About the Site
Mt. Rainier National Park  


Park History

The Mountain

Paradise Area

Paradise Inn

Jackson Visitor Center

Longmire Area

The Tatoosh Range




Rivers & Creeks


Box Canyon

Other Park Areas

Grove of the Patriarchs



Birds & Animals




Mt. Rainier National Park is one of three national parks in the state of Washington and is one of America's oldest parks, being one of only five founded in the 19th century. The park was created to preserve one of America's most spectacular scenic wonders, the snow-capped volcano known as Tahcoma to Indians in ages past and as Mt. Rainier now. While the mountain is unquestionably the centerpiece of the park, its 235,612 acres (378 square miles) also contain mountain ranges, elaborate glaciers, rivers, deep forests, lush meadows covered with wildflowers during the summer, and over 300 miles of trails. 96% of the park is classified as wilderness.

Mt. Rainier is arguably the most spectacular mountain peak in the lower 48 states. The peak, which reaches an altitude of 14,410 feet, rises over 8,000 feet above the surrounding mountains, quite different from the mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevadas or Rocky Mountains. Mt. Rainier is one of most massive volcanoes in the world.

Another feature for which the park is well known is the ice on the slopes of the mountain. There are 26 named glaciers on the flanks of the peak. This is the largest glacier system on any peak in the United States.

Mt. Rainier is one of America's most heavily visited national parks as well, attracting more than 2 million visitors a year. This is due not only to the spectacular nature of its scenery but also to its proximity to to the major population centers in the Puget Sound area of western Washington state. It is located about 95 miles from Seattle and 70 from Tacoma. Some 3.3 million people live within 3 hour drive of the park, and about 1/2 of the park's annual visitors are from the state of Washington. Over 2 million people visit the park each year. Among the prominent people who have visited the park are three presidents--Theodore Roosevelt in 1910, William Howard Taft in 1911, and Harry S. Truman in 1945.

Mt. Rainier is one of the most spectacular features of one of the most noteworthy parts of the United States.

Park History

While Europeans did not arrive in the northwest until fairly recently, there is evidence of human habitation in the park area as long as 3500-6000 years ago. Archaeological evidence dating back 2000 years includes cave shelters, camps, and a single site where stone for tools was quarried.

Although there is no evidence that Indians actually lived within the present borders of the park, 10 tribes, including the Puyallup, Nisqually, Yakima, Cowlitz, and Klickatat used the area on a seasonal basis. These peoples hunted marmots and mountain goats and gathered food such as roots, berries, and herbs on the mountain, but rarely ventured above the snowline. These native Americans regarded the mountain as a being with spiritual powers. It is not known whether or not any of the native people climbed to the mountain's summit, although there is no solid evidence that they did.

The first white man to see the mountain was sea captain George Vancouver of the Royal British Navy in 1792 who named the mountain in honor of his friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. Capt. Vancouver recorded, in his log, mention of a "high, round mountain covered with snow" (Sierra Guide). The first European to set foot in the area of the present park was Dr. William Frazier Tolmie of the Hudson's Bay Company, which had a settlement near Tacoma called Ft. Nisqually, in 1833 on a botanical expedition. In subsequent years the area was visited by hunters and fur trappers and other explorers.

Settlement of the area began in the mid 19th century. This included the activities of James Longmire, a man from Indiana who pioneered a route across the Cascades and settled in the area. Longmire, in 1883, built a resort at the hot springs area southwest of the mountain which came to be known as Longmire Springs. The peak also attracted the attention of mountaineers who welcomed the challenge of reaching its summit. Although it is not clear whether the Indians ever scaled the summit of the mountain, and there is some evidence that Rainier was climbed in 1854, the first documented ascent of the mountain, by Hazard Stevens and Philemon Von Trump, occurred in 1870. Stevens was a Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War, and was son of the first governor of the Washington Territory. Longmire helped a number of climbers attempt the ascent and later climbed the mountain himself at an advanced age.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

The mountain and other scenic wonders of the northwest began to gain attention by the latter part of the 19th century. Publicity for the mountain and the general area was generated by the Great Northern Railroad, which promoted the idea of a park in the same way as other railroads were promoting national parks in the west. Between 1883 and 1893 the transcontinental tracks arrived in the northwest. In addition to increased attention, the spectacular nature of the mountain also drew calls got preservation. The first people on record to advance the idea of preserving the mountain in a national park was advanced by two foreigners, Karl von Zittel of Germany and James Bryce of England.

