Mount Rainier National Park is one of the best. It has six entrances, 4 campgrounds, 3 lodges, and 4 visitor centers. It has patches of old growth forest with some trees over 1,000 years old. 97% of it is designated wilderness.
Hiking is one of the primary activities in Mount Rainier National Park. The Wonderland Trail completely circles the base of this volcano for 97 miles. The famous Pacific Crest Trail parallels its eastern boundary and occasionally enters the park. When Ruth & I were there last week, it was raining and dismal. Most of the people in line with us were there to hike. The ranger was telling them that clearing wasn’t expected until late Wednesday. It was Sunday.
In my opinion, Mount Rainier National Park is best seen in the summer or fall. During the winter, only a small part is opened and services are severely limited. It can and frequently does get down to 20º below. Because it is so huge, the mountain creates its own weather systems. Because it’s a volcano, it’s alive with warm springs, and steam can escape from the summit even in winter. After Mount Rainier National Park officially closes, normally after September, visitors can snowshoe, cross country ski, and slide at Paradise, but this visitor center is staffed only on weekends and on holidays from mid-October to early May. The road from the southwest Nisqually entrance up to Paradise is open year-round, weather permitting and assuming winter driving skills and chains.
Paradise is the newest and biggest visitor center among the 4. It’s also the main people magnet. The Paradise Inn is open only in summer. It’s not unusual to get 680 inches of snow in the area. My favorite display was about Rainier’s volcanic potential, and I studied the hazard map on the floor far too long.
Longmire is a historic village and its visitor center is delightfully ancient. It specializes in the animals in the park, especially the birds. Some of the displays are about Native Americans would no longer be considered PC by many people. Longmire was developed as a medical springs area in 1888 and was incorporated into the park 11 years later when it was established as the first national park with a master plan. Today the whole village is a National Historic Landmark. Because of its lower altitude, it’s opened all year, inn included.
Because the Sunrise Visitor Center is a thousand feet higher than Paradise, it’s the last to open. This year that occurred on July 1. I was told that it has been around since the 1930s, and that it has a spectacular view of both the Emmons Glacier and the mountain itself on nice days. Neither could be seen. Emmons is one of 25 glaciers descending from Mount Rainier. Sunrise is on the highest point in the park that can be reached in a vehicle.
The 4th visitor center, Ohanapecosh, is the only one I haven’t visited. About all I know about it is that its name means standing at the edge. Visitors to Mount Rainier National Park will feel they are on the edge of greatness every minute they’re in this place that will be altered by lava and lahars soon.