• Menu
  • Menu

10+ (AMAZING) Mount Rainier National Park Facts for Your Next Trip

About Mount Rainier

skyline trail, mount rainier national park washington, best national parks
Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park includes ten fascinating facts about one of America’s most amazing national parks.

When John Muir visited Mount Rainier he had this to say, “The most luxuriant and most extravagantly of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain top wanderings.”

Located in the state of Washington, America’s fifth oldest national park is the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. In fact, it’s downright mesmerizing. Similar to that feeling one gets when looking into the Grand Canyon.

You can gaze upon this magnificent mountain for hours while trying to figure out exactly what you’re looking at.

Mount Rainier National Park Facts

1. Native American Tribes Explored The Park For Centuries

Native Americans explored the park for centuries | Mount Rainier National Park Facts
Archaeological evidence suggests Mount Rainier has been used by different Native American tribes for many centuries | Mount Rainier National Park Facts

There is archaeological evidence suggesting Mount Rainier has been used for the past 9,000 years. Multiple Native American tribes explored the river valleys, meadows, and forests to hunt, gather berries, and look for medicinal plants long before Mount Rainier became a national park.

The Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, Muckleshoot, Yakama and Cowlitz tribes continue to frequent the park. In recognition of their unique heritage and special relationship with Mount Rainier, park authorities have reserved special areas for Native American rituals and worship.

This process allows current generations to feel a special connection with their ancestors. Today, they continue to learn about the history of this place through its spiritual and cultural resources.

For the current generation, linking today’s tribal members to their ancestors, who lived in the shadow of the mountain for millennia, is a part of teaching them who they are and why their history matters.

“Somewhat like a retired business executive, Mount Rainier, after many years of close application to its volcanic activity, once upon a time ceased operations and contemplated a pleasurable idleness.

Prudently, it kept its physical plant intact and left a few fires burning, in case of a change of mind.

Such impulsive retirements are always questionable. Mount Rainier, in the course of centuries, had worked itself up to a height of possibly 16,000 feet, all solid growth of rock material.

It had more than a local reputation. Any eruption from this mountain was guaranteed up to standard, or lava refunded.”

The National Parks by Freeman Tilden

2. A British Navy Captain Gave Mount Rainier Its Name

British Navy Captain George Vancouver was the first white man to see Mount Rainier |  Mount Rainier National Park Facts
British Navy Captain George Vancouver was the first known white man to see Mount Rainier. He would name it after his friend, Admiral Peter Rainier.
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

According to the historical records, Spanish explorers would have been the first to see Mount Rainier. We know they entered the Puget Sound in 1790 and likely saw this magnificent mountain from a distance.

What they failed to appreciate, given their long-distance, was the special qualities which made it a place millions would visit annually by the twenty-first century.

For Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy, this place was unlike any other he had seen. Vancouver, following the Spanish by two years in 1792, entered the Puget Sound. Unlike his predecessors, however, he remained to explore and map the area.

Mounts Baker, Hood and Rainier were all named after British admirals |  Mount Rainier National Park Facts
Pictured above is the magnificent Mount Hood. Mount Baker, Hood and Rainier were all named after British admirals. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Vancouver named not only the waterways and their immediate shores, but several of the mountains as well. Mount Rainier was named after his friend Admiral Peter Rainier. Mounts Baker and Hood were also named after British admirals.

If you’re wondering, the cities of Vancouver in British Columbia and in the state of Washington are named after George Vancouver. His expedition, which lasted from 1791-95, explored and charted North America’s northwestern Pacific Coast regions.

“The weather was serene and pleasant, and the country continued exhibit, between us and the shores of the snowy range, the same luxuriant appearance.

At its northern extremity Mount Baker bore by compass N. 22 E.; the round snowy mountain, now forming its southern extremity and which, after my friend Rear Admiral Rainier, I distinguished by the name of Mount Rainier, bore N.(S) 42 E.”

Mount Rainier National Park Nature Notes

3. Climbing Mount Rainier Can Be A Challenging Adventure

A photo of Civil War General Hazard Stevens, who won the Medal of Honor. Stevens completed the first ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870. This photo was taken by C. E. Cutter in 1905, when Stevens climbed Rainier for a second time. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Rising to 14,408 feet, Mount Rainier is the fourth highest mountain in the contiguous United States. It is approximately 11,000 feet above its immediate base. It covers 100 square miles, which is one-fourth of the area of the park.

Climbing Mount Rainier is not for the faint hearted. Each year, thousands attempt to reach the top which rises to almost three miles high. It’s sometimes called “the mountain that was God.”

