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Mt. Rainier in Washington State: Climb a volcano and more

Paradise, Sunrise, the names of the two most popular spots in Mt Rainier National Park, beckon as does the impressive 14,411 foot mountain peak which dominates the Puget Sound horizon.

Explore an Active Volcano: Mt. Rainier

It is the tallest peak in Washington, and fifth tallest in the U.S. This glacier covered volcano can be viewed from many spots, but nothing compares to viewing it up close. A two to three hour drive from Seattle, Mt. Rainier has an outdoor experience for everyone, whether you hike, like to camp overnight in a designated backcountry area, spend a leisurely day looking at summer wildflowers in the alpine meadows or snowshoe in the winter.

Geologically Mt. Rainier is a young volcano, less than a million years old, and still considered to be active. Unlike its sister Cascade volcano, Mt. St. Helens, Rainier's most recent major eruption occurred in the 1890s. But even today, there are still steam emissions along the crater and mudflows which send glacial rock sliding down the sides of the mountain.

When Europeans arrived in the area, they heard local natives call the mountain "Takhoma" or "snow mountain". In 1792, George Vancouver named it Mt. Rainier after a friend and British naval officer, Admiral Rainier. People in the area used both names for nearly 100 years, until March 1899 when it became the fifth in the nation's park system -- Mt. Rainier National Park.

Heading to Paradise

One of the best ways to experience Mt. Rainier in a short visit is to take the road all the way from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise, where the Jackson Visitor Center is located.

On the seventeen mile drive up to Paradise, you will pass historic buildings, waterfalls, old growth forest (trees that are at least 250 years old) and miles of trails. There are over 240 miles of maintained trails in the park. Stop along the way and get out of the car to walk or snap a photo.

One of the first stops might be at Longmire, 6.5 miles from the entrance. Here you will find the Longmire Historic District, which includes the Longmire Museum, the old Longmire homestead and the National Park Inn. The first park headquarters was sited here in 1916. Other awesome stops on the way to Paradise include Christine Falls, Glacier Bridge (see the Nisqually Glacier) and Narada Falls.

The end of the road is Paradise. Since it is the most popular destination, parking may be difficult on summer weekends. On a clear day, the mountain looks spectacular sitting right in front of you. On other days, clouds may hide it completely!

Jackson Visitor Center

There are several short walks around the alpine meadows from the Jackson Visitor Center. The explosion of wildflowers in July and August is exquisite. Walking the paved path to the east takes you across a stream and small waterfall with a view of the mountain in the background. Of the 54 mammals in the park, it is common to see Douglas and Golden Mantled ground squirrels, black tailed deer, marmots and red foxes in the area, as well as a variety of birds.

The Jackson Visitor Center offers exhibits and a video about Mt. Rainier as well as a bookstore, restrooms, and a snack bar. On a clear day, the view of the mountain from the center is spectacular. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rangers lead guided tours from the Visitor Center in the summer.

If you have more than one day to visit, consider staying at the 118-room newly remodeled Paradise Inn or the 25-room National Park Inn at Longmire. Rooms with a bath start around $132. The next day head to Sunrise, which at 6,400 feet is the highest point reached by a paved road. A great view of the Emmons glacier is found here.

If You Go

For more information call visitor center at 360-569-2211 X3314 or their website at

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Janice Lovelace, a freelance photojournalist, lives in Western Washington. This is the perfect jumping off point for many outdoor activities throughout the year. She writes and photographs primarily about nature and outdoor travel. She has traveled with her camera throughout most of the US (including Alaska and Hawai'i), Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Russia and SE Asia. Her articles have appeared in regional and national magazines.

October 31,2015

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