As one of the most visible National Parks in America, Mount Rainier has been captivating and enticing adventurers for generations. Rainier is the destination where we go for breathtaking scenery, amazing panoramas and the creation of outdoor memories; this is our special place. While Mount Rainier is not the most visited National Park in the state of Washington (Olympic National Park has that honor), the glaciated volcano draws millions of visitors from around the world, who find unrivaled beauty in this majestic region.
Mount Rainier National Park has had its fair share of famous visitors. One of the most influential and celebrated visitors to Mount Rainier was naturalist and conservationist John Muir. In 1888, one year before Washington became a state, Muir traveled to Mount Rainier and summited the peak. It was on this journey that he witnessed his first glacier, which spurred him to help raise awareness of the region and to eventually have it protected as a National Park. In just one decade his speeches and series about the park helped convince the nation’s leaders that the mountain and wilderness around it needed to be protected. Mount Rainier was created as a National Park by President William McKinley on March 2, 1899, making it America’s fifth National Park.
During the first five years of visitation to Mount Rainier, records were not kept, as travel into the park was extremely difficult. The first recorded visitation year for the park was 1904, when just 563 people officially visited. In 1907 the first cars entered the park, and by 1908 Mount Rainier National Park was the first park in America to charge visitor fees for those entering the region by car. The fees did not stop people from coming. President Taft visited the park in 1911, helping the park’s popularity skyrocket. In 1915 35,000 people visited Mount Rainier, and by 1923 over 100,000 people were coming to the park each year.
One of the most famous visitors, Walt Disney, came to Mount Rainier National Park in July of 1925. After their marriage, Walt and Lillian Disney had their honeymoon at Mount Rainier, quickly taking in the sights before Walt had to have a tooth removed in Seattle the next day. While they spent very little time in the park, the area spoke to him, as the Pacific Northwest was the destination for many different projects the soon-to-be famous artist would make. When Disney came to Rainier, he was unknown and far from famous. It would be three years after his honeymoon that he would create Mickey Mouse, the iconic cartoon that would launch his career.
Mount Rainier did not just lure in conservationists, presidents and future household names. It was also the location for the U.S. National Championships and Olympic trials for the 1936 Winter Olympics. On April 13 and 14, 1935, the slopes above Mount Rainier’s Paradise regions boasted the nation’s best downhill and slalom racers. The course was, at the time, one of the hardest and steepest downhill courses, dropping over 3,000 feet in less than two miles. During the event five local skiers made the Olympic team. However, they did not place in Germany during the games. Attendance to Mount Rainier National Park continued to increase until 1943.
Once World War II broke out, visits to National Parks, including Mount Rainier, plummeted. In 1943 and 1944, attendance numbers were as low as they were in 1923, largely due to a busy work force, a large number of men overseas and rationing. That all changed in 1945, thanks to a visit by President Harry S. Truman. Despite the war in the Pacific still raging, as our troops were fighting for Okinawa, Truman took a break and headed toward Mount Rainier. In the days following his visit, Truman addressed the newly created United Nations in San Francisco, met with Josef Stalin and then made the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At Mount Rainier, before the world forever changed yet again, Truman relaxed, hung out with his good friends from Washington’s political circles, took a drive around the mountain and even got into a snowball fight with members of the press corps.
Throughout the following years, numerous politicians of every level have frequented the park. Governor Dixie Lee Ray climbed it when she was just 12-years-old, becoming one of the youngest women to ever summit the peak. Vice President Al Gore summitted Mount Rainier in the late 1990s. Governor Inslee, according to his staff at the Capitol, climbed Mount Rainier before he became Governor of the Evergreen State, one of many outings he has taken to our state’s oldest National Park.
In 2016, when the National Park Service turned 100 years old, Mount Rainier was the 18th most-visited National Park in America. With nearly 100 million visitors in its history, the park will continue to draw dignitaries, tourists and locals to the wilderness bliss surrounding the volcanic peak. Offering over 260 maintained trails, dozens of stunning automobile pull-offs, and camping and lodging experiences unlike anywhere else in the world, Mount Rainier is the place to take a weekend or two to reconnect and make endless memories.