Of the thousands who attempt to climb it each year, it’s estimated that fewer than half make it to the top which makes sense now that you understand just how steep a climb it is.


“It was now five p.m. We had spent eleven hours of unremitted toil in making the ascent, and, thoroughly fatigued, and chilled by the cold, bitter gale, we saw ourselves obliged to pass the night on the summit without shelter or food, except our meager lunch.

It would have been impossible to descend the mountain before nightfall, and sure destruction to attempt it in darkness. We concluded to return to a mass of rocks not far below, and there pass the night as best we could, burrowing in the loose debris.”

Excerpts from: Hazard Stevens, 1876, The Ascent of Takhoma, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1876, Vol.38, Issue 229, published by Atlantic Monthly Co., Boston, p.513-530.

4. The First Successful Ascent Of Mount Rainier

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the first successful ascent of Mount Rainier was made by General Hazard Stevens and P. B. Van Trump in August, 1870. Stevens published a fascinating account of his climb in the Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XXXVIII, 1876. It’s definitely worth reading.

Their ascent was made on the south side of the mountain, by the way of what are now known as Paradise Park and Gibraltar, which is the route followed in recent years by many tourists. After spending a night in the crater at the summit, they made the descent by the same route.

Since the days of P.B. Van Trump and Hazard Stevens, people wanting to climb Mount Rainier have looked for guides to help them. Starting in 1971, the Rainier National Park Company provided guides during the summer climbing season. The Guide House was built to house the guides as well as all the rental climbing equipment. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

5. There Are 25 Glaciers On Mount Rainier

Nisqually Glacier Ice Caves at Mount Rainier National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia

If you want to see some magnificent glaciers then Mount Rainier is the place to go. The park has at least 25 glaciers (named) and several other un-named snowfields.

Some of the glacies that are definitely worth seeing include the Carbon, CoWiltz-Ingraham, Emmons, Kautz, Nisqually, Paradise-Stevens and Winthrop.

One of the wonderful things about this park is that it’s easy to travel to a location with a great view of some of the largest glaciers you’ll ever find on the North American continent.

“The Emmons Glacier has the largest area (4.3 square miles) and the Carbon Glacier has the lowest terminus altitude (3,600 feet) of all glaciers in the contiguous 48 states.”

-National Park Service

6. An Air Force Lieutenant Landed A Plane On The Summit

John W. Hodgkin, an Air Force lieutenant, landed a plane on the summit of Mount Rainier. (Courtesy Tacoma News Tribune)

Mount Rainier’s summit is over 14,000 feet so it’s easy to understand why someone wouldn’t want to climb it. How about taking an airplane instead?

That’s what John W. Hodgkin, an Air Force lieutenant, did on April 12, 1951. Hodgkin equipped his plane with skis and landed it on the summit of Mount Rainier at 14,410 feet. At the time, this was a world record for a high-altitude landing.

And his story gets even more interesting. Hodgkin tried taking off again, but his plane wouldn’t start! He was stranded near the top of the more than 14,000-feet-high peak. Hodgkin spent the night in his plane in below-zero temperatures. Brrrr!

A picture’s worth a thousand words. Hodgkin’s plane was a Piper J-3 Cub.
It was not a jet aircraft. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Why Wait To Be Rescued

A rescue team consisting of park rangers and mountaineers was sent to retrieve the intrepid lieutenant. Hodgkin, however, decided to take matters into his own hands.

The next morning, before the team arrived, he had pushed his airplane down the snow-covered face of the Nisqually Glacier.

“At about 3:45 p.m., Hodgkin, unaware the rescue party was approaching, unfastened the tie-down ropes, turned his plane around and started it sliding towards the steep face of Nisqually Glacier.

As the Cub gained momentum, he jumped into the cockpit and strong updrafts enabled him to glide off the mountain top. Once airborne, Hodgkin dived the aircraft 5,000 feet, hoping to restart the engine, but it wouldn’t catch.

He made a dead-stick landing on frozen Mowich Lake (4,929 feet) two-thirds the way down the mountain in the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park.”

-HistoryLink.org Essay 8469, by Daryl C. McClary

What Would James Bond Do

Lieutenant Hodgkin came up with a stunt that’s worthy of James Bond | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Hodgkin and his plane ended up on the frozen Mowich Lake and, amazingly, landed safely on the ice there.

With the help of a National Park Service ranger and twenty gallons of gasoline, dropped from an Air Force rescue plane, Hodgkin took off again and return safely to Spanaway. His exploits were the stuff of Ian’s Fleming’s 007!

What did he receive for his incredible achievement?  Well, he was charged in federal court with landing a private aircraft in a national park without permission.

