Geology of the National Parks

History of Mount Rainier

John Muir and climbing party at the summit of Mount Rainier, 1888 / Public Domain

(Left-Right: D.W. Bass, P.B. Van Trump, John Muir, N.O. Booth, E.S. Ingraham)

Overlooking Seattle and Tacoma with a summit peak of 14,411 ft, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range.  Still considered an active stratovolcano, it has the potential to wreak havoc on the Puyallup Valley.  Mount Rainier has the largest glacier system in the contiguous United States.  Five of the glaciers form rivers with the same name:  Carbon, Puyallup, Mowich, Nisqually, and Cowlitz.  Three more glaciers (Winthrop, Emmons and Fryingpan) form the White River.  There are 18 more glaciers and a permanent snowfield of 36 square miles.

In 1893, 967,680 acres around Mount Rainier was designated the Pacific Forest Reserve to help preserve the area's timber and watersheds.  By 1907, the land with several acquisitions and name changes became Rainier National Forest.  The forests were divided in 1933.  Mount Rainier (236,381 acres) became the 5th National Park in 1899 with President McKinley's signature.  

Because of the elevation, the ecosystem is very diverse with a Lowland Forest Zone, a Pacific Silver Fir Zone, a Subalpine Zone and an Alpine Zone.  As a result, large variety of plants and animals live in the area.  They include: Red Fox, Pika, Mountain Goats, Black Bears and Elk.  In the late Spring and Summer the wildflowers bloom in the high meadows and draw many visitors.

Today's visitors go snowshoeing, day hiking, fishing, and recreational biking.  More challenging activities include: 1. RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day) A 150+ mile cycling tour for 750 people over variable terrain and 2. Mountaineering An average of 10,000 people attempt to climb Mount Rainer every year, but only about 50% succeed. It usually takes a well prepared team 3 days to climb due to the glaciers, weather and altitude.  The local Search & Rescue team is frequently busy.


Head of Geology Library & Map Room Mathematical Sciences Librarian Science Education Specialist

Profile Photo
Danny Dotson
180E Geology Library
Orton Hall

Maps Info Associate