Her unchallenged slope reaches 14,411 feet into the sky. Prominently standing taller than anything in the surrounding region, the great white pyramid known as Mt. Rainier is comprised of both fire and ice. Known to the native Yakima Indians as Tahoma (or, “Great Snowy Peak”), Mt. Rainier is the highest volcano and largest glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States. Naturally, adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts flock to take advantage of the nearly year-round snow, frozen glaciers, trails, and rivers.
Only 60 miles south of Seattle, let the spewing steam beckoning you. For anyone with an itch for wilderness exploration, Mt. Rainier is a mecca of outdoor pursuits.
Mt. Rainier is well known for its climbing and alpine ascent routes and while it may seem intimidating to newbies, the network of ridges and glaciers actually caters to all skill levels. Guide companies like International Mountain Guides can show you the ropes, both literally and figuratively, and provide all necessary equipment. Typically, climbing season starts in April and runs through September – with the weather the most stable after the first week of July.
While there are places to climb for all levels of experience, the mountain is never without danger. Altitude, crevasses, ice or rock falls, avalanches and bad weather are all obstacles you could face. Come prepared with the proper clothing and at least a basic knowledge of weather patters/avalanche signs and having trained physically for the ascent.
Trails around Mt. Rainier run the gamut from 20-minute strolls to 4-hour loop treks. Some lead to picturesque alpine lakes like Green Lake and Shadows Lakes, and waterfalls like Silver Falls and Chenuis Falls. There is no shortage of spectacular scenery to uncover, and plenty of rocks to unturn.
Hiking boots are strongly recommended for any of the hikes (even the short ones), and while you don’t need a guide, it is always best to prepare yourself by researching trail maps of the area. The National Park service has a detailed list of trails on their website, and books like “ Day Hiking Mt. Rainier ” are great tools for orienting your journey.
On any mountain where snow exists throughout the year, you will find skiers strapping on skins and clipping into their bindings. Mt. Rainier is no exception. There are no lifts (that would be far to easy) so anyone looking to shred the Great Snowy Mountain needs to earn their turns. Do not attempt this without proper avalanche training and backcountry gear.
Guides are a fantastic resource for finding the sweet spots, and to provide an extra level of safety on the slopes. RMI Expeditions offers ski trips with trained professionals and a host of resources helpful to someone keen on tearing it up. Backcountry skiing is exceptionally risky, but if done safely and correctly, it is one of the most rewarding and thrilling highs in the world.
Day trips are great, but to really absorb the beauty and majesty of the wilderness that surrounds this goliath, you are going to need to spend the night. Backpacking in the park is very popular, and some of the campsites can even be driven to.
While permits aren’t required for any of the day hikes in Mt. Rainier, you will need one to camp. But this is an easy enough task as permits can be purchased at any ranger station in the summer and at the Longmire Museum and Jackson Visitor's Center on winter weekends. As is the case with all national parks, camping is restricted to the designated areas which can be reserved in advance or obtained on a first-come, first-served basis.