10 Mind-Blowing Facts About Mount Rainier and the National Park

10 Mind-Blowing Facts About Mount Rainier and the National Park

March 06, 2023

Mount Rainier is one of the most beautiful and well-known landmarks in the United States. It’s a sight to behold as lush greenery and wildflower meadows surround the rugged, ice-capped mountains.

Mount Rainier nestles just 60 miles outside Seattle, Washington. At 14,410 feet, it’s the highest mountain within the Cascade Range and the largest in Washington state.

Read on to discover interesting facts about this majestic mountain and learn more about the natural wonders of Mount Rainier National Park.

5 Amazing Mount Rainier Facts

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1. Its original name wasn’t Mount Rainier.

The Native American tribes that made Mount Rainier their home referred to it as either “Tahoma” (mother of waters) or “Tacoma” (that frozen water). The streams of water from Mount Rainier were a source of nourishment for the Native Americans.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy sailed into Puget Sound to explore and map the area. He then named Mount Rainier after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, who served as a Royal Navy officer in the Revolutionary War.

The history of Mount Rainier’s name is an ongoing discussion among several groups. Some argue that giving it a native name like Mount Tacoma brings much more historical value.

2. Mount Rainier is an active volcano.

The stratovolcano Mount Rainier is over 500,000 years old and can erupt anytime. Yep, you read that right. It got its steep, cone-like shape from the layers of lava and ash that built up from its previous eruptions.

According to an account from the National Park Service, Mount Rainier has repeatedly erupted over the past half a million years. The last major eruption was in 1894. Though it has been dormant for centuries, scientists believe it’ll awaken again.

As if that isn’t terrifying enough, Mount Rainier is also one of the deadliest active volcanoes on the planet. It’s classified as one of the “16 Decade Volcanoes,” a list of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. They’re identified based on the amount of damage they could cause when they erupt.

Mount Rainier is seismically active, too. Based on data collected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), at least three to four earthquakes occur within three miles of the summit each month.

The good news is you don’t have to worry about those when you visit Mount Rainier National Park. In partnership with the National Park Service, their rangers ensure you can safely enjoy your visit.

3. Mount Rainier lost 1,500 feet.

Mount Rainier’s actual elevation is 16,000 feet. However, an eruption in its upper area caused a colossal flow of rock and mud to travel down the mountain's northeast side. As the rolling rock and soil accelerated, it formed a mud wall known as the Osceola Mudflow, causing Mount Rainier to lose 1,500 feet of its original height.

4. Glacial ice covers Mount Rainier’s peak.

Mount Rainer

Glaciers are large chunks of ice that form on land when fallen snow gets compressed into ice over centuries. Being the tallest mountain on the northwestern edge of the Cascade Range, it’s no wonder that Mount Rainier has the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States.

Mount Rainier has 25 named glaciers, some of which are:

  • Carbon Glacier.
  • Emmons Glacier.
  • Ohanapecosh Glacier.
  • Nisqually Glacier.
  • Puyallup Glacier.

In the continental United States, Emmons is the largest glacier. It’s located on the northeast side of Mount Rainier and stretches over four miles.

Climbing Mount Rainier comes at a strenuous cost. Thousands of people attempt to reach the peak yearly, but less than half succeed. Climbers face rocky slopes and must endure Mount Rainier’s vertical elevation gain of 9,000 feet over more than eight miles. 

If you aim for a successful summit climb, ensure you’re well prepared to face extreme conditions (don’t forget to wear comfortable and warm clothing!). Train well for your hike and plan for the summit elevation you want to reach.

Mount Rainer Hoodie

Mount Rainier National Park Hoodie

Another cool fact about Mount Rainier is that it has three summit points:

  • Liberty Cap (14,112 feet).
  • Point Success (14,164 feet).
  • Columbia Crest (14,410 feet).

5. Mount Rainier has three different plant and life zones.

A wide range of animals and plants thrive in the high altitude of Mount Rainier, which is classified into three plant and life zones:

  • Forest Life Zone (1,700 to 5,000 feet in elevation): Trees as old as 1,000 years old grow in this zone. You’ll also spot diverse bird life here, and maybe even the Douglas squirrel!
  • Subalpine Life Zone (5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation): Here, you’ll find subalpine meadows where wildflowers bloom in the summer. Different butterfly species and hoary marmots also reside here.
  • Alpine Life Zone (7,000 to 14,410 feet in elevation): The perennial snow patches that adorn Mount Rainier are in this zone, and mountain goats call it their home.

5 Interesting Trivia About Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park Sweatshirt

Mount Rainier National Park Sweatshirt

1. Mount Rainier National Park preceded the National Park Service by 17 years.

Mount Rainier National Park is fifth in the US. However, it was created before the National Park Service was established in 1916!

John Muir and Bailey Willis spearheaded the initiative to designate Mount Rainier as a national park, and they succeeded in 1899. Camp Muir, a popular starting point for Mount Rainier hikers, is named after John Muir.

Rainier National Park is 369 square miles with four accessible campgrounds. It’s also the first national park in the US to allow cars, which attracted visitors to stay in the national park inn.

Mount Rainier National Park T-Shirt

2. There are reserved areas for Native Americans in the Rainier National Park.

Generations of Native Americans, settlers, and explorers all lived within the Mount Rainier area. And until now, six Native American tribes are still connected to the park.

For this reason, Rainier National Park continues to reserve particular areas for their rituals and worship. This helps ensure that the current generation of tribal members remains connected to their ancestors who first dwelled in the land thousands of years ago.

3. Rainier National Park has over 250 miles of hiking trails.

Hikers can enjoy 260 miles of maintained trails in Rainier National Park. The most popular is the 93-mile Wonderland Trail. It’s the first park trail that fully encircled Mount Rainier and takes around 10 days to complete. It extends through rainforests, subalpine meadows, glacial valleys, and volcanic ridges.

4. Over 280 wildlife species inhabit Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainer

Some of the most remarkable animals seen in the park are Steller’s Jays, Pacific fishers, and black-tailed deer. At Mount Rainier, you can find 65 mammal species, 14 species of amphibians, 5 species of reptiles, 182 types of birds, and 14 kinds of native fish.

964 plant species have also been documented in the park. A great way to enjoy the lush valleys dotted with vibrant wildflowers is by driving up to Sunrise center, the highest peak in the park accessible to cars.

5. An air force lieutenant flew a plane to the summit.

The strangest trivia in this list is the story of Air Force Lieutenant John W. Hodgkin. In April 1951, Hodgkin landed his plane at 14,410 feet on Mount Rainier’s summit. Though he scored a world record for a high-altitude landing, his stunt didn’t end well.

After landing, his plane wouldn’t take off, so he had to spend a night in sub-zero temperatures. Instead of waiting for a rescue team, Hodgkin slid his plane down Nisqually Glacier. But his engine still wouldn’t start, so he landed on the frozen Mowich Lake.

After receiving help from the Air Force, his plane finally took off. Unfortunately, he received a $350 fine and a six-month jail sentence for his illegal feat. What a wild ride!

Loving the National Parks?

Show your love for Mount Rainier and other amazing US National Parks with our National Parks apparel! Choose from various designs, so you can rep each park you visit. 

If you’re a Seattle native or a city fan, don’t forget to check out our Seattle collection too!


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