Last Updated on July 11, 2020 by Tom Shu
Ever since I was little, Mount Rainier has had a special place in my heart.
I still remember my first visit to Mount Rainier with my family when I was 15. The sight of the mountain poking through the clouds, the explosion of colors from the wildflower blooms during the summer, and the funny little chipmunks running around was something I had always remembered.
Ever since that trip, I knew I wanted to visit again, so it was one of the first things I did after moving to Washington State!
Since moving here, I have traveled to Mount Rainier more than 10 different times and even got the annual pass so I can go whenever I want now.
There are still a ton of places I want to visit within Mount Rainier National Park, but in the meantime, here is a collection of the 30 most interesting facts about Mount Rainier that I have found so far!
30 Unbelievably Interesting Facts About Mount Rainier
1.) Native American Tribes Have Explored Mount Rainier National Park for Centuries
Before Mount Rainier National Park was even created, multiple Native American tribes explored the river valleys, meadows, and forests of Mount Rainier to hunt, gather berries, and look for medicinal plants. This continued even after the national park was established in 1899.
In fact, these Native American tribes still call the area home and the National Park still has active relationships with the Muckleshoot, the Yakama, the Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Cowlitz and Puyallup tribe in the area.
Based on archaeological findings, Ancestors of these tribes started exploring areas on Mount Rainier as early as 8,500 years ago!
2.) Over 260 Miles of Maintained Trails for Hiking
Mount Rainier is as close to a hikers paradise as you can get! There are over 260 miles of well maintained hiking trails that range in all difficulty levels from beginner to intermediate. Don’t think that great views only come with the harder hikes either.
Some of my most memorable experiences and some of the best views I have seen were on the shortest hikes!
The best part is that since there are so many trails, you can easily create an itinerary that fits your skill level.
3.) There are 25 Glaciers on Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier has at least 25 glaciers (named) and several other un-named snowfields. Some of its top glaciers include the Carbon, Winthrop, Emmons, CoWiltz-Ingraham, Paradise-Stevens, Nisqually, Kautz, South Tahoma-Tahoma, Puyallup, North Mowich, and the Summit. The cool thing is that you can easily travel to a location with a great view of some of the largest glaciers on the mountain.
Some of the best views of Emmons Glacier, which is the glacier with the largest surface area in the continental US can be found a short hike away from Sunrise Visitor Center.
4.) Sunrise – The Highest Point Reached by Vehicle
Maybe you have gotten a sense of how much I like Sunrise by now 🙂 Coming in at a lofty height of 6,400 feet, Sunrise is the topmost point that you can reach by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park.
On a clear, sunny day, you not only can get spectacular views of Mount Rainier, but as I mentioned already, you can get unreal views of the Emmons glacier. During wildflower season between mid-July through August you can also see the beautiful wildflower meadows everywhere you look.
After visiting many different parts of the park over the last year, Sunrise is by far my favorite spot to go so far!
5.) 3 Different Plant and Life Zones on Mount Rainier
Owing to its massive difference in elevation (almost 13,000 feet), you get to witness a wide range of habitats and life-zones across Mount Rainier. In each different zone, you will see different types of plants and animals who have adapted to life at that elevation. The three different plant and life zones in Mount Rainier are:
Photo by John Westrock on Unsplash
- Forest Life Zone: 1,700 to 5,000 feet in elevation. In this life zone, you will be able to see some of the oldest growths in the park with some trees being over 1,000 years old! Animals you might run into include the Douglas Squirrel and a huge variety of different birds.
- Subalpine Life Zone 5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation. In this life zone, you will be above the lush forests of Mount Rainier and into the alpine meadows in the park. It’s in this life zone where you will find wildflowers blooming in the summer, the over 65 species of butterfly and cute fluffy Hoary Marmots.
- Alpine Life Zone 7,000 to 14,410 feet. In this life zone, you will be above the alpine meadows and into patches of snow (even during the summer months). Only a few tiny plants can grow at this harsh elevation, but you might be able to spot a mountain goat or two!
