The majestic 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, the United States' fourth-highest peak outside Alaska, is also one of its most beguiling. Encased in the 368-square-mile (953-square-kilometer) Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, the mountain's snow-capped summit and forest-covered foothills harbor numerous hiking trails, a wide range of sub-alpine flora and fauna, and an alluring conical peak that presents a formidable challenge for aspiring climbers.
In the higher elevations, snow covers much of the Mount Rainier year round. In lower elevations, travelers will find wildflower-draped slopes, lush rain forests of Douglas firs and western red cedars, and rivers snaking their way through the park. In the southeast corner of the park stands the Grove of the Patriarchs, where 1,000-year-old Douglas firs tower above the landscape.
Mount Rainier National Park is also home to all sorts of wildlife, including black bears, dear, elk and mountain goats. Marmots, a large member of the squirrel family, are a common site in the park as well, often seen stretching out on rocks to bask in the sun as well frolicking in the meadows, seemingly oblivious to human presence. Summer is the best time to take in all that the park has to offer.
Mount Rainier National Park lies some 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of Seattle. The park has four entrances, all off Interstate 5. Nisqually, on Hwy 706 via Ashford near the park's southwest corner, is the busiest and most convenient gate, being near the park's main nexus points of Longmire and Paradise, both of which have a number of important trailheads. Paradise is served by the flying-saucer-shaped Henry M Jackson Visitor Center, while the other entrances are Ohanapecosh, via Hwy 123; White River, off Hwy 410; and Carbon River, the most remote entryway, at the northwest corner.