Mount Rainier Wilderness
The park 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.