6.) There are More than 65 Species of Animals
As I mentioned in #5, since there is such a drastic change in elevation at Mount Rainier, there is a diverse range of animals found on the mountain. In total you can find 65 species of mammals, 14 different species of amphibians, 5 types of reptiles, 182 types of birds and 14 different types of indigenous fish.
Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash
Out of all the animals found in the park, the black bear, elk, and mountain goat are by far the most popular animals that people want to see when they visit. In fact, earlier this summer I ran into a few black bear feeding on some summer berries, so it is possible to see them.
7.) The Mountain is Actually 58% Covered by Forests
Even though the main attraction in Mount Rainier National Park is obviously Mount Rainier, more than half the park at 58% is actually covered in forests. Some of the common vegetation found in the forested areas of the park include Douglas fir, Western Red Cedar, and Western Hemlock at low elevation; Pacific silver fir, and western white pine at mid-elevations, and mountain hemlock at higher elevations.
8.) The Rare Cascade Red Fox of Mount Rainier
Hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to see this cute little guy. The Cascade Red Fox is a subspecies of the common red fox that is only found in the higher elevations at Mount Rainier. Their favorite hunting grounds is in the alpine forests found at the Alpine Life Zone of the mountain. Unfortunately because of change in climate and human development, they are now on the Natural Heritage Critically Imperiled Species list.
9.) More than 2 Million People Visit Every Year
At least 2 million people visit Mount Rainier National Park every year. What’s crazy to think about is that even though Mount Rainier sees about 2 million people visit a year, that amount of people traffic doesn’t even make it in the top 10 of busiest national parks in the US.
To put it in perspective Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee gets 11.4 million visitors a year.
10.) Camping is one of the Most Popular Activities at the Mount Rainier
In Mount Rainier, there are 3 car campgrounds where you can drive straight up to your campsite, 1 walk-in campground, and plenty of back country campsites. If you are thinking about going camping at Mount Rainier make sure to check if reservations are available or not. The walk-in campground is on a first come first serve basis, but the 3 car campgrounds do have a few spots for reservation.
11.) Lost 1,500 Feet of Its Height
Yes, you read that right! Mount Rainier has actually lost more than 1,000 feet of its original height. The event involved an eruption on the upper area of the mountain, which caused a giant flow of rock and mud to roll down the northeast side of the mountain. As the rock and mud gained speed it created a wall of mud that some say was as high as 100 feet tall and is now known as the Osceola Mudflow.
Mount Rainier ended up losing close to 1,500 feet of its height because of this eruption. At the time, Mount Rainier stood an impressive 16,000 feet tall. Now it comes in at 14,411 feet.
12.) Mount Rainier is One of the Deadliest Active Volcanoes in the World
Mount Rainier is still considered to be an active volcano even though the last eruption happened in 1894 and is classified as one of the 16 Decade Volcanoes. These volcanoes are designated by the International Association of Volcanology and the Chemistry of Earth’s Interior as being the most hazardous volcanoes in the world based on the amount of damage that could occur if it did erupt.
13.) Mount Rainier is Seismically Active
Going off of #12, Mount Rainier is actually one of the most seismically active volcanoes in Washington and Oregon. According to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, there are at least 3 to 4 earthquakes within 3 miles of the summit EVERY MONTH! Of course, most of these earthquakes are small, but occasionally you will get a larger earthquake like the magnitude 4.5 in October 2006.
14.) Emmons Glacier – The Largest Glacier in the Continental US
As I mentioned in #3, Mount Rainier has a huge amount of glaciers to see. Emmons Glacier which is located on the Northeast side of Mount Rainier, is the largest glacier by surface area in the Continental US.
The glacier is named after the Geologist Samuel Franklin Emmons, who successfully summited and surveyed the mountain in 1870. Emmons Glacier is also part of the Colombia Crest route to climb to the summit of Rainier.
