Mount Rainier National Park – Ice on Top and Fire Inside

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Rising some 14,410 feet (4,392 m) above sea level, this active volcano is “the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A., spawning five major rivers…” according to the National Park Service’s website. Our visit to the park on a beautiful October day afforded me an entire collection of views of the still-active volcano. Probably my favorite view of the mountain is from the Reflections Lakes scenic area. There are a couple of lakes here, and the parking area provides an interesting view of the mountain, but take a short walk to the east where there is a smaller lake that is part of the group known as Reflections Lakes. I found it to have a better reflection of the mountain. That is the viewpoint in my opening image.

On the long drive through the park, there are many views of the forest and those rivers I mentioned a moment ago. The mountain is 68 miles (109 km) south and east of Seattle and only a few minutes further travel time from Portland, Oregon. Many creeks that are similar to the one pictured above trickle (or rush) through the mountainous terrain.

Of course, with all of those streams and rivers, you will encounter many bridges on the road through the park. The parking area near the bridge in the image above also has a short trail toward the creek where you will find a popular view of one of the park’s many waterfalls. Christine Falls Bridge was built in 1927-28 and is a simple arched bridge that spans 56 feet (17 m).

Another view of the same bridge provides the context of the forest in which the bridge is nestled. That parking area I referenced is tucked behind the trees off the right side of this image.

Christine Falls drops 69 feet (21 m) in two steps, the upper drop of the falls is 32 feet (9.8 m) and is not visible from the vantage point of the image above. The lower drop is 37 feet (11 m), and probably because of the trail to this vantage point, Christine Falls is probably the most photographed waterfall in the park.

From a viewpoint on the other side of the bridge which is off the image on the left in this photo, the upper level of Christine Falls is visible.

Travelers continuing over the bridge will immediately encounter one of the tunnels necessary to carry the road through the park. That drive through the park will last a couple of hours (if you don’t stop to gawk at the scenery.) Of course, that would be stupid. Plan a half- to a full day in the park and drink in all of that natural beauty.

There are over forty waterfalls of merit in the park, and I will share with you an image of another waterfall that is not hidden deep in the forest. You aren’t even required to hike to find Upper Sunbeam Falls, and you will be able to see it from the road, but take a few moments to park, get out of the car, and enjoy the beauty of the falls. To get to Upper Sunbeam Falls, take Stevens Canyon Road toward Louise Lake. Near the Bench Lake Trailhead above Louise Lake, there is a small sign near the bridge that notes you are crossing Sunbeam Creek. From here you can see the falls as you cross the bridge.

That white nearly horizontal line near the bottom of the image is the highway through the park. On park roads, the highest altitude you can reach without leaving your vehicle is 6,400 feet (1951 m). If you plan a day trip, Frommer’s Online Travel Site recommends entering the southwest corner of the park, drive through Longmire to Paradise, then Ohanapecosh, and then to Sunrise where there is a visitor center.

The last time Mount Rainier erupted was in 1854. The largest glaciers on the mountain are Carbon Glacier and Emmons Glacier. Part of the Cascades range, Mount Rainier is only about 50 miles (80 km) on a direct line to Mount Saint Helens, the most recently erupted active volcano in Washington. However, the drive between mountains is quite a bit longer, a minimum of 166 miles (267 km) and about 3.5 hours of driving time.

On the roads in the park, you will find many views of the park’s namesake mountain, and I submit for your review a gallery of images of the tallest active volcano on the continent. Please click on one of the tiles to enlarge the image and scroll through the gallery (if your browser supports the function.)


John Steiner

16 thoughts on “Mount Rainier National Park – Ice on Top and Fire Inside

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