Cornforth Images

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is on the west side of the Cascade Range, and is located about 70 miles (110 km) southeast of Seattle, Washington. The park is approximately 97 percent wilderness and receives approximately 2 million visitors each year. At 14,410 ft (4,392 m), Mount Rainier is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range. It dominates the landscape of a large part of western Washington State. Native Americans called it Takhoma and had many legends about it. The mountain stands nearly three miles higher than the lowlands to the west. It is an active stratovolcano that last erupted approximately 150 years ago. It was established in 1899 as the 5th US national park.

Mount Rainier National Park’s ecosystems are diverse as a result of climatic gradients and topographic diversity over relatively short distances across the park’s 12,700 ft (3,800 m) elevation. It is surrounded by valleys, waterfalls, sub-alpine wildflower meadows, old growth forest and more than 26 glaciers. The Carbon Glacier and the Emmons Glacier are the largest glaciers in the continental US. The volcano is often shrouded in clouds that dump enormous amounts of rain and snow on the peak each year.

Approximately 58 percent of the park is covered by forests. Low elevation forests are dominated by western hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red cedar from 1,700-3,000 ft (500-900 m). Mid-elevation forests extend upward to 4,000-6,000 ft (1,200-1,800 m) elevation and contain Pacific silver fir, Alaska yellow cedar, western white pine, and noble fir. Above 4500 ft (1,400 m), trees become less dense as the forest gives way to the park’s famous sub-alpine meadows where spectacular displays of wildflowers occur. Diversity is observed in the number of species including alpine daisys, mountain lupine, magenta paintbrush, yellow asters, and common bistort.

The park is home to at least 56 mammal species, 16 species of amphibians and reptiles, and more than 229 species of birds. Some of the most common animals are Columbian black-tailed deer, Douglas squirrels, noisy Stellar’s jays, ravens, elk and black bears. Mountain goats inhabit alpine or sub-alpine regions of the park.

Many of the best locations to photograph Mount Rainier are easily accessible by car. Reflection Lake, Paradise meadows, Tipsoo Lake, and Sunrise offer road side views that are among the best known in the national parks. For the more adventurous photographer, rewarding hikes and backpacking trips can be made to Spray Park, Moraine Lake, the Tatoosh Range, Indian Henry’s, and Gobblers Knob.