15.) The Epic Wonderland Trail
One of the most epic hikes you can do in Mount Rainier is the multi-day 93 mile Wonderland Trail that circles the national park. Most people will complete the entire trail in about 10 days and during the hike you will traverse glacial valleys, sub-alpine meadows, temperate rain forests, and even volcanic ridges.
16.) Home to a Small Population of Northern Spotted Owls
There is a small population of Northern Spotted Owls that have been protected for over 100 years. This owl has been on the endangered list since 1990. Sadly, even though there have been measures put in place to protect these owls it looks like Barred Owls have been overtaking them in the Mount Rainier area. Hopefully something else will be able to be done as scientists are predicting that Northern Spotted Owls could become extinct in 6 – 8 decades if this trend continues.
17.) Mount Rainier First Known as Tahoma
Mount Rainier was actually known as Tahoma, which comes from a Puyallup word and means “mothers of water”. The mountain was then named Rainier in 1792 by the British explorer George Vancouver for his friend Pete Rainier. To this day there is still some argument of changing back to the original name of Tahoma.
The argument is that the name Tahoma has history, meaning, and importance to the Native American people. On the other hand, Pete Rainier never visited Mount Rainier and the closest he ever got to it was the East Coast of the US.
18.) Mount Rainier has 3 Summits
When you look at Mount Rainier from a distance it looks like there is only 1 main summit of the mountain. In reality, though, at the top of Mount Rainier is a large 1,000 foot wide crater and within the crater ridge there are 3 different summits. The 3 summits of the mountain are Liberty Cap at 14,112 feet, Point Success at 14,164 feet, and the highest summit Colombia Crest at 14,411 feet.
19.) Parts of Mount Rainier Can Be Traced Back 840,000 Years
The earliest deposits from Mount Rainier’s lava flow that has been found dates back to a crazy 840,000 years ago. This lava actually formed an ancestral Rainier cone that predated the current cone shape that you can see, which is about 500,000 years old.
20.) Ice Worms Live on the Glaciers of Mount Rainier
Yep, you read that right! If squiggly, squishy worms give you the creeps then maybe the glaciers on Mount Rainier are not the best place for you to explore. These ice worms are the only worm in the world that are believed to live their entire life on ice. This means they are born on ice, grow up on ice, lay eggs on ice, and eventually die on ice.
The ice worms that are found in Mount Rainier are also found in the glaciers of Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and British Colombia, but have interestingly not been found on other glaciers in the world.
They tend to squiggle their way to the surface of the glacier in the morning and night to feed on snow algae and can grow to be an inch in length.
21.) Scientists Explored the Ice Caves of Mount Rainier to Search for Clues to Life on Mars
In July 2017, a team of scientists and volunteers climbed up Mount Rainier with 1,800 pounds of equipment to research the infamous fumarole ice caves of Mount Rainier. The network of caves is over 2 miles long and 465 feet deep and it was the first time scientists focused on researching it.
Photo by isaac sloman on Unsplash
The research project is still going on to this day and is scheduled to end in 2020. One of the goals of the project is to study the extremophiles, which are tiny organisms that live in harsh environments like these and feed off the noxious gases in the cave.
By studying them, scientists may have a better understanding of life on other planets like Mars.
22.) An Air Force Lieutenant Landed a Plane on the Summit
In April 1951, John W. Hodgkin, an Air Force Lieutant equipped his plane with skis and landed his plane on the summit of Mount Rainier at 14,410 feet! At the time it was a new world record for a high-altitude landing.
What makes the story even more unbelievable is that his plane wouldn’t start when he tried to take off so he had to spend the cold night in his plane! Then the next day, he slid his plane down Nisqually Glacier and glided without power to Mowich Lake for a landing.
The story doesn’t end here!
At Mowich Lake, an Air Force rescue plane dropped 20 gallons of gas for him to refuel the plane and from there he flew to Spanaway where he first took off from. Now that’s one hell of an adventure!
23.) Mount Rainier is Home to Heather Plant Communities Older Than 10,000 Years Old
Because of the work of Ola Edwards, a University of Washington botanist, we now know that the heather communities on the mountain date back to more than 10,000 years ago. She was able to make the discovery by carbon-dating and analyzing the pollen of the plants from ashes on the mountain.
