) 35 36 38 42 49 55 63 65 58 48 37 34
Nightly lows (°F) 23 22 24 26 32 36 43 44 40 32 25 21
Precipitation (in) 18.2 12.7 12.6 8.3 5.9 4.1 2.0 2.0 4.7 10.4 20.3 17.2

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Weather patterns at Mount Rainier are strongly influenced by the Pacific Ocean, elevation, and latitude. The climate is generally cool and rainy, with summer highs in the 60s and 70s. While July and August are the sunniest months of the year, rain is possible any day, and very likely in spring, fall, and winter.

As one of the snowiest places on Earth, Paradise is worthy of a winter visit. From November to late May, expect to find 10 to 20 feet of snow on the ground. Approximately 630" of snow falls in an average winter at Paradise--in the winter of 1971-72, Paradise established a world's record with 1122" of snow!

Get in

Access to Mount Rainier is generally by car or bus. Tourists from afar usually land at Seattle-Tacoma Int'l Airport (SEA). The park is open year-round, but access is limited in winter. Facilities at Longmire are open daily year-round. Facilities at Paradise and Ohanapecosh are open daily from late-May to mid-October. Facilities at Sunrise are open July to early-October. In winter, access is by the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park only. The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise is open weekends and holidays in winter.

By car

Parking at both Sunrise and Paradise can be problematic during summer weekends, and in all areas of the park around summer holidays, so if possible try to visit mid-week.

from Seattle

To get to Sunrise by car, take I-5 south to I-405, and north on I-405 to WA-167 south, or I-90 east to I-405, and south on I-405 to WA-167 south. Exit onto WA-410 and follow 53 miles (5 miles past park entrance) to White River Road. Take White River road to the right, 15 miles through fee station to Sunrise Visitor Center. It takes about 2 1/4 hours to get to Sunrise from Seattle.

To get to Paradise by car, take I-5 south to Tacoma and follow Tacoma directions. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to get to Paradise from Seattle.

from Tacoma

To get to Paradise by car, take WA-7 south. At Elbe, keep straight onto WA-706, which leads into the Nisqually entrance. It takes about 2 hours to get to Paradise from Tacoma. Most visitors come on sunny summer weekends and holidays.

To get to Sunrise by car, take I-5 north, exiting to WA-167 north. Enter WA-167 freeway after crossing the Puyallup River, and exit to WA-410 after 2 miles. Follow WA-410 53 miles through park entrance and take a right onto White River Road. Follow White River Road through fee station 15 miles to Sunrise Visitor Center. Driving to Sunrise also takes approximately 2 hours from Tacoma.

from Yakima

To get to Sunrise from Yakima, take US-12 west. 5 miles past Naches, continue straight on WA-410, which leads over Chinook Pass. 7 miles after entering the park over Chinook Pass, take a left on White River road, 15 miles through the fee station to Sunrise Visitor Center.

To get to Paradise from Yakima, take US-12 west over White Pass. 12 past White Pass, take WA-123 right for 5 miles, into the park. Take a left onto Stevens Canyon Road, and follow through fee station 21 miles to Paradise.

from Portland

To get to Sunrise from Portland, take I-5 north 76 miles and exit to US 12 east. Follow US 12 for 72 miles and take a left onto WA-123 for 16 miles to the top of Cayuse Pass. At Cayuse Pass, take a left onto WA-410, and follow 3 miles, then take a left onto White River Road, following 15 miles through fee station to Sunrise Visitor Center. Portland to Sunrise will take about 3 1/2 hours by car.

To get to Paradise from Portland, take I-5 north 76 miles and exit to US 12 east. Follow US 12 40 miles and take a left onto WA-7, another 17 miles to Elbe. At Elbe, take a right on WA-706 through the Nisqually entrance and fee station, 31 miles to Paradise. It takes about 3 hours to get to Paradise from Portland.

within the park

To get from Sunrise to Paradise, take the White River Road 15 miles to the intersection with WA-410. Take a right onto WA-410, 3 miles later a right onto WA-123, and after 11 more miles right onto Stevens Canyon Road, through the fee station 21 miles to Paradise. If Stevens Canyon Road is closed, you can continue on WA-123 to US-12, taking a right 7 miles to Packwood. At the north end of town, take a right on Forest Service Road 52 / Skate Creek Road for 23 miles to WA-706. Take a right onto WA-706, 4 miles to the Nisqually entrance, and another 17 miles to Paradise.

By bus

Another option to minimize parking hassle is by parking at Ashford, just outside the Nisqually entrance, and take the shuttle into the park and Paradise.

By foot

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is one of the original United States National Scenic Trails and it travels a total distance of 2,650 miles along the West coast of the United States, from Mexico to Canada. It passes through California, Oregon, and Washington State.

Fees/Permits

Mount Rainier National Park charges an entrance fee of $15 per week per private vehicle (includes all passengers) or $5 per week per individual person on foot, bike, or motorcycle. An annual pass is available for $30, valid for one year from month of purchase (does not cover camping fees).

There are several passes that allow free entry for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot or on bike. These passes are valid at all national parks including Mount Rainier National Park:

In 2016 the National Park Service will offer several days on which entry is free for all national parks: January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), April 16-24 (National Park Week), August 25-28 (National Park Service's 100th birthday weekend), September 24 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).

An entrance fee is not required to access any of State Routes 410 or 123 on the east side of the park, including the Ohanapecosh campground and visitor center.

