Mount Rainier National Park

Location: Washington

Park Tally: 42/59

Orientation: Mount Rainier is located southeast of Seattle and on a clear day can be seen rising high in the distance from hundreds of miles away. Mount Rainier National Park is one of those special places that captivates anyone who experiences it, leaving visitors planning their next trip before they have even stepped out of the park. Whether you are after mountain vistas, breathtaking hiking trails, a campsite amongst pine trees or lush wildflowers meadows – Mount Rainier has it all (and more!) The park is open all year, though access is limited to the Nisqually Entrance during winter months.

“… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I have ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” – John Muir, 1889

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The park has five major areas to explore, with Mount Rainier situated in the center. The most popular section of the park is Paradise (southwest) due to its easy access, hiking trails, wildflowers, Visitor Center, Lodge and campground. Paradise is the area that most people begin the famous Wonderland Trail and the summit of Rainier. Sunrise (northeast) is the highest area in the park that can be driven to (at 6,400 feet above sea level). Here you will find panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain Range, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. The other three areas of the park are Longmire (southwest), Ohanapecosh (southeast), and Carbon/Mowich (northwest) – each having distinct features and opportunities for adventure.

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Most iconic view:  Mount Rainier itself is unquestionably the best view in the park. Sitting at 14,410 feet above sea level, Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. To many people’s surprise, the mountain is considered an active volcano and could erupt at any given moment. The scientific term for Rainier is an “episodically active composite volcano, also called a stratovolcano”, with the last eruption occurring around 150 years ago. There are endless amazing views of the mountain within the park, with a favorite being from the Paradise area.

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Accessible activity: Tipsoo Lake is a wonderful location to witness dramatic views of Mount Rainier. There are short trails around both Tipsoo and Upper Tipsoo Lakes and a main parking lot for easy access. The meadow around the lake provides colorful wildflowers during summer months and shades of reds and yellows in fall.

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Paradise offers numerous short walks leaving from the Visitor Center and Lodge. The Nisqually Vista Trail is a popular 1.2-mile walk with 200 feet of elevation gain and suitability for strollers and families. Hikers are treated to excellent views of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Glacier and lush high-country meadows. The Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls is another picturesque short walk. The 1-mile walk consists of only 100 feet elevation gain and is suitable for wheelchairs (with help) and strollers.

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For those looking for a more moderate hike, the Comet Falls Trail is a pleasant walk amongst pine trees and provides magnificent waterfall views. The 3.8-mile roundtrip hike climbs 900-feet in elevation to Comet Falls, though many visitors choose to hike to some of the lower waterfalls rather than complete the whole trail. The sight of Comet Falls thundering from 320 feet is spectacular and worth the trek in our opinion.

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For the adventurous: Mount Rainier National Park has plenty of options for adventure. Summer months are popular for hiking, backpacking, cycling, rafting, paddling and mountaineering. Winter time offer opportunities for snow-shoeing, skiing, snow-boarding and snowmobiling. A popular trek on the Carbon River/Mowich side of the park is to the Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout and Eunice Lake. The 7.5-mile roundtrip hike offers picturesque lake views and one of the best angles of Mount Rainier. Those wanting an even bigger adventure should consider hiking the 93-mile Wonderland Trail which circumnavigates the park, or better yet summiting Mount Rainier!

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Best photo opportunities: Mount Rainier is a photographer’s dream, with people coming from all over the world during summer to capture the lush wildflower meadows throughout the park. Peak season for wildflowers falls between mid-July to mid-August but varies each year depending on conditions. Some of our favorite spots for photography in the park are Upper Tipsoo Lake at sunrise, Tolmie Peak at sunset and the Comet Falls Trail for capturing long-exposure waterfall images.

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Quick facts

  • Mount Rainier was designated a National Park on March 2, 1899; making it the fifth national park in the United States.
  • The earliest evidence of human activity in the park is dated circa 2,000-3,800 BC. American Indian tribes inhabited the Mount Rainier area prior to European “discovery”, with the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, Muckleshoot, Yakama, and Cowlitz tribes living a subsistence lifestyle off the land.
  • Mount Rainier is known as “Tacoma” or Takhoma to Native Americans, which translates as “she who gives us the waters” or “the mountain that was god” in native languages.
  • The centerpiece of the park is Mount Rainier, standing at 14,411 feet above sea level and known as the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states.
  • Mount Rainier experiences around 20 small earthquakes a year, making it the second most seismically active volcano in the North Cascade Range, after Mount St. Helens.
  • The first well documented summit of Mount Rainier occurred in 1870 by General Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump.
  • Mammals found within the park include black bear, cougar, coyote, raccoon, bobcat, hare, weasel, mole, beaver, red fox, porcupine, marmot, skunk, deer, marten, shrew, pika, elk and mountain goat.
  • In 2016, Mount Rainier National Park had 1,356,913 visitors according to the National Park Service.

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