Without a park brochure proclaiming that you’ve arrived in volcano country, you might never have known that Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington harbors a violent secret.
With its pristine mountain views encompassing glacier-fed waterfalls and lakes, miles of Douglas fir forests and vibrant flowering meadows, this corner of the Pacific Northwest looks like the poster child for peace and tranquility.
Today it’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers who enjoy the mountain’s abundant beauty and ignore the quiet symptoms of its possible future. That future is likely a way down the road, though, so in the meantime, you’d better take advantage of all this amazing place has to offer.
History of Mount Rainier National Park
The earliest sign of human activity in Mount Rainier National Park dates from between 8000 BC to 4500 BC, when nomadic people traveled through the region hunting for food. There is no indication of settlements until the 1800s when five Native American tribes agreed to section off the area.
With a location within the Pacific Coast’s Ring of Fire, this stratovolcano has had several eruptions since recordings of such began, the first being in 1820. Scientists actually consider it one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, a ‘Decade Volcano,’ meaning it has the greatest likelihood to cause extensive loss of life and property if it erupts.
Rainier is twice the size of Mount St. Helens, which is in the neighborhood. It has more ice on its slopes than any mountain in the lower 48, which, in an eruption would cause devastating mudslides. Since there are high populations living within 200 miles of the mountain, loss of life could be extremely high.
So in 1899, when President McKinley officially created Mount Rainier National Park, it not only preserved the land for generations to come but protected the land closest to this peak from urbanization, keeping communities far from this potentially explosive mountain.
Why Visit Mount Rainier National Park in Your RV?
With the interesting geological history out of the way, we have to say it’s absolutely worth visiting. Going to Mount Rainier, especially during the summer season, is the perfect trip for RVers.
Who can turn down the opportunity to explore rainforests, hike across flower-filled meadows and stand in awe at the sight of the volcano hovering over the entire scene?
With three campgrounds from which to choose, this location begs the question, “Why not?” It’s one of the most unique national parks in the country and it’s ready for you to visit it.
Places to Go
Mount Rainier National Park is comprised of five different regions, each with their own character. Here are several suggestions of places to visit within these districts:
Paradise Jackson Visitor Center
Located in the Paradise region of the park, the center has park information, ranger-led tours, exhibits, a park film, book store, and a cafeteria.
This historic hotel has lodging, a dining room, café, and a gift shop. Built in 1917, the inn has been designated as a “Great Lodge of the West.” It is open seasonally.
Once the original park headquarters, the museum holds park exhibits, information, and a book store. It is located in the Longmire National Historic District, which showcases several buildings constructed in the “National Park Service Rustic” style.
National Park Inn
Located in the Longmire historic district of the park, this 1911 log building has 25 rooms with casual dining and a gift shop. It is open year-round.
Located three miles east of Paradise, these lakes are the perfect place to capture images of Mount Rainier reflected on water, and they are just steps from the road.
Sunrise Visitor Center and Day Lodge
This center and its accompanying day lodge are only open from early July to early September. They provide information, a book store, cafeteria, and a gift shop.
Ohanapecosh Visitor Center
Located in the southeast corner of the park, this center has information, exhibits of the area, guided interpretive programs, and a book store. It is open from late May to early October.
Things to Do
With almost 370 square miles to play in, there are numerous outdoor activities here. Here are a few that you can do while you’re visiting the park.
The most popular activity in the park is hiking its many trails. It is a great way to enjoy meadows full of wildflowers, mountain landscapes and the quiet solitude of the backcountry.
Trails are arranged by region and difficulty:
- Longmire Region – This area is known for its historic district and waterfalls.
- Paradise Region – This area is known for its wildflower meadows.
- Ohanapecosh Region – This area is known for its old growth forests and river.
- Sunrise Region – This area is known for its mountain top views.
- Carbon River & Mowich Region – This area is known for its rainforests and glacial basin.
There are three official campgrounds within the park boundaries and all allow RVs but vary in length allowed.
Check information for each via the links below:
Those wishing to camp in the backcountry must get a permit. These permits are in high demand. The park suggests getting a permit reservation here.
Cyclists are welcome to bike the roads within Mount Rainier National Park, however, they are not allowed on trails. Existing roads are narrow and winding without paved shoulders, so ride with care.
September and October are usually the best times to ride, as car traffic in the park decreases.
Climbing Mount Rainier requires an elevation gain of over 9,000 feet, so climbers must be prepared for altitude issues. It also necessitates maneuvering across glaciers with proper roping techniques. Climbers must have proper training and equipment.
With 470 rivers and streams in the park, fishing may be on your list of activities here, but don’t be too disappointed if you don’t reel in a championship trout, as the fish are small and the lakes are no longer stocked.
One other detriment is the number of dams in the area that limit the fish population. Look for several species of trout and salmon that seem to make it into some of the local waters.
Ranger-led snowshoe tours are usually offered December through March on weekends and holidays. Participants are led through areas of the park to see how plants and animals adapt to winter conditions.
The tours are first-come, first-serve with a limit of 25 per tour. Visitors to Mount Rainier are also welcome to snowshoe on trails without a guide.
Five feet of snow is suggested for skiing or boarding in the backcountry, so as not to damage vegetation. Get current information on the best locations at the Jackson Visitor Center.
Snowmobile activity is allowed in the southwest corner of the park on 6.5 miles of Westside Road and along the loops of Cougar Rock Campground.
In the northern part of the park, snowmobilers can ride Highway 410 to the White River Campground. This is a great way to see the park in winter, and if overnight camping is desired, a permit is required.
When to Visit Mount Rainier National Park
The park is open year-round but busiest during the warm dry months of July and August. Summer offers stunning displays of wildflowers, with sunny, temperate days.
Autumn colors entice many visitors, especially on weekends, and winter brings the opportunity to play in the snow on snowshoes, skis, and sleds. Waterfalls are best viewed in late spring when run-off is at its peak.
Where RVers Can Stay
Mount Rainier has three campgrounds where RVs are welcome. There are no hookups, so dry camping is the only option. Each campground has water and flush toilets, but remember they are all seasonal.
If planning a winter visit, check out a campground outside of the park:
Getting To and Around Mount Rainier National Park
Visitors to Mount Rainier will find five entrances to the park. The southwest entrance is open year-round and can be accessed via SR 706. The northwest entrance at Carbon River via SR 165 is only open to cars up to the entrance point. From there on only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed. Three entrances on the east are only open seasonally from about May to September via SR 123.
Once in the park, vehicles can travel SR 706 year-round from the southwest entrance to Longmire Visitor Center, where the road is closed after September.
However, in the summer season, SR 706 continues through the southern section of the park, becoming Stevens Canyon Road. Once reaching the southwest entrance, vehicles can travel the entire eastern region on SR 123 and SR 410.
All roads are a bit narrow and winding, but offer awe-inspiring views and pull-offs to enjoy the scenery or take a break.
See It Now
With such stunning beauty and natural variety, Mount Rainier National Park offers something for everyone. It is difficult to imagine anything less than perfection here. There are snow-covered peaks, multi-colored blossoms filling grassy meadows, and prolific forest-covered mountain slopes.
Visitors here know that this heavenly highland could be gone in one erupting moment. In fact, that may be the reason they come. Like many of our cherished lands, this one might disappear someday due to natural causes. Better see it while you can!
Do you have any plans of visiting Mount Rainier National Park? Leave a comment below.