Great Lodges of the National Parks
Pacific Northwest: Paradise Inn
Mt. Rainier National Park, 1899
Native people called the peak Takhoma, and avoided the summit because of spirits who lived there. It was Capt. George Vancouver who named the peak Mt. Rainier, while exploring Puget Sound in 1792.
John Muir, writing in 1888, called Paradise Valley "...the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings." That was also the year explorer and guide James Longmire began to build a camp near some hot springs, which he promoted as "healing baths." Both men would have Park features named after them.
In 1893, part of the region was set aside as the Pacific Forest Reserve. Congress expanded the site in 1897, changing the name to Mt. Rainier Forest Reserve. But in order to truly protect the area, national Park status was required. On March 2, 1899, Mt. Rainier National Park was born.
Easily visible from 150 miles away, Mt. Rainier anchors the regional landscape. It is the tallest volcano, and fifth-highest peak, in the Lower 48 states. Rainier is a sleeping volcano, blanketed by 35 square miles of permanent snow and ice. The mountain's shoulders bear fragile subalpine meadows and old growth forests, offering niche habitats for a variety of flora and fauna.
Until collapsing about 6,000 years ago, the top part of the volcanic cone rose another 1,500 feet. Today the peak looks like a giant ice cream cone, but the USGS still considers Rainier to be the most dangerous volcano in the US. Although it isn't active now, the volcano's past eruptions carried mudflows as far as modern-day Seattle and Tacoma. Risk assessment includes ongoing observations of seismic activity near the peak.
People & Protection
In 1928, Mt. Rainier was the first National Park to develop a long-range management plan. The plan set aside large sections of the Park as perpetual "roadless areas." Even so, some early uses of the Park caused damage that is still being repaired. Boating activity hurt wetlands and shore vegetation. A golf course and campgrounds devastated subalpine meadows.
In 2001, a new management plan was created, primarily to help protect the Park from overuse by humans. Nearly 2 million people come to the Park every year, and almost 90% visit during the brief, 122-day summer season.
Paradoxically, at Rainier, it is also necessary to protect people from the Park. Since its creation, well over 300 people have died in the Park, often because of failing to respect the power of the environment. Search and rescue missions are common.
From the beginning, roads have been hard to build and maintain in Mt. Rainier's rugged terrain. The first access road to Paradise Valley opened in 1911. Sections of the early Paradise road were so dangerous that driving was prohibited for "boys under 21 and women." In 1912, President Taft, a notoriously large man, was being driven up this road when his touring car bogged down in mud and had to be pulled out by a team of mules.
Today, there are 147 miles of roads in the Park, and there are still frequent closures due to fallen trees, washouts, winter storms, rockslides, avalanches and other hazards.
There is no public transportation in the Park, so traffic congestion is an ongoing problem. In 1992, the Park admitted 815,737 vehicles - the equivalent of one car for each linear foot of roadway.