Designing Mount Rainier: Rustic Architecture of Mount Rainier National Park Video Transcript
Narrator: Passing through an entrance arch into Mount Rainier National Park takes you into a new world. In this park, buildings created of rough-hewn rock and natural timbers match the rugged terrain of their surroundings. Roads follow the curves of the landscape through old-growth forest and along lava ridges. Bridges span glacier-fed rivers and frame waterfalls.
From simple patrol cabins to grand lodges, from tunnels to bridges, rock walls and wooden arches, the park was built to celebrate the natural environment. This principle is a key component of the National Park Service Rustic style of architecture.
Mount Rainier National Park exists as one of the best examples of National Park Service, or “NPS”, rustic architecture in the country. It is one of the main reasons the park is recognized as a National Historic Landmark District. The designation preserves not just the buildings and the roads, but the ideals of the past: the value of building for the experience of the journey, not just to pass through; an appreciation for the natural world that extends not only into where buildings and roads were built but also into how they were designed.
Narrator: First constructed in 1911, the Nisqually Entrance arch stands as a literal as well as symbolic gateway to the mountain. Predating the 1916 creation of the National Park Service, the entrance arch with its massive rough-hewn logs helped establish the authority of the young park.
Modeled after the Nisqually Entrance, other entrances to the park also boast impressive log gateways, inviting visitors into the natural world.
The Oscar Brown Cabin at the Nisqually Entrance was built in 1908, and was the first ranger station in the park. Decorated with wood tracery, the building appears relatively delicate in comparison to other park buildings. Its wood construction and low profile design represents the first signs of NPS Rustic architecture style in Mount Rainier National Park.
Narrator: From the Nisqually Entrance Arch, trace the path of generations of visitors as you follow the road to Longmire.
Large trees remain right at the edge of the road, left there to preserve the integrity of the forest experience.
Narrator: With 58 recognized historic buildings, from the iconic Administration building to simple wood cabins that house employees, Longmire remains as one of the most extensive collections of NPS Rustic architecture in the country. Constructed with locally sourced boulders and wood, the buildings in Longmire blend into their forest surroundings.
The Longmire Suspension Bridge, built in 1924, is the only surviving suspension bridge for vehicles remaining in the National Park Service. The bridge is still used today. -
Narrator: The road to Paradise was designed to guide a visitor’s experience of the park. Curves in the road reveal unexpected and dramatic views of the mountain and its glacier-carved valleys. Bridges over Narada and Christine Falls frame waterfalls with stone-faced arches. The arches were built without extra adornment so that the eye is drawn to the waterfalls and not to the bridges. Pullouts provide opportunities to savor the journey.
Narrator: As the primary visitor destination in the park, buildings in the Paradise area strayed from the ideals of National Park Service Rustic architecture. Instead, they borrowed from the styles of popular European mountain resorts. This so-called “Resort Architecture” is higher profile with steeply-pitched roofs to shed snow and is less uniform in style from building to building.
Narrator: From Paradise, Stevens Canyon Road leads to the east side of the park, connecting to State Routes 410 and 123.
Following the standards of NPS Rustic architecture, the roads were constructed to look as natural as possible. Rocks used in wall construction had to be large, but variable in shape to disrupt any sort of uniform pattern. The weathered sides of the rocks were placed outwards to hide fresh cuts in the stone so that the rock walls looked as natural as the surrounding hillsides. The tops of the walls were often uneven or had crenulations to further disguise any straight lines that may catch the eye of the visitor.
Tunnels in the park were constructed in a similar design. Built in 1939, the tunnel on State Route 123 is 512 feet long with rock-clad entrance portals. Some of the stones in the portal are more than 6 feet wide to match the massive scale of the surrounding rock face. After construction, natural vegetation was replanted on the slopes around the tunnel entrance to help it blend into the hillside and to hide scars from the road cut.
Narrator: Due to the many streams, creeks, and waterways in the park, there are hundreds of culverts and bridges along park roads. The road from White River Entrance to Sunrise, a distance of 14 miles, has 150 culverts alone! 124 of those culverts still have their original historic masonry rockwork. Much like the stone entrance portals of the road tunnels, many culverts in the park have rock faces that help disguise their entrances.
Narrator: At Sunrise Point, large rock capstones along the walls roughly mimic the shape of Mount Rainier. This subtle design feature reinforces the views of the many peaks visible from Sunrise Point.
Narrator: Opened in 1931, Sunrise was developed to provide access to the eastern slopes of the mountain.
While Paradise might be the resort of the mountain, it also disorganized in design. The park builders took a different approach with Sunrise, modeling its layout after early territorial outposts of the Pacific Northwest. Tucked in at the end of the subalpine meadows of Yakima Park, the Sunrise stockade buildings are a tightly contained bundle, minimizing the impact on the meadows and keeping the focus on views of the mountain. Utilities are tucked out of sight behind the stockade fence, and the log construction returns to the values of the National Park Service Rustic style.
Narrator: With Paradise Road and Stevens Canyon crossing the park in the south and State Routes 410 and 123 in the east, the park’s early builders aimed to create an “around-the-mountain” network of park roads by constructing Carbon River Road in the north and Westside Road in the West. Debris flows and floods repeatedly damaged both Westside and Carbon River Roads, eventually closing them to vehicles. The goal of an encircling road system was abandoned.
The park founders did succeed in creating an “around-the-mountain” trail that came to be known as the Wonderland Trail. This impressive 93-mile route is marked by a ring of historic ranger cabins, also constructed in the style of NPS Rustic architecture.
Narrator: From the local materials used in park buildings to the carefully designed path of the road through the landscape, the ideals of harmony and enjoyment with the natural world valued by the park’s creators remain in the structures they left behind.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark District, the park’s buildings, roads, and developed areas are preserved and maintained so that they remain true to their original construction. Through this protection, future visitors will travel the same roads and paths as the first visitors to this park, lean against the same rocks walls, and marvel at the same views.
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From entrance arches and rock bridges to curving roads and rustic buildings, Mount Rainier National Park was designed with the visitor experience in mind. The park’s historic buildings and roads represent the development of a style of architecture, called "National Park Service Rustic", that has shaped the design of parks throughout the country. The style utilizes natural elements from the landscape to blend with environment while enhancing significant features of the park for the enjoyment of the visitor. Honored as a National Historic Landmark District, Mount Rainier preserves these roads and buildings in their original design so that you - and future generations - can experience the same awe-inspiring views as a century of visitors to the park.
Last updated: November 10, 2020