With its summit standing 4,392 m above sea level, Mount Rainier is the most prominent structure in the area surrounding Seattle. It’s considered as one of the deadliest volcanoes in the world, and features 25 major glaciers, making the most glaciated peak in the U.S. Despite its dangerous reputation, it hosts a diverse selection flora and fauna. Keep on reading to learn 42 facts about Mount Rainier.
Fact 1: Mount Rainier is a large and active stratovolcano in Cascadia located in Seattle.
Fact 2: It is the highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington. It also the most prominent mountain, topographically speaking, in the main part United States, if you do not include Alaska.
Fact 3: Mt. Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and it is on the Decade Volcano list.
Fact 4: Because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mt. Rainier could produce massive lahars, rivers of superheated mud, slush, water, and debris, that could threaten the entire Puyallup River valley and other surrounding valleys.
Fact 5: The mountain is geologically young, formed by successive lava flows from eruptions that began about one million years ago. Most of the rock that forms the mountain is thought to be only 500,000 years old. To give you some idea of how short a time period that is, the Himalayas, in Tibet, are about 50 million years old. 100 times older than Mt. Rainier.
Fact 6: Mt. Rainier is a dormant volcano and last erupted about 150 years ago. When it erupted, it covered an area of 260 square kilometers, in a thick layer of rock, ash, and pumice.
Fact 7: The mountain has three major peaks: Liberty Cap, Point Success, and Columbia Crest.
Fact 8: Rainier is noted for dense forests of coniferous trees on its lower slopes, scenic sub-alpine and alpine meadows with a profusion of wildflowers during the warmer months, and waterfalls and lakes, and an abundance of wildlife.
Fact 9: The English explorer George Vancouver sighted the summit for the first time on May 8, 1792, and named it for fellow navigator Peter Rainier.
Fact 10: The first well-documented ascent was completed by Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump on August 17, 1870.
Fact 11: The mountain is now one of the United States’ premier destinations for climbers.
Fact 12: It’s among the top venues for mountaineering training and instruction. Each year several thousand people attempt the climb to the summit, many of them on a guided two-day trip from the Paradise area on the mountain’s southern slope.
Fact 13: Mount Rainier was first known by the local Salishan speakers as Talol, Tacoma, or Tahoma.
Fact 14: Tacoma means “larger than Mount Baker” in Lushootseed: Ta ‘larger’, plus Koma (Kulshan), (Mount Baker)
Fact 15: Theodore Winthrop, in his posthumously published 1862 travel book “The Canoe and the Saddle”, referred to the mountain as Tacoma.
Fact 16: For a time, both names were used interchangeably, although Mt. Tacoma was preferred in the nearby city of Tacoma.
Fact 17: It’s the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states of the USA.
Fact 18: The summit is topped by two volcanic craters, each more than 300 meters in diameter, with the larger east crater overlapping the west crater.
Fact 19: It has a small crater lake about 50 by 10 meters in size and 5 meters deep.
Fact 20: It’s the highest peak in North America with the highest surface elevation stretching 4,392 m into the clouds. This makes it about half the height of the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest.
Fact 21: High on the eastern flank of Mount Rainier is a peak known as Little Tahoma Peak. Its prominence is only 249 m compared to the local geography. However, it’s total high above sea level is 3,395 m. That’s a full 997 meters, or just under one kilometer, shorter than Mt. Rainier.
Fact 22: Little Tahoma Peak is an eroded remnant of the earlier, much higher, Mount Rainier. It would have once been part of Mt. Rainier’s flank. But as wind, rain, and frost eroded the mountain, a gap slowly appeared between both peaks. It is almost never climbed in direct conjunction with Columbia Crest, so it is usually considered a separate peak.
Fact 23: It’s one of the deadliest volcanoes on the planet.
Fact 24: Unlike its infamous cousin, Mount St. Helens, Rainier is not known to be particularly explosive. And yet, Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University, is unequivocal in her assessment. According to her, “Rainier is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world”. Why? Because it has the potential to, without warning, catastrophically explode and destroy nearby towns and cities.
Fact 25: Mount Rainier has attracted people to its slopes for thousands of years.
Fact 26: There is ample evidence to suggest that prehistoric humans, stretching back 9,000 years, have climbed Mt. Rainier. This adds an even deeper sense of mystery and richness to the history of America’s fifth oldest national park.
Fact 27: There are many ways to experience Mount Rainier National Park.
Fact 28: Most of Westside Road is closed to vehicles, but is open to bicycling and hiking. Ride through old-growth forest, visit a historic ranger cabin and stonework bridges, and pause to remember the long history of the mountain.
Fact 29: The average winter temperature at the summit of Mt. Rainier is a rather chilly -19°C. That’s as cold as temperatures found in Antarctica.
Fact 30: For millennia, the ancestors of modern tribes came to the mountain seasonally to hunt and gather resources. Today, those tribes continue to maintain a deep connection to the mountain.
Fact 31: A wide variety of groups came together to help establish the park in 1899.
Fact 32: Scientists, mountaineers, conservation groups, local businesses, and large railroad companies all saw some possible benefits from a national park around Mount Rainier.
Fact 33: Mount Rainier was the first national park to allow cars. Eventually, in 1910, a road was built to Paradise Park.
Fact 34: In the 1920s, One third of the ranger force that worked in the national park was used for traffic control to ensure the orderly entry and exit of all vehicles in an effort to protect the park from unnecessary erosion.
Fact 35: The Paradise Inn was opened in 1917 and plans to develop Sunrise were crafted throughout the 1920s. It is found 1,600 meters above sea level of Rainier’s south slope.
Fact 36: Road construction reached its peak with all of the roads in the park being built or surveyed by 1930. No new roads have been built in the park since then. They only maintained and resurfaced the old ones.
Fact 37: Around 2 million people visited the Mount Rainier National Park in 2019.
Fact 38: Attempts to summit Mount Rainier have grown almost ten-fold since 1965. About 10,000 people attempt to climb Rainier each year but only about 5,000 make it. This 50% chance of success makes Mt. Rainier one of the hardest mountains to climb in the USA, and the world.
Fact 39: At least 400 people have died while climbing Mount Rainier since 1897.
Fact 40: One of the deadliest accidents at the mountain range took place in 1981 when 11 climbers were killed by an ice avalanche on Ingraham Glacier.
Fact 41: Mount Rainier is the tallest in the Cascade Volcanic Arc. This is the same volcanic arc where Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.
Fact 42: Rainier is surrounded by the largest single-mountain glacier system in the United States outside Alaska. The 25 largest glaciers have a combined area of 90 square kilometers, which means that almost 10% of the park is covered by glacier ice.