He received a $350 fine. Not to mention a six month jail sentence which was commuted. You can file this story under the heading of “Don’t Try This One Yourself!”

7. Walt Disney Honeymooned At Mount Rainier

For Walt Disney, “the happiest place on earth” may have been Mount Rainier | Courtesy of Wikimedia

One of Mount Rainier’s most famous visitors would arrive in July of 1925. After their marriage, Walt and Lillian Disney came to the national park for their honeymoon. They took in the sights, but couldn’t stay too long as Walt had to be in Seattle the next day to have a tooth extracted.

Now here’s a fun fact about the creator of Mickey Mouse. When you ask most folks who was Disney’s most famous creation they will tell you that it was the famed mouse named Mickey.

If you ask them to name Disney’s first big creation they’ll likely give you the same answer. And, they would be wrong.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was Walt Disney’s first major creation | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Oswald The Lucky Rabbit

No one will argue that Mickey Mouse was Walt Disney’s most famous creation. His first big creation, however, was actually named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Believe it or not, Oswald was a huge hit.

With this success under his belt, in 1928, Disney went to New York to renegotiate his contract with producer Charles Mintz.

It turned out that Mintz was a cheapskate. Mintz wanted to give Disney not more money, but less. And, to add insult to injury, he tried to steal Walt’s talented animators right out from under him.

He Left New York Feeling Like He Had Lost Everything

At the time, Walt was working for Universal. They ended up with the rights to Oswald. Walt Disney left New York feeling like he had lost almost everything. 

Fortunately for him and for millions of children around the world, on his train trip back to California, Walt sketched a new character who he believed could eclipse Oswald in popularity.

You guessed it! It was Mickey Mouse. So, perhaps Oswald wasn’t the lucky rabbit after all, but Mickey was most certainly the lucky mouse!


8. The Park Contains More Than 65 Species Of Animals

On December 2 and 17, 16 fishers were released at Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park, with the assistance of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and several Native American Tribes and Canadian First Nations. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

At Mount Rainier, you will encounter a variety of habitats and life zones. At each of these zones, you will see different species including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Specifically, there are 65 mammal species, 14 species of amphibians, 5 species of reptiles, 182 species of birds, and 14 species of native fish

Among the most popular of the animal species are Columbian black-tailed deer, Douglas squirrels, Stellar’s jays and ravens.

You can also find black bear, elk, and mountain goats. Summer is an excellent time to watch the wildlife though you can find them during all four seasons of the year.

RELATED: Best National Parks to Spot Wildlife


10. Mount Rainier Has One Of The Deadliest Volcanoes

Mount Rainier from space | Courtesy of NASA

Believe it or not, Mount Rainier is home to one of the world’s deadliest volcanoes. Volcanic activity began between one half and one million years ago, with the most recent eruption cycle ending about 1,000 years ago.

Referred to as a stratovolcano, this means that it is a volcano composed of alternating layers of lava and ash.

As the National Park Service has reported, Mount Rainier is the most hazardous volcano in the Cascades not only in terms of its potential for eruption, but also for the risk of producing major debris flows even without an eruption.

The last major volcanic eruption in the Pacific Northwest was from the Mount St. Helen’s Volcano in 1980. What are the odds of a volcanic eruption at Mount Rainier while you’re visiting the park? Not high enough for you to cancel your trip. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

One Of Sixteen “Decade” Volcanoes

It’s hazardous potential has led it to be labeled as one of sixteen “Decade” volcanoes worldwide. This means that it is studied by the United Nations as part of its global program to reduce the worldwide severity of such potential natural disasters.

The last eruption of this volcano occurred 150 years ago. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research shows that Mount Rainier is one of our Nation’s most dangerous volcanoes. It’s likely to erupt again.

That having been said, the odds of it happening while you’re visiting the park are quite small. As are the odds of your winning the lottery. So don’t be afraid to plan your next trip to one of America’s most magnificent national parks.

Check Out Our Comprehensive Guide

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and learned things you didn’t know. If you’re interested in learning more about our national parks than please check out our comprehensive guide to all 63 of them.

10 Facts About Mount Rainier National Park

  1. Native American tribes explored the park for centuries
  2. A British navy captain gave Mount Rainier its name
  3. Climbing Mount Rainier is can be a challenging adventure
  4. Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.
  5. There are 25 Glaciers on Mount Rainier
  6. An air force lieutenant landed a plane on the summit
  7. Walt Disney honeymooned at Mount Rainier
  8. The park contains more than 65 species of animals
  9. The park has magnificent wildflowers which bloom each year
  10. Mount Rainier has one of the deadliest volcanoes
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

View stories

1 comment

error: Content is protected !!