Rainier 101

Introduction to Mount Rainier National Park


I wonder how many people routinely see Mount Rainier, but have never visited the park?


Frequently, we get a glimpse of Mount Rainier while running to the hardware store or getting groceries for the day. The views from Olympia are teasing us to look up, look outward, look inward, and find the drama of the mountain up close. 

What is it about snow-covered peaks in the distance? Mid-day, the summit could be mistaken as clouds or appear like a thunderhead on the horizon.

But, it isn’t a cloud.  

It's a mountain. Mount Rainier calls you to learn more. 

We have been working hard to get our condominium comfortable. Sometimes we find that we need to divert our attention from our project at hand. Daily activities can take up a whole day!  Sometimes we need to get outdoors and enjoy our big new neighborhood. 


Mount Rainier National Park is a national gem.  From our new home we plan to take many expeditions of discovery, but right now we want to relish in our ignorance and start our relationship with a gentle introduction. Like an introductory class, we start with the basics. 

“Hello, Mount Rainier. How are you today? We are new to Washington State, and everyone here has been so gracious.” 

Mount Rainier National Park is one of our oldest national parks established after Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Yosemite.  The Park has five entry points we start at the southern Nisqually Entrance. Our plan for the day is a hike, a picnic lunch, and a driving tour. We know we are fortunate because we know we don’t need to see it all in one visit. We will return many times. 

Model of Rainier National Park, at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. 

Model of Rainier National Park, at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. 

Lesson #1 - Rainier is a Big Hunk of Ice and a Lot of Open Space.

At the entrance station, we get the traditional map and seasonal newsletter. I find comfort in the familiar Park Service branding of the map. Welcomed by the traditional black header with white lettering and Park Service logo. Opening the map, I am surprised by the giant splat of white snow of the many glacier areas radiating from the mountain summit.  Ninety-seven percent of the park is wilderness and compared to other parks, there are few roads and services in the park. 


Lesson #2 - The Park Is Historic

Just inside the entrance station is the old park headquarters. There is a self-guided history walk around the rustic architecture, but we have planned to take a longer, moderate five-mile hike from Longmire to the Trail of the Shadows, Rampart Ridge trail, and the Wonderland Trail. Luckily, we brought our lunch with us because we found only a few services in the park. 

Longmire Museum in traditional Park Service motif. 

Longmire Museum in traditional Park Service motif. 

My Handsome Hiking Partner, and the Magnificent Mountain. 

My Handsome Hiking Partner, and the Magnificent Mountain. 

Lesson #3 - Beautiful Water isn’t Always Clear Water


Driving from Longmire, we crossed the headwaters of the Nisqually River. “We aren’t in the Sierra Nevada Mountains anymore.” The water ran muddy brown from the melt of the Nisqually glacier. At only 4,000 feet elevation, sub-alpine conifers grew together to form a solid fence overstay and a dark understory dotted with ferns and beargrass. 

Lesson #4 - Paradise is a Very Popular Place

Cars parked along the road just outside the Paradise Parking lot. 

Cars parked along the road just outside the Paradise Parking lot. 


We were going to stop at Paradise to see the meadow and check out the historic Paradise Inn. But it was so packed with cars, we couldn’t find a parking space. “Maybe we could do this offseason when we can park the car.”  And we put it on the list for next time. 

Lesson #5  - The Box is Under Construction

There are several nice pullouts and places to stop and go for a short hike. We stopped at Box Canyon hoping to add a second shorter hike, but the trail was closed fror trail re-construction.  I am glad that we didn't have our heart set on this trail today. "Next time we check it out and give it a try." This also goes on the list of places to go on another visit to Rainier. 

Lesson #6 - The Park has Nice Camping

We ended with a visit to the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center on the South-east corner of the park. The campground looks like fun and an excellent place to bring Eggburt. By camping, we can hit the trail early and beat the crowds of midday visitors. Camp close, get up early and enjoy the park all alone. Popular sites become over-crowded mid-day. Camping overnight is a great way to miss the mob scene at Mount Rainier. 

Lesson #7 - Climate Change is Real. 


At one of the scenic pull-outs, a brave Park Ranger was hosting a display and a discussion on Climate Change in Rainier National Park. I stopped to give her encouragement and thank her for being out talking to people about climate change.  

She told us "Thank you for your support. Last week I was literally yelled at by a visitor with just the opposite view." Yelling at a Park Ranger about climate channge. REALLY? There is an official park service brochure talking about changes we are already seeing in our National Parks. 

Our Park Service brothers and sisters are very brave in serving our country. 


Lesson #8 - Home is Close

The return drive was less than two hours, and we had no traffic or driving concerns. Looking at the map, we saw so little of this fantastic mountain! In our introduction to Mount Rainier was just the beginning of the curriculum to come.

Lesson #9 - Return Soon

Our sequence of classes from here on is going to be exciting. Now we have our Falcon Guide “Best Easy Day Hikes Mount Rainier, National Park."   

I passed the necessary introductory material but, I’ve still got some studying to do.  

Soon, I will again answer the call of Mount Rainier National Park. I already have several things on my list.

Did I mention that I like ferns? 

Did I mention that I like ferns? 


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