10 Exciting Facts About Mount Rainier National Park

USA, Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, people hiking on trail
Rene Frederick / Getty Images

At 14,410 feet in elevation, Mount Rainier easily towers over smaller rivals in the Cascade Range. With its snow-covered volcanic cone, Mount Rainier is also the most recognizable feature in its namesake national park, located roughly 50 miles south of Seattle.

Mount Rainier National Park was established in 1899. Today, it’s a vibrant ecosystem and wilderness area encompassing hundreds of waterfalls, ample hiking trails, and alpine meadows sporting colorful summer blooms. 

Learn more about this exciting destination with these 10 Mount Rainier National Park facts.

Mount Rainier Is Covered in Glaciers

With 25 major glaciers and over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow cover, Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciered peak in the lower 48 states. The largest glacier in the park is Emmons Glacier, with a surface area of 4.3 square miles.

It’s One of the Snowiest Places on Earth

USA, Washington, Mt. Rainier NP, Tatoosh Range, winter
The view from Paradise Meadows of the Tatoosh Range in Mount Rainier National Park. Alan Majchrowicz / Getty Images

The park’s Paradise area averages 639 inches of snow a year, based on snowfall data collected over the past century. That’s 53 feet of snow! But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the 1971-72 season saw a still-record 1,122 inches (93.5 feet) of snowfall. Even with all that snow, you can still bring a tent and camp in the winter.

Few Climbers Summit Mount Rainier

Tyler Stableford / Getty Images

Each year approximately 10,000 people set out to climb Mount Rainier. Roughly half reach the summit, showing the difficulty of the climb. The hike is both physically and mentally demanding and requires mountaineering skills.

Wildflower Blooms Can Be Legendary

USA, Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, Mt. Rainier and flower m
Alan Majchrowicz / Getty Images

Hundreds of species of wildflowers can be found in the park. The fragile, subalpine and alpine meadows typically bloom by mid-July producing an array of color.

John Muir once said that Mount Rainier was “the most luxuriant and most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top ramblings.” High praise from a man who drew most of his breaths exploring and chronicling the high mountains of the Western U.S.

There Are Hundreds of Waterfalls in the Park

Foggy Myrtle Falls Creek
NatChittamai / Getty Images

Elevation and rocky terrain combined with lots of rain and plenty of snow mean one thing: waterfalls. And Mount Rainier National Park has over 150 of them.

One of the most picturesque cascades is 300-foot-tall Comet Falls, which plummets off a cliff into a rocky meadow ravine. But there are plenty of others to explore—from easy strolls to longer, rewarding hikes snaking through forests and both subalpine and alpine ecosystems.

An Ancient Forest Thrives Here 

Northern Spotted Owls
Northern spotted owls. Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

Sitting along the Ohanapecosh River, the Grove of the Patriarchs is home to an old-growth forest. Here, thousand-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees flourish in the low valley, Pacific silver firs grow in the midlands, and groves of subalpine fir and mountain hemlock can be found in the higher elevations.

One of the forest’s more famous inhabitants is the northern spotted owl, a threatened species living sporadically throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

Large Cats and Other Animals Roam the Woodlands

As you can imagine there is a lot of wildlife in this 236,380-acre national park, including cougars, bobcats, and black bears. Snowshoe hares, elk, and mountain goats live in higher elevations, while bald eagles and hundreds of bird species fly overhead.

It Was Originally Called Tahoma

The mountain was originally called Tahoma, meaning “mother of all waters,” by native people of the Puyallup tribe. It only took on the Mount Rainier name in 1792 when, on a mapping exhibition, British explorer Captain George Vancouver saw the peak and named it after his friend Admiral Peter Rainier.

For the past couple of decades now, activists have tried to push officials to rename the mountain Tahoma.

Mount Rainier Is an Active Volcano

Mount Rainier Towering over Seattle, Puget Sound, and Sailboats on a Sunny Day, Washington State
Michael Riffle / Getty Images

One of five active volcanoes in the Cascade Range, Mount Rainier is a stratovolcano. Past eruptions have formed its conical shape. This type of volcano usually produces slow-moving, high viscosity lava that tends not to spread far before cooling and hardening.

Mount Rainier is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, a string of volcanoes running from Lassen Peak in northern California into southern British Columbia. 

It’s a Dangerous Volcano 

Mount Rainier is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. And an eruption, although unlikely, could be catastrophic.

Scientists say the large amount of glacial ice on Mount Rainier makes it capable of producing massive lahars that could devastate communities in the lower valleys.

Mount Rainier last erupted 1,000 years ago and reportedly showed signs of activity in 1894 releasing steam and plumes of black smoke. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Mount Rainier Glaciers." National Park Service.

  2. "Annual Snowfall Totals." National Park Service.

  3. "Waterfalls." Visit Rainier.

  4. "Volcanoes." National Park Service.