Mount Rainier Wilderness is located on the west-side of the Cascade Range, approximately 50 miles southeast of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range. It dominates the landscape of a large part of western Washington State. The mountain stands nearly three miles higher than the lowlands to the west and one and one-half miles higher than the adjacent mountains. Twenty-six named glaciers spill down the slopes, covering approximately 37 square miles, making it the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. Mount Rainier is an active volcano that last erupted approximately 150 years ago. The distinguishing aspects of this Wilderness only begin with the mountain. Mount Rainier Wilderness is part of a complex ecosystem. Vegetation is diverse, reflecting the varied climatic and environmental conditions encountered across the area's 12,800-feet elevation gradient. Species known or thought to occur in the park include more than 800 vascular plants, 159 birds, 63 mammals, 16 amphibians, 5 reptiles, and 18 native fishes. The Mount Rainier Wilderness contains 26 named glaciers across 9 major watersheds, with 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Mount Rainier Wilderness.
Mount Rainier National Park is located in Washington State, on the west-side of the Cascade Range, approximately 50 miles southeast of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. Year-round access to the park is via state route 706 to the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park. Limited winter access is available via highway 123 in the southeast corner of the park. The Carbon River/Mowich Lake area, in the northwest corner of the park, is accessed via state route 165 through Wilkeson. In summer only, the north and east sides of the park can be accessed using highway 410.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Almost all of Mount Rainier National Park is wilderness. The wilderness offers over 250 miles of trails, including the historic 93-mile Wonderland Trail that encircles the mountain. Hikers find the Wonderland Trail to be one of the best ways to explore Mount Rainier National Park. The trail passes through major life-zones of the park, from lowland forests to subalpine meadows of wildflowers. Passing swift rivers, the trail leads to commanding views of Mount Rainier cloaked in icy glaciers.
Mount Rainier also offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. This 14,410 foot active volcano is successfully climbed each year by thousands of people. Reaching the summit requires a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles. Climbers must be in good physical condition and well prepared. A climbing party consisting of a minimum of two people is required. Climbers should be roped together in the appropriate style for travel on glaciers and crevassed snowfields.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Winter lasts nearly nine months in Mount Rainier National Park. There is a brief, usually pleasant summer season during July through September before the snow begins falling again sometime in October. Visitors should be aware that mountain weather is very changeable. Be prepared for wet, cold weather at any time; snow can fall during any month of the year. Hikers and mountain climbers need to be prepared for weather extremes. Pay attention to weather forecasts, both one day and long range, avalanche warnings, and special weather alerts. Have extra clothing, rain gear, and a tent for protection against storms anytime of the year. Know the weather forecast and plan your trip accordingly.
Safety and Current Conditions
Snow will often remain on trails at the 5,000 foot elevation well into mid-July. Unless you are specifically intending to hike, climb, or camp in the snow, plan your trip for that part of the year when trails are mostly free of snow, are visible and can be followed. This is especially true for long distance backpacking on the Wonderland Trail. By contrast, visitors interested in climbing Mount Rainier are advised to do it in early summer when route conditions are best.
Early season (May and June) hikers and backpackers often encounter hazardous snow bridges over streams, steep snow-covered slopes where ice axes are advised, fallen trees across trails, washed-out bridges, and long stretches of snow-covered trail where route finding will be difficult. The major glacial rivers may have washed-out bridges at any time of year; all glacial river volumes rise and fall each day and the river channels change course regularly.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.