Hiking Safety

Several hikers with large packs walk along a trail through subalpine meadows.
Being aware of hiking hazards can ensure a safe and memorable trip.

NPS/Kevin Bacher

Hiking at Mount Rainier National Park can mean adventure, exploration, learning, or just plain having fun! The secret to a great hike? Staying safe!

Hikers need to emphasize personal safety as they journey by foot through the backcountry and along many of the popular trails. For trail conditions and information, talk with a ranger at any visitor center or wilderness information center. Be prepared for encounters with wildlife. Use the following tips to keep your journey safe.

Use Common Sense

  • Protect yourself by wearing appropriate outdoor clothing including footwear.
  • Be prepared. Carry the ten essentials even on a short sightseeing hike.
  • Always tell someone of your travel plans so they can notify the park if you fail to return.
  • Do not travel alone. If visibility is poor, do not travel at all.

Pay Attention To The Weather

At Mount Rainier, the weather can change rapidly. Hikers who aren’t prepared for weather conditions increase their risk of becoming lost or injured. Avoid problems by planning and preparing for Mount Rainier’s changeable weather. For more information on weather, including current forecasts, go to our weather page.

Hiking in Geohazard Zones

As a volcano topped with glaciers, the landscape of Mount Rainier can change suddenly and unexpectedly. Potential geohazards include glacier outburst floods and debris flows. Learn the signs and know how to get to safety.

Hiking in Spring

After a long, dark winter it can be exciting to be back in the park in spring! However, it's also easy to underestimate the risks and hazards at higher elevations on the mountain. Follow the tips for safe spring hiking.

A turbulent muddy river washes over the top of a log footbridge.
Even with log bridges, river crossings can be dangerous. The White River roars over the log bridge along the Wonderland Trail near White River Campground at 1:30 pm on August 9, 2018.

NPS/A Bodette

Crossing Streams Safely

Many hikers underestimate the power of moving water and some consider their former successful stream crossings as a ticket to the other side. This may not be true. Regardless of your knowledge, skills, and experience use these pointers in making wise decisions when crossing a steam.

  • Your best option may be turning back. If conditions do not look safe or above your skill level, do not try to cross.
  • Do not try to cross water that comes above your knees.
  • Early morning is the best time to cross when river levels are typically at their lowest. Water levels may change by as much as a foot from morning to late afternoon.
  • Look for a place where the river is braided into multiple channels, and cross at the widest part.
  • Before crossing, scout downstream for log jams, waterfalls, and other hazards that could trap you. Locate a point where you can exit if you fall in. Swimming may not be possible in the swift flow or if you are swept against submerged rocks or downed trees.
  • Use a sturdy stick to maintain two points of contact with the ground at all times.
  • Unfasten the belt of your pack so you can easily discard it.
  • Staring down at moving water can make you dizzy. Face upstream and look forward as much as possible.
  • Straddling a foot log may be safer than walking. Consider the consequences of a fall.
  • Your safety is more important than your itinerary. Permits or reservations can be adjusted to accommodate safe river crossings.

Remember, if you hear "boom" noises as boulders or large rocks move around in river, it means the water is STRONG and FAST. In addition to the current knocking you over, you could be hit by rocks moving in the river. Be cautious when deciding where to cross rivers, or if it's necessary to cross at all. Taking these few precautions could save your day...and your life!


Ice Cave Safety

Have you seen a cool photo of an ice cave lately that makes you want to find one at Mount Rainier? There are many safety issues with approaching or entering an ice cave (most of them are mostly melt water channels, not ice caves).

Mount Rainier was known for a few well-developed ice caves, but with the warming climate, those have disappeared, replaced only by transitory and unstable channels/caves. The park closed the historic ice caves around 1980 due to unsafe conditions including ice chunks and flakes, some the size of a small car, breaking loose and falling from the cave ceiling.

  • Visitors are strongly discouraged from approaching or entering ice caves or melt-water channels as they are prone to spontaneous collapse due to melting.
  • Ceiling and entrance collapse, or ice and rock fall, could be fatal or cause serious injuries to those who venture inside or near the entrance.
  • Those entering these channels/caves are in danger of hypothermia due to the combination of cold air temperatures inside and colder melt water flowing from the snowfield. Melt water volumes inside will increase throughout the day (just as stream crossing hazards are greater in the afternoon).
  • Hiking on glaciers and snow fields over ice caves/melt-water channels may result in breaking through the ice and snow and falling onto rock or into streams running below.
  • Consider the risks before setting out to photograph or explore an ice cave. There many other amazing places to explore at Mount Rainier!

Alpine areas accumulate effects from erosion and misuse much faster than lower elevations. Concentrated travel to these areas can cause decades of resource damage in a matter of days. When visiting Mount Rainier’s meadows and alpine areas, hikers are asked to adhere to Leave No Trace guidelines by traveling on durable surfaces.


Hiking the Muir Snowfield

The Muir Snowfield, a permanent field of snow, ice and rock outcrops, is located north of Paradise between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation. Thousands of people hike on the Muir Snowfield each year en route to Camp Muir. On a clear day, the hike is spectacular. But when the weather deteriorates, as it often and unpredictably does, crossing the Muir Snowfield can be disastrous.

  • Avoid the snowfield in questionable weather, especially if you’re alone or unprepared. Weather conditions can change suddenly and drastically.
  • If you’re ascending and clouds or fog start rolling in, turn around and head back to Paradise. If that’s not possible, stop moving, dig in, and wait for better weather.
  • Without a compass, map, and altimeter, it is extremely difficult to find your way to the trailhead in a whiteout. Carry these items and know how to use them.
  • Do not descend on skis or a snowboard in limited visibility — you could become lost.
  • When hiking to Camp Muir, be sure to carry emergency bivouac or camping gear so that you can spend the night out if you have to.
  • To protect fragile alpine vegetation, hike only on official trails or snow.

While it may be disappointing to abandon your hike to Camp Muir, remember that the snowfield will still be there in better weather. Learn more about climbing Mount Rainier.


Last updated: September 2, 2022

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