Mount Rainier – Washington

Mount Rainier National Park surrounds the highest peak in Washington State, Mount Rainier. It is also an active volcano that last erupted 150 years ago. It receives the most snow in the Cascade Mountains and has the most glaciers of any mountain in the lower 48 states. At 14,414 feet, it towers over all the other mountains in the Cascade Mountains and is a symbol of the Pacific Northwest.

There are two craters that emit geothermal heat which keep the crater rims ice free and have formed a volcanic glacier cave network within the craters that is the largest in the world. There is also the highest crater lake at 14,203, a sapphire gem that can only be seen by going through the ice caves. There are many reasons to enjoy Mount Rainier National Park including the old growth forests, numerous waterfalls, 300 miles of trails including one which is 92 miles long that goes around the circumference of the mountain.

The park is located southeast of Tacoma and 54 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington. It is connected to cities on every side by state roads which give easy access during the summer. The roads from the south are open all year round, but the roads from the north are closed at times depending on the weather. The park is open all year round, but winter visitors need to be well equipped for cold weather and understand the dangers of avalanche.

There is not a large tourist infrastructure at Mount Rainier National Park but there are lodges and rustic cabins for those who want to explore the park for a few days. The entrance fee is $15 for a private vehicle or $5 per person for a motorcycle for people 16 years and older. These entrance fees are valid for 7 days. There are other commercial fees for 6 seaters, vans, minibuses and RVs. For $30 an annual pass is available. Special permits are required for filming, weddings, scattering of ashes, First Amendment activities, military operations and organized rallies, sporting events and mountaineering training. Mountaineers and athletes have set many world records on its slopes.

Because the climate is varied, the vegetation is diverse. There is approximately 58% forest, 23% subalpine parkland and the rest is alpine. Half of the alpine area is permanent snow and ice and the other half has vegetation. Animals seen vary according to the seasons, but in the summer chipmunks, ground squirrels, marmots, chickarees and pika are often seen. Deer is also frequently seen but elk, mountain goats and black bear are very elusive. Elk mainly grazes on the eastern slopes in September and the mountain goats stay near the high cliffs. There are four federally listed endangered species including three birds and one fish. The gray wolf, Canada lynx, grizzly bear and Chinook salmon have been seen in the park, but at this time their status is unknown.

For those who plan to backpack into the wilderness there are guidelines to follow for safety. First, carry the ten essentials including a map of the area, a flashlight, compass, extra food and waterproof clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen, matches in a watertight container, pocketknife, a candle and a first aid kit. Any water used for drinking should be boiled or otherwise treated. Most importantly, friends or family need to know where hikers are going and when they plan to return.

Pets, bicycles and the use of firearms are prohibited in the back country as are bows and arrows and slingshots. All trash must be carried out. The resources including natural, archeological or cultural should not be damaged or disturbed.

The Mount Rainier National Forest has been kept as close to its pristine state since 1899. It is an amazing natural wilderness area for people to enjoy and experience. There is snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter and vast meadows of wildflowers in the spring.