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Washington state's majestic Mount Rainier, sometimes called "the Mt. Fuji of the USA" (the two locations are "sister parks" in fact), goes by several other names, none of which have anything to do with the Pacific Northwest's often damp climate. Ignoring names given by Native Americans, we have grown accustomed to using the monikers bestowed on natural sites by our English cousins in centuries past, including this mountain's being called after an admiral friend, Peter Rainier, of Captain George Vancouver, who "discovered" the peak in 1792. Vancouver also named other landmarks for friends or colleagues, such as Puget Sound (for Lt. Peter Puget). The Native American name for the mountain is Tahoma, a variation of which was appended to the nearby city of Tacoma as it began to grow back in the 19th century.

The mountain is the single most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states, with about 75 glaciers, endangered like others throughout the world by global warming. The lowest of any glacier in the Lower 48 states is Carbon Glacier, at 3,500 feet, in the northwest corner of the park. Mt. Rainier is the fifth-highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, at 14,410 feet only 84 feet lower than the highest, California's Mt. Whitney. The best time to come, unless you want winter sports, is between early May and early October. Not far south of here is still smoldering Mt. St. Helens, in the same Cascade Range.

Mt. Rainier National Park was established in 1899, the nation's fifth national park, only Yellowstone (1872), Yosemite, Sequoia and General Grant parks (all in California and all in 1890) opening before it. Rainier measures 378 square miles, with a rain forest at 1,880 feet elevation to year round snow at the peak. Like its Japanese counterpart and Mt. St. Helens, it is an active volcano, though the last major eruption was some 150 years ago.

Flora & Fauna

Among the fauna to be seen here are deer, elk, mountain goats, pikas (like rabbits) and marmots, as well as rare black bear and cougars. Wild mountain flowers are the most impressive flora, as well as heavy timber up to the frost line.

Highlights

The park has four visitor centers at its four entrances, at each corner of the complex, plus an eastern entrance. Only the southwest entrance, at Nisqually, and the main visitors center, the Jackson, are open all year, the others only in summer. Stop by for late information, maps and brochures. The park is easily reached by road from Seattle, about 90 miles away.

Most visitors like to come directly to the park's oldest developed area, Longmire, where the National Park Inn is open all year for lodging and dining. A couple of easy trails start here, too, or you can look into the small museum next door. Another popular area is Paradise (5,400 feet), site of the Paradise Inn (scheduled for reopening in May 2008 after extensive renovation) and the Jackson Visitor Center. From July through September, you can drive up to Sunrise, the highest point reachable by road, at 6,400 feet. Nice views of the glaciers from up here. Scenic views are also the thing in the southeastern corner of the park at Ohanapecosh, or in the northwest corner, in the Carbon River area.

Activities

Hiking and climbing are the favorite sports here, but be careful in winter, as unprepared visitors die every cold season here, mostly because of human error. {Popular trails include the .7 mile-Trail of the Shadows from the National Park Inn and the Nisqually Vista Trail (1.2 miles) from the Jackson Visitor Center. There are no bike trails here, but you can fish without a license or go boating or horseback riding. In winter, the main sports are cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and occasional snowmobiling.

Rangers

Park rangers lead hikes, tours, discussions and seminars at each of the four visitor centers, mostly in summer.

New in 2008

The disastrous rains of November 2006 closed the park for six months, but repairs have continued ever since, and most of the property is back to normal, though repairs will continue through 2008. (Some of the 1,500 volunteers in 2007 came from as far away as Japan, in fact.)

Entrance Fees

You can visit the park on a $15 vehicle pass good for seven days, or pay $5 per day if you walk in or come by bike, horse or motorcycle. There's an annual pass for $30, and, of course, the nationwide federal passes are also recognized. Camping costs range from $10 to $15.

Number of Visitors

The park had 1,757,910 visitors in 2005, the last year for which figures are available.

Sources of Information

The official site of Mount Rainier National Park is www.nps.gov/mora. The main office phone is 360/569-2211.

A good commercial site is www.mount.rainier.national-park.com.

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