Get around

By foot

Most of the park can only be seen from the areas extensive 240 miles of maintained trails which are some of the most popular and rewarding trails in the Pacific Northwest including the Wonderland Trail which is a multi-day trek that encircles the mountain and provides views so amazing that the trail is frequently voted among the best trails in the world by backpacking magazines.

By car

Most visitors choose to visit the area by car utilizing the parks 147 miles of roads that travel to each of the park's five main areas:

Parking can be difficult or impossible to find on sunny summer weekends at Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs, and at trailheads between Longmire and Paradise. Try to visit these areas on weekdays, arrive early in the day, and carpool to the park. Parking is not permitted along road edges. Park roads are winding and road shoulders are narrow. The maximum speed limit is 35 mph in most areas. Allow plenty of travel time during your visit.

See

Do

Hiking

Northwest Area Trails

Rainforest on Green Lake Trail

Northeast Area Trails

Southwest Area Trails

Narda Falls

Southeast Area Trails

Other Trails

view of little Tahoma from the Wonderland Trail

Mountaineering

The 14,410 foot tall Mount Rainier is an active volcano that is also the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. It is climbed each year by thousands of people who traverse a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles. Climbers must be in good physical condition and well prepared. Weather, snow, and route conditions can change rapidly and can make the difference between a pleasant and rewarding experience or tragedy.

Before climbing, obtain a current weather forecast. Turn back if weather conditions deteriorate. Severe winter-like storms on the mountain are not uncommon during the summer. The route is over glaciers and requires knowledge of crevasses safety. Do not attempt this climb if you are unfamiliar with glacier climbing.

Permits are required for all climbers going above 10,000 feet or onto any glacier. Permits can be obtained from the Paradise Ranger Station, White River Wilderness Information Center, and the Carbon River Ranger Station. The climbing fee is $30 per person per calendar year. Climbing fees are used to help recover costs for protecting the mountain's delicate and unique alpine environment, staffing the mountain's high camps and ranger stations with climbing rangers, managing upper mountain human waste and providing rangers who can rapidly respond to incidents on the mountain.

An in-park Wilderness Reservation System is available for climbers and backpackers planning trips during the May 1 to September 30 period. A reservations office is staffed at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center during the summer months. Beginning April 1st, reservations can be made by printing and completing a Reservation Request Form and faxing it to +1 360 569-3131 or mailing it to:

Mount Rainier National Park
Wilderness Information Center
55210 238th Avenue East
Ashford, WA 98304

The reservation phone number is +1 360 569-HIKE. There is a $20 reservation fee for advance reservations. This fee is in addition to the climbing permit fee and does not guarantee a spot in the public shelter at Camp Muir. Reservations can only be made for trips between May 1st and September 30th.

Numerous guide services are available to help visitors reach the summit:

Buy

There are no gas stations within the park. Gift shops can be found at Sunrise, Paradise Inn, Jackson Visitor Center and Longmire.

Eat

Drink

Drink and nightlife options are limited within the park. Water is available at all visitor centers, and beverages may be available for purchase from some of the gift shops.

Sleep

Lodging

The great room at the Paradise Inn

There are two inns located within the park. Reservations are recommended. There are also a large number of inns, cabins and vacation rentals near the southwest main park entrance along State Route 706 in the town of Ashford.

Camping

There are five developed campgrounds located within the park. Reservations are strongly recommended during the summer. Although older signs and maps may still list a sixth campground, Sunshine Point, it was destroyed in 2006 by flooding.

Backcountry

climbers on Mt. Rainier

60% of backcountry permits can be reserved, while 40% are available only in person on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits can be picked up at the Wilderness Information Centers at Longmire and White River, or at any ranger station during the summer. Winter permits are available at the Longmire Museum. There is no fee for a wilderness permit, but a reservation fee of $20 per party is charged. Permits may be obtained for groups of one to twelve people for up to fourteen days.

There is one established public shelter on Mt. Rainier, located at Camp Muir, 10,080' up the south side of the mountain. It is very crowded in summer and commonly used as a high camp by climbers on the mountain's most popular route. Camp Muir also has a ranger hut, a hut for commercially guided parties, and two outhouses. Reservations for overnight stays are taken by the park administration. Permits are required for overnight camps established above 10,000' elsewhere in the park.

Backcountry camping areas within the park include:

Permits may be reserved beginning March 15 by mail or fax. To make a reservation, download and fill out the Camping and Climbing Reservation Form. Requests received before March 15th will be discarded, but all requests received between March 15th and April 1st will be processed in random order.

Stay safe

Weather in the park can change quickly, so visitors should always bring raingear, a jacket, sunscreen and plenty of water when enjoying the park. The park is an active geologic area, and while the chances of a surprise eruption are low, rockfalls, floods and mudslides are unpredictable and visitors should take care when hiking in valleys and along streams. If a rumbling sound is heard while hiking, or if the water level begins to rise, find higher ground immediately.

Wildlife is generally not dangerous, but common sense should always be used. Give animals their space - keep at least one hundred yards from bears, but also remember that elk and other animals can be just as dangerous. A general rule of thumb is that if an animal is reacting to your presence, you are too close. Never feed any wildlife - it is bad for the animal, and will make that animal more aggressive towards humans. Do not leave scented items in your car as they may attract bears; food, deodorants, toothpaste, and other items should all be stored in bear-proof containers.

When hiking on the mountain, know your limits and do not venture onto glaciers. Seemingly solid ground often hides deep crevasses in the glaciers, making hiking dangerous. Travel on Rainier's glaciers should be attempted only by those familiar with glacier travel or those accompanied by an experienced guide.

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