The mountain received more publicity as a result of visit by naturalist John Muir, who climbed to the summit on a visit. Muir was the west's foremost spokesperson for a nationwide movement to preserve America's magnificent natural lands and his advocacy for Yosemite National Park was legendary. Muir also began to advance the idea of a national park for Mt. Rainier. Additional publicity was garnered by pictures taken by Seattle photographer Arthur C. Warner who climbed the mountain with Muir. Warner, in fact, was the first man to take photographs from high on the peak.

By 1893, a concerted effort to establish a national park was being made, supported by newspaper articles, petitions, and other activities. In 1893 President Harrison established the Pacific Forest Preserve, which included the lands surrounding Mount Rainier. The presidential committee on the management of forest preserves recommended national park status for both Mount Rainier and Grand Canyon.

More momentum began to build in 1894 when the National Geographic Society, the Geological Sociey of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Sierra Club, and the Appalachian Mountain Club petitioned congress for the establishment of a national park at Mt. Rainier.

The final bill establishing Mt. Rainier was signed by President William McKinley on March 2, 1899. It became the nation's 5th national park, after Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant. The park was officially designated as Mt. Rainier National Park, although it had earlier been referred to as Washington National Park. Locals actually preferred the name Mt. Tacoma for the great mountain.

During its early days it was difficult to get to the park. In the first year the park attracted about 2000 visitors, but within 15 years visitation approached 15,000. In 1905, the Tacoma-Eastern Railroad buit tracks all the way to Ashford near the park, enhancing the accessiblity of the new park.

Paradise Valley was the destination of choice for many of the park's early visitors. As with other parks, the arrival of the automobile had a dramatic influence on visitation to the park. In 1911 for the first time automobiles were able for the first time to travel from Longmire from to the Paradise area.

Visitor facilites were also constructed in time in the park. The first visitor services were provided by James Longmire with the Longmire Springs Resort in the southwest corner of the the park. In 1905 the Rainier National Park Company was established. In 1906 the Tacoma Eastern Railroad Co. constructed a visitor's hotel, the National Park Inn, in the Longmire area. Later, the Paradise Inn (below) was built in the Paradise area.

The park continued to gain further notoriety. In 1909 the photographer Asabel Curtis, a big proponent of the park, led the Mountaineers on an outing to Moraine Park. In 1912 the Seattle Tacoma Rainier National Park Committee was formed with the goal of increasing national awareness of the park. In 1915, the Saturday Evening Post published an article about Mount Rainier National Park.

Over time the park continued to be developed. The 93 mile Wonderland Trail which circles the mountain, was finished in 1915. The size of the park was increased in 1931 when 34,000 acres was added, extending the borders of the park to the crest of the Cascade mountain range.

Visitation in the park continued to grow with time. Before World War II, in 1939, it reached a level of one quarter million, although it fell by 50% during the war.

As with other national park, the 1930's also saw the involvement of the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In Mt. Rainier National Park these men worked on projects to prevent soil erosion, control floods, aid in reforestation, build roads and erect bridges, maintain trails, build entrance gateways build patrol cabine and fire lookouts.

Many features of the park were upgraded in the 1950's as part of the National Park Service's "Mission 66" project. Improvements to the park and its facilities continue to be made. Over one million people visit Mt. Rainier National Park annually.

- Next Page for Mt. Rainier National Park -

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com