24.) A Huge Flood Hit Mount Rainier in 2006 Closing the Park Down for 6 Months
It was a rain of epic proportions. On November 6 and 7, 2016 close to 18 inches of rain fell on the national park in the span of 36 hours causing all sorts of havoc. The rivers and streams in the park flooded with water and in the end the National Park Service estimated the damages caused by the flooding to be more than $36 million. It was by far the worst flooding disaster to hit Mount Rainier in its 108 year life!
25.) The Famous Naturalist John Muir Summited Mount Rainier
Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash
In 1888, the famous naturalist John Muir summited Mount Rainier, which he had said in his article “An Ascent of Mount Rainier” to be the grandest excursion of all to be made in the area.
After making his ascent of the mountain and writing the article, John Muir later went on to advocate for the preservation of Mount Rainier. Camp Muir, which is a popular starting point for climbers who are attempting to summit Mount Rainier is named after him.
26.) There Used to Be a Golf Course on Mount Rainier
On August 8, 1931 a golf course by the name of Paradise Golf Course was actually opened on Mount Rainier. The course claimed to be the highest golf course in the US at that time coming in at 5,500 feet above sea level. Probably because of the design restrictions of building a golf course on the mountain, each golf hole was downhill and when you finished a car brought you all the way back up to the first hole.
The course was only open for 2 months since it opened at the start of the Great Depression, but it was a good thing as the course was built on top of the fragile alpine meadows on the mountain.
27.) Mount Rainier was the First National Park to Allow Cars
Mount Rainier was actually the first national park in the US to allow cars. This was so popular with tourists that by the time the road to Paradise was finished in 1910, close to a third of the park ranger’s main job was controlling the traffic from visiting cars.
If you have ever visited the park, then you know how long and winding the road to Paradise Visitor Center is. I can only imagine how bumpy and long of a trip it must have been in one of the Ford Model Ts at that time.
28.) Reaching the Summit Takes Over 9,000 Feet in Elevation Gain
Climbing to the top of Mount Rainier is one of the hardest mountain climbs in the continental US and is often used as a training ground for mountaineers preparing to summit even harder mountain peaks in places like Alaska and the Himalayas.
In order to reach the summit of Mount Rainier, you will have to gain more than 9,000 feet in vertical elevation over a total distance of 8 or more miles. In 2018, 10,762 people attempted to summit with only about a half, 5,135 making it.
29.) There are 6 Fire Lookouts Accessible in the Mount Rainier National Park
Currently in the state of Washington there are 93 fire lookouts still standing in their original location. Out of the 93 fire lookouts, 4 are located within Mount Rainier National Park and offer crazy good views of the mountain when you make it there.
30.) A 77 Year Old Woman Summited Mount Rainier in 2002
In late August 2002, Bronka Sundstrom, a 77 year old woman made it to the summit of Mount Rainier with the help of 2 guides from Paradise in 4 hours and 40 minutes. In total she had gained a total elevation of 5,420 feet. What’s incredible is that most people take 2 days to climb the mountain. Even from Camp Muir, which is at 10,000 feet in elevation, most people take 6 – 8 hours to reach the summit!
31.) The Oldest Man to Summit Mount Rainier 81
Here’s an extra one for you that goes with #30. The oldest man that is believed to have summitted Mount Rainier is Jack Borgenicht from Long Valley, New Jersey. He climbed to the summit in 3 days with the help of guides, which is still an amazing feat!
There you have it! The 30 most interesting facts that I have found about Mount Rainier! Like I was saying, Mount Rainier is definitely one of my favorite places to go in Washington State and every time I go, I learn something new.
If enjoyed this article and are a fact hunting nerd like me, I also wrote an article about the 100 most interesting facts about Japan that you might like too!
Also, if you have any interesting facts about Mount Rainier that you think I should add to this article, just let me know! I plan to keep this more as a running list of all the facts that I’m able to find versus just an article written in stone.