No matter what time of year the approach to the summit will be over ice and snow. Extensive experience at altitude is necessary including self-arrest, traversing ice fields, potentially ice climbing, crossing crevasses, navigation and winter survival in an alpine environment. Mount Rainier is not forgiving of mistakes and every year several people lose their lives attempting to reach the summit. Acute Mountain Sickness and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema are real threats in the thin air at the top of Rainier.
Mention Mount Rainier to anyone who likes to mountaineer and his or her pulse will usually pick up. Mount Rainier itself is a very serious technical climb. Vice President Al Gore and his son reached the summit in 1999. There are a number of approaches to the top of Washington's most famous volcano and none of them are easy. Permits cost $25 and there are a number of outfitters that can help you reach the top of the mountain.
If you're looking for a more down to earth and comfortable experience consider staying at one of six campgrounds at Mount Rainier National Park. All campgrounds are open by the end of June and can close as early as mid-September.
Sunshine Point Campground is located in the southwest corner of the park just 2-1/2 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance. The small campground has 18 sites and does not offer group camping. Sites are available on a first come first serve basis with self-registration at the campground. The campground offers potable water, chemical toilets, fire grates, tables, trash bins and is the only campground open year round. Two sites are handicapped accessible. Camping fees are $10 per night.
Cougar Rock Campground is located in the southwest corner of the park. The campground has 200 campsites and 5 group sites. Reservations are required and the campground is open from late May to mid-October. The campground offers potable water, flush toilets, a dump station, fire grates, tables, trash bins, amphitheater and some site are handicapped accessible. From late June to Labor Day camping fees are $14 per night, the rest of the season fees are reduced to $12 per night.
Ohanapecosh Campground is located in the southeast corner of the park near the Stevens Canyon Entrance. The largest campground in Mount Rainier National Park, Ohanapecosh has 205 individual sites. Reservations are required and the campground is open from late May to mid-October. The campground offers potable water, flush toilets, dump station, fire grates, tables, trash bins, a Visitor Center, and amphitheater. From late June to Labor Day camping fees are $14 per night, the rest of the season fees are reduced to $12 per night.
White River Campground is located in the northeast corner of the park at the southern end of the Sourdough Mountains. The campground has 112 individual self-registration sites. The campground has a very limited season opening in late June and closing by mid-September. White River offers potable water, flush toilets, dump station, fire grates, tables, and trash bins. Fees are $10 per night.
Ipsut Creek Campground is located in the northwest corner of the park near the Carbon River and Rust Ridge. The small campground has 28 individual sites and is open year round, although access can be restricted due to snowstorms. The austere campground has minimal facilities offering only pit toilets and tables. There is no potable water. The road to the campground is subject to flooding and recreational vehicles as well as those pulling trailers may find access very difficult. Fees are $6 per night on a self-registration basis.
Finally there is the Mowich Lake Campground. Also located in the northwest corner of the park and offers 30 walk-in campsites. The campground is open from July until mid-October. Campsites have chemical toilets, tables, and refuse bins. Open fires are not allowed and there isn't any potable water. Camping is free and sites are available on a first come first serve basis, so during times of peak visitation be sure to arrive early.
If sleeping on the ground or in a recreational vehicle isn't your idea of a good time there are two inns located within the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park. The National Park Inn at Longmire, in the southwestern corner of the park offers 25 rooms and a full service restaurant. Overnight guest have access to a lounge that includes a rustic and massive stone fireplace. Open year round, the inn is an excellent starting off point for hiking, snow shoeing or cross country skiing. A general store is located within walking distance from the inn in a 1911 cabin. On weekends and holidays guided tours are available for visitors and guests alike. Room rates are very reasonable ranging from $72 to $147 per night.
The Paradise Inn is located in the southern section of the park. The historic lodge was built in 1917 and offers 117 rooms, a restaurant, lounge and gift shop. The lodge is spectacular and worth a peek even if you are just passing through. Most of the decorative woodwork was done by hand including the rustic piano and a 14-foot high grandfather clock. Open from May to October the Inn is an excellent jumping off point for outdoor adventure. Room rates range from $71 to $135 per night.
A spectacular park located close to an equally spectacular urban center, Mount Rainier National Park is a treasure that should be visited in your lifetime. Whether your plans include taking a scenic drive along the park roads that go around the mountain, hiking, camping, mountaineering, backcountry exploration or relaxing at a historic inn, you can find it all in this 367 square mile wonderland.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Mount Rainier National Park
Location: Western Washington, Seattle
Nearest Major Air Service: Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, Portland, Oregon
Fees & Permits: $10 per vehicle or $5 per bicycle, motorcycle or motor coach passenger. Backcountry permits are free. Camping fees range from free to $14 depending on campground and time of year. Climbing permit is $25.
Why Visit: Diverse ecosystem ranging from coastal rainforest to alpine environment. Highest peak in the state of Washington with snowfields and 25 glaciers. Incredible views and some of the finest weather during the summer months. Some of the best backcountry hiking in the United States. A difficult technical climb to the summit.
When To Visit: July to September
Essential Gear: Depends on a wide range of activity. Hat, sunglasses, lip balm, sunscreen, water, insect repellant, windbreaker, raingear, camera and binoculars. Other gear strongly recommended.
You Should Know: Mount Rainier is a serious, unforgiving mountain. Don't even think about climbing the summit without the proper gear, training, maps and guidance. Although the park receives two million visitors a year almost all visitation happens during the short summer season. Reservations are strongly recommended for lodging, campgrounds and any required permits. Don't be tricked into drinking clear mountain water untreated. Follow all protocol for hiking in bear and cougar country while visiting Mount Rainier.
More Information: Mount Rainier National Park, Tahoma Woods, Star Route, Ashford, Washington 98304-9751, (360) 569-2211.