What to visit at Mt. Rainier National Park?
Although you can see Mt. Rainier on a clear day from Seattle , it is in fact about 60 miles away as a bird flies and 14,410 above sea level at Puget Sound. This magnificent mountain, and the park that contains it, is a bit more of a challenge to access for those of us with two feet on the ground. Please keep in mind that like its Cascade Mountain neighbors, Mt. Rainier is an active volcano . What could happen is evidenced by the eruption of nearby Mt. St. Helens in 1980 when its eruption took off 1300 feet of the top of that volcano. An enormous ash cloud shot up 15 miles into the atmosphere, depositing ash across a dozen states. Massive flooding took place as well. It was all proceeded by a series of earthquakes that did give a warning of what was coming. Mount Rainier has not eruptd since 1894. As the highest peak in the Cascade Range it has the most glacier ice of any mountain in the contiguous U.S., which will complicate things whenever it does erupt.
How to get around?
Vistor Centers are located at Paradise, Longmire, Ohanapecosh, and Sunrise. Paradise is the only center open year round and the most visited.
Hiking Mt. Rainier is complicated and requires a high level of training since you are climbing over snowfields and on glaciers and covering a rise in elevation of 9000 feet from base camp. Most experienced climbers take two days not including a day for the mandatory education. Climbers must obtain permits for the hike from the park. The Mt. Rainier Climber's Site explains the process. Guides are also available. The preferred route starts from Paradise to Camp Muir , it takes about 5 hours at a leisurely pace. Then, after spending the night at Camp Muir, hikers travel to the summit, using the Disappointment Cleaver route, taking anywhere from 6 to 8 hours, depending on weather and the hiker's ability. Hikers not wishing to take on the entire Mountain can still be challenged by hiking trails from Paradise. The hikes range from the 45 minute Nisqually Glacier Vista Trail (200 foot elevation gain) near the visitors center to a 4 1/2 hour Skyline Trail (1700 foot elevation gain). Skline offers a hike through meadows of alpine wildflowers, past thundering waterfalls and spectacular ridgeline.
How to get to the Park?
ACCESS: Car access is most often through the Southern Nisqually entrance by Washington Route 706 by way of Route 7 from Interstate Highway 5 from Tacoma, or via Route 7 and Route 12 from Interstate Highway 5 from Portland. There is alternative highway access from the East and Northeast see Mt. Rainier access Map and Mt. Rainier directions. Several tour operators operate out of Seattle and rental car and shuttle service is available out of the Sea-Tac Airport. Unfortunately the Park does not operate a shuttle bus at this time. Amtrak has train service to Seattle.
Where to stay?
ACCOMODATIONS: Camping: The largest Park campgrounds are Cougar Rock or Ohanapecosh and both require reservations during the summer season. Cougar Rock is the premier site for those entering by the Nisqually Entrance and heading to Paradise. Additioanl camping is available at the La Wis Wis campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest just outside the Southern side of Mt. Rainier National Park (28 miles from campground to Paradise).