You’re having a great time exploring the wildflower-strewn alpine meadows of Mount Rainier National Park, when, suddenly, you hear a sharp screech—almost a whistle. It’s a sound you haven’t heard before, making you stop in your tracks. Looking around, there’s nothing that stands out to your human eyes. As your boots produce a couple more trail crunches, you hear it again.
This time, you linger a bit longer, scouting the meadows for any movement. What could this creature be? And then, you see it. Standing up among the flowers, a hoary marmot. These meadow creatures are a common sight in Mount Rainier National Park. They are, however, probably not the only wildlife you’ll see on your hike. With its rugged beauty unlike any other park in the U.S., Mount Rainier is home to a plethora of animals, and a mindboggling volume of colorful wildflowers.
One of the three amazing national parks in Washington State, Mount Rainier National Park lies less than two hours by car from Seattle, the region’s main hub. It’s exceptionally accessible, which is why Mount Rainier is one of the best Seattle day trips.
As so many other American national parks, this one is a place where superlatives are not out of place. Allow me to give you a brief intro to Mount Rainier National Park and you’ll see why. Also, the many Mount Rainier National Park photos in this post will certainly make a point as well.
An Intro to Mount Rainier National Park
The fifth-highest mountain in the contiguous United States and the tallest in the North Cascades, rising 14,410 feet (4,392 meters) above sea level, Mount Rainier dominates the landscape in western Washington State. In fact, it is visible from most places in the state. If you can’t see it where you are, just look at the cars—it’s the background on pretty much every Washington license plate.
What sets this mountain apart is that it’s an active stratovolcano. The most topographically prominent mountain in the lower 48 U.S. states, it towers over all other mountains in the region and is part of a collection of volcanoes that includes Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams in Washington State, and Mount Hood just across the border in Oregon. Many of these (potentially) active volcanoes are visible when hiking the trails of Mount Rainier National Park.
Mount Rainier is also regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes.
It’s the only volcano in America that’s one of the so-called “Decade Volcanoes”. This list contains sixteen volcanoes in the world that are constantly watched because of their active history, potentially cataclysmic eruptions and their location near large cities.
In Mount Rainier’s case, an eruption could threaten the southern Seattle area, result in massive mudflows and create destructive tsunamis in the Puget Sound. Its last eruption was in 1854, which in geological terms was basically yesterday.
The greatest and most deadly volcanic event in the history of the United States happened in 1980, when nearby Mount St. Helens erupted and killed more than 50 people, along with causing enormous infrastructure damage.
This is, in other words, quite an exciting region. Go visit it. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and, considering all of the above, surprisingly peaceful as well.
Sublime Natural Beauty
In fact, Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever visited. Even though I only spent one day in the park, it left a lingering impression on me. It’s unlike any other place I’ve been to in my entire life. The landscapes kind of reminded me of the Swiss Alps, but then there’s the added bonus of a giant volcano, which sets it apart completely, of course.
Mount Rainier National Park is a paradise for hikers, wildlife watchers and photographers. It’s main tourist area is, in fact, called Paradise, which is no coincidence. When the daughter of pioneer James Longmire saw this area for the first time in the 1880s, she exclaimed: “oh, what a paradise!” The area has kept that name ever since. It could not be more appropriate.
Mount Rainier National Park has everything you could possibly want in a park—and then some.
There are tall pine forests, reflecting lakes, impressive waterfalls, wildflower-filled alpine meadows and historic buildings. Called Tahoma or Tacoma by the Native Americans, meaning “the mother of waters”, Mount Rainier also has no fewer than 26 glaciers, including the largest one in the contiguous United States.
(It got its modern—English—name from explorer George Vancouver, who named the mountain after his good friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.)
One of the Best Seattle Day Trips
The beauty of Mount Rainier National Park—besides its actual stunning beauty—is that it’s exceptionally accessible. There are two other national parks in Washington State, but this one is the easiest to reach/shortest drive from Seattle.
The park’s southwestern entrance lies less than two hours by car from Seattle. It’s no wonder that so many Seattleites go hiking in the park on weekends. Tourists, too, find their way to Mount Rainier in droves.
I did as well. In fact, I flew across the country from Virginia just to visit this park. Because it’s so easy to get there and Seattle has a major airport, this park is an easy target if you’re looking for a day or weekend trip to a national park. Even if you have to fly, it’s worth it. I spent a whole afternoon and evening in Seattle, and a full day in Mount Rainier National Park. My entire trip was only three days long.
Mount Rainier is one of those national parks where you could spend a week and still discover new places, but where a day visit is more than satisfying as well.
I loved that. Unlike Death Valley National Park, Zion National Park or Joshua Tree National Park—just to name a few that require more than just one day—Mount Rainier National Park is centered on one major feature, which is Mount Rainier itself. This is why it’s possible to explore and get a complete feel for the park in just one day.
If your timing is right, which involves keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, a weekend trip to Seattle and Mount Rainier is bound to be a success for everyone. Mount Rainier is without question one of the best Seattle day trips.
Personally, even though I spent only one full day in the park, I found this to be one of the greatest U.S. national parks that I’ve visited so far. It overtook some of the more iconic and famous ones that we visited earlier this year on my top 10 list, that’s for sure.
Why Mount Rainier Is So Awesome
Just to sum up why Mount Rainier National is so awesome, here’s bullet-point list. I can’t repeat this stuff enough!
- (Sub)alpine meadows covered in wildflowers
- Glorious mountain landscapes
- Roaring waterfalls
- A glacier-covered volcano
- Historic homesteads
- Plenty of wildlife, including marmots, mountain goats, elk and black bears
- Everything from pleasant meadow walks to epic multiday treks
- Easily accessible from Seattle
What more could you possibly want?
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