Mount Rainier is a special place

Pink and blue hues reflecting on the wispy clouds and Mount Rainier as the sunsets
Evening light reveals Mount Rainier in clouds and pink alpenglow.

Mount Rainier is a national park because people with very different points of view came together to save a magnificent landscape from being forever lost. Businessmen, scientists, teachers, mountain climbers and ecologists united their efforts to lobby Congress for six years to protect Mount Rainier as a national park. Their efforts were rewarded when President McKinley signed legislation on March 2, 1899, making Mount Rainier the fifth national park. Their reasoning was so convincing that many of their arguments are included in the park's significance statements.

A park's significance statements are the unique reasons identifying why a park exists. They, along with a park's mission and purpose, form the basis for every aspect of the park's management. Listed below are the significance statements for Mount Rainier National Park.

Close-up view of one of Mount Rainier's glaciers showing several gapping crevasses.
Mount Rainier has one cubic mile of glacial ice covering the mountain.

Mount Rainier and its associated geologic and glacial features

At a height of 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest volcanic peak in the contiguous United States. It has the largest alpine glacial system outside of Alaska and the world's largest volcanic glacier cave system (in the summit crater). Visible throughout the region, Mount Rainier shapes the physical environment, inspires the human experience, and defines the identity of the Pacific Northwest.

The massive hulk of the highest volcano in the contiguous states, Mount Rainier, dominates the eastern skyline for much of the Puget Sound region.
Nearly all of the drainages from Mount Rainier flow into Puget Sound. Any major volcanic activity on the mountain would threaten these areas.

Photo by Tiffany Von Arnim, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

An active volcano

As part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Mount Rainier is an outstanding example of Cascade volcanism. Mount Rainier's eruptions and mud flows have shaped the area and future eruptions are a potential threat to park visitors, employees, infrastructure, and surrounding lowland communities. Mount Rainier is the second most seismically active and the most hazardous volcano in the Cascade Range. It is extensively monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey to provide advance warning of future eruptions.

Paradise River is cascading through the deep forest somewhere near Carter Falls on the Wonderland trail.
The Paradise River tumbles it way down the mountain as it flows from the Paradise Glacier, over Sluiskin Falls, then Narada Falls, and finally Carter Falls before it empties into the Nisqually river near Cougar Rock Campground.

NPS Photo

Source of water for the Puget Sound region

Mount Rainier National Park protects the headwaters of five major watersheds that originate on the mountain's glaciers and are an important source of water for the Puget Sound region. Mount Rainier reaches up into the atmosphere to disturb great tides of eastward moving Pacific maritime air, resulting in spectacular cloud formations, prodigious amounts of rain, and record-setting snowfalls.

One of the many beautiful subalpine flower meadows carpeted in blossoms of vivid red magenta paint brush, purple lupines and white American bistort.
Subalpine meadow with magenta paintbrush, subalpine lupine, and American bistort.

NPS Photo

Subalpine and alpine ecological communities of flora and fauna

Mount Rainier National Park is a vital remnant of the once widespread primeval Cascade ecosystem and provides habitat for many species representative of the region’s flora and fauna. The park preserves a diverse mosaic of subalpine and alpine ecological communities and contains outstanding examples of diverse vegetation communities and dependent organisms, ranging from old-growth forest to subalpine meadows and ancient heather communities.

Small lake in Mount Rainier wilderness reflecting the surrounded by Subalpine Fir trees.
Small tarn surrounded by subalpine firs. There are several of these small lakes on the Lakes trail at the lower end of Mazama ridge near Paradise.

NPS Photo

Mount Rainier is 97% wilderness

Mount Rainier National Park protects more than 97% of its area as federally designated wilderness. Particularly as urban and rural development expands, the park increases in importance to the region, the nation, and the world as a large island of protected open space where ecosystem processes dominate and opportunities for wilderness recreation, including solitude, are available to a growing and diverse population.

Enjoy but preserve

Wilderness allows us to experience natural environments unchanged by humans. But experiencing wilderness without altering it requires care and knowledge. "Leave No Trace" techniques help us to minimize our impact on wilderness areas as we enjoy them.

Wildlife encounters

It is thrilling to see animals in the wild, and it's important to know what to do or not to do when you encounter wildlife.

One of the many prehistoric sites use by man over the past 9,000 years. Some of the artifacts found include stone tools and many chips from the knapping process.
An archaeological site being excavated on Mount Rainier. Artifacts date to about 9,000 years ago. The inset pictures are some of the stone tools found and the stone chips from making the tools, a process called knapping.

NPS photo

More than 9,000 years of human presence at Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park contains an extensive archeological record demonstrating more than 9,000 years of human connection to the mountain. The resources of the park continue to provide material, spiritual, and cultural sustenance to contemporary descendent tribes, including the Cowlitz, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin, and Yakama.
Historical Overview of Indians and Mount Rainier
Archaeology in the park
History of Mount Rainier National Park
Timeline of Mount Rainier history

The Longmire Administration building has large river tumbled smooth boulders and full round logs accentuating its facade.
Originally built as the park's administration building in 1928, this classic example of National Park Service Rustic style of architecture is now an integral part of the Longmire Historic District. The building now houses the Wilderness Information Center and other offices.

NPS Photo

Original model of architectural style for National Parks

The developed areas of Mount Rainier contain some of the nation’s best examples of intact "National Park Service Rustic" style architecture and naturalistic landscape architecture of the 1920s and 1930s. The Mount Rainier National Historic Landmark District is considered to be the most complete and best preserved example of NPS master planning in the first half of the 20th century.
About the NPS rustic style
Longmire Historic District Walking Tour
Sunrise Stockade
Paradise Inn
National Park Inn
Scenic roads and bridges
Wonderland Trail

White spotted owl perched on tree limb in Mount Rainier Wilderness area.
Spotted owls are being studied in the Mount Rainier Wilderness Area.

NPS photo

The park is a wilderness laboratory for study and research

Mount Rainier is a living laboratory that offers opportunities for scientists and students to study and develop a deeper understanding of as well as foster an appreciation for the park, its resources, processes, and meanings. Due to its great elevation range and extensive glacial systems, Mount Rainier’s geology, hydrology, ecological communities, and historic infrastructure are acutely sensitive to climate change impacts, offering an exceptional opportunity to observe and understand the effects of climate change and demonstrate climate change response in the national park system.

Research conducted at Mount Rainier
Species monitoring
Climate change at Mount Rainier
Climate change in the National Parks
Education programs
Mount Rainier Institute

A mountain climber on a rope climbing the Tahoma glacier on the West side of the mountain.
Mount Rainier is a technical climb requiring special skills and equipment for glacier travel.

NPS Photo

World class recreation and training

Mount Rainier offers recreational and educational opportunities in a wide range of scenic settings, including wildflower meadows, glaciers, and old growth forests, all in a relatively compact area that is easily accessed by a large urban population. The park's terrain and weather conditions offer world-class climbing opportunities that have tested the skills of climbers for more than a century.

Recreational and educational opportunities
Short hikes
Places to visit in the park
Challenge of the Wonderland Trail

Quest for the summit

Climbing information
Going to Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield
Rescues on the mountain
First recorded successful summit ascent of Mount Rainier
Fay Fuller, first woman on the summit


Last updated: August 23, 2023

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