America's Fifth Park

Purpose of Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park exists to protect and preserve unimpaired the majestic and iconic Mount Rainier along with its natural and cultural resources, values, and dynamic processes. The park provides opportunities for people to experience, understand, and care for the park environment, and also provides for wilderness experiences and sustains wilderness values.

A log archway and sign greet visitors at the Nisqually entrance.
The massive log archway that greets visitors to the park at the Nisqually entrance is on the National Historic Registry.

NPS photo

A brief description of Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is located in west-central Washington, on the western slope of the Cascade Range. There are 236,381 acres within the park's boundaries, 97% of which is classified as wilderness. The park is about 65 miles southeast of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area and 65 miles west of Yakima. Elevations in the park extend from about 1,700 feet above sea level to 14,410 feet at the summit of Mount Rainier. Between 1.5 and 2 million people visit the park each year.

The focal point of the park is a towering, snow and ice covered volcano, which is a prominent landmark in the Pacific Northwest and the tallest volcano in the United States outside of Alaska. The base of the volcano spreads over approximately 100 square miles. An average of 643 inches (16.3 m) of snow falls at Paradise (5,420 feet elevation) each year, helping to create the largest glacier system in the lower 48 states. Around 10,000 climbers come from around the world each year to attempt the summit.

The lower slopes of the mountain preserve some of the last remnants of the vast old growth forests that once blanketed the region. The northwest corner of the park contains a temperate rainforest receiving over 90 inches of rain per year. Mid-elevation meadows offer spectacular wildflower displays in summer and a wonderland of snow recreation in winter. There are over 260 miles of trails in the park, including the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that circles the mountain.

Congress recognized the special nature of Mount Rainier when it established the area as a national park on March 2, 1899. It is the fifth oldest national park.


Here is a short history of Mount Rainier National Park of how Mount Rainier became a national park. For those who are interested in the more detailed history of Mount Rainier from its prehistoric days until the late 1990s, an excellent source is Wonderland: An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park.

The Sunrise Visitor Center is packed full of people on its opening day after being renovated.
The busy Sunrise Visitor Center on opening day after being renovated.

NPS/Kevin Bacher

Who comes to the park?

A 2012 survey by the University of Idaho over 7 days in August gives us some interesting details about the typical park visitor. Here are a few highlights:

  • 95% are from the USA, with 61% of visitors from Washington. 11% lived within 30 miles of the park. International visitors comprised 5% with 36% of those from Canada.
  • 70% visited the park once in the past 12 months and 17% visited two or three times.
  • 45% were ages 41-65 years, 19% were 26-40 years old, 15% were 15 years or younger, and 11% were 66 years or older.
  • 40% had completed a graduate degree and 34% had a bachelor's degree.
  • 19% had a household income of $100,000-$150,000 and 19% had an income of $50,000-$74,999.
  • 85% obtained information about the park prior to their visit, through the park website (58%), previous visits (52%), and friends/relatives/word of mouth (38%).
  • 42% stayed overnight in the park or within 30 miles of the park.
  • Of those who stayed overnight inside the park, 57% camped in a developed campground and 29% stayed in an inn. Among those that stayed overnight in the area outside of the park, 55% stayed in a lodge, hotel, motel, vacation rental, B&B, etc., 20% tent camped in a developed campground, and 14% camped in their RV.
  • The most common places visited in the park were Paradise (70%), Longmire (40%), and Sunrise (30%).
  • The most common activities were viewing wildflowers (79%), day hiking (75%), and driving to view scenery (73%).
  • 13% observed wildlife begging for food. 77% were "very aware" of wildlife habituation issues before their visit, while 86% were "very aware" after their visit.
  • The average visitor group expenditure was $255. The median group expenditure was $70 and the average total expenditure per person was $88.

Source: Manni, M. F., Y. Le, and S. J. Hollenhorst. 2013. Mount Rainier National Park visitor study: Summer 2012. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR - 2013/376. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.


Last updated: November 8, 2019

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55210 238th Avenue East
Ashford, WA 98304


360 569-2211

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