Mount Rainier is Washington State’s biggest volcano, at 14,410 feet high, and the National Park is even bigger around it! The park encompasses 236,381.49 acres on the west-side of the Cascade Range, and is located about 50 miles southeast of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. The park is approximately 97 percent wilderness and 3 percent National Historic Landmark District, and sees about 2 million visitors per year.
Here are things you might not know about Tahoma – from the mountain itself to the environment around it.
There are a lot of glaciers on Rainier. In fact, there are 27 major glaciers on Mount Rainier, and numerous unnamed snow or ice patches, which cover about 35 square miles. Mount Rainier’s glaciers support six major river systems, and many streams & lakes. The Emmons Glacier (near the Sunrise area) has the largest area (4.3 square miles), and the Carbon Glacier has the lowest terminus altitude (3,600 feet) of all glaciers in the contiguous 48 states.
Carbon Glacier Terminus, seen from The Wonderland Trail, looking up the Carbon River.
The mist and fog rolls in, it is a different world than when it is sunny. Everything is brighter – and the sounds muffled.
58 percent of the park is forested. It’s easy to think the mountain is, well, mountain, but much of the park is a slow climb up said rock. And there is so much forest. Much of it is old growth, some of it is well protected from forest fires even. A few of the largest Alaska Yellow Cedar Trees in the world hide in the park (and some can be hiked to).
In the middle of wilderness, there are beautifully built stone and wood shelters tucked away. They harken back to a day long ago. This one is at Indian Bar, on The Wonderland Trail.
The ones on The Wonderland Trail are used as group sites for backpacking. Often if no one is using it, and you have an overnight permit, you can stay in them if a backcountry ranger approves it.
The one at Summerland often has a broom, so make yourself busy and clean 😉
Rivers & Waterfalls:
Hidden in the forests are many streams, rivers, and waterfalls. Silver Falls is a hot tourist location, and is open before the snows melt up high in late spring. It is an easy hike, and can be done as a loop. Bonus? It passes an active hot spring area. Be sure to stop and look at the hot springs. While not huge or flashy, it is great for kids.
In the park there are a number of lookouts, all of which you can hike to. The easiest is Fremont Lookout, which is via the Sunrise area. Go on a cloudy day, and the hiking is cool, and easy. Hot days, or blue skies, lead to a lot of sweating, as you are heading towards 7,000 feet. It is in alpine tundra, so tread lightly and enjoy the views. Mountain goats roam here in the early morning.
Cross Country Hiking & Backpacking:
A lesser known thing is you can get cross-country permits to go to more remote places. However, you can’t do this near tourist heavy areas. And you must be off of the trails where you are not visible. There are more rules, including not while hiking the Wonderland Trail and so on. You must tread lightly, and spread out while walking. Yet, you can see so much you wouldn’t otherwise! The morning of this picture a family of mountain goats were on the rocks above us.
The Best Hikes Have No Mountain Views:
Crazy? Nope. Some of the best hikes at Rainier have no majestic views of the mountain. Due to that, these trails are often lonely, when the view trails are packed, even on an August weekend. The park has plenty to see: other ridges, peaks, flowers, plants, lakes, streams, etc. All without the crowds! And you can always take photos from the parking lots if you must have that!
And A Bonus!
The Wonderland Trail Has One Flat Spot:
It’s not there, I can tell you 😉 After hiking The Wonderland Trail, I decided the only flat spot was….the parking lots. And that is what truly makes the trail so special: you earn it. Up and down, up and down, all the way around!