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What Is Mount Rainier National Park?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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Mount Rainier National Park is a part of the United States National Park system, located in Washington State's Lewis and Pierce Counties. It was officially established as a National Park on 2 March 1899 by order of President William McKinley. The park is intended to help preserve Mount Rainier and the wilderness areas surrounding it. Mount Rainier is one of the highest mountain peaks in the continental United States, and is also believed to be one of the largest volcanoes in the world. The peak itself reaches a height of about 14,411 feet (4,392 meters) and the park itself encompasses about 368 square miles (950 square kilometers) of land, about 96 percent of which is classified as true wilderness.

It is believed that humans beings have inhabited the area now known as Mount Rainier National Park since about 4,000 BCE. Native peoples probably referred to the mountain by the name Tahcoma. Captain George Vancouver, and Englishman, is generally credited with being the first European to discover the mountain in 1792. He is said to have christened the peak "Mount Rainier" in honor of his friend and colleague Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.

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In the early years of the 19th century, European activity in the Mount Rainier National Park area was limited to hunting, trapping, exploration, and scientific expeditions. European settlers began to establish communities in the area in the later half of the 19th century. Philemon van Trump and Hazard Stevens are considered the first men to successfully climb Mount Rainier all the way to top, in 1870. Railroad travel began attracting tourists to Mount Rainier and its surrounding region in the last two decades of the 19th century. Petitions by such organizations as the Sierra Club, the National Geographic Society, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Geological Society of America led to the establishment of Mount Rainier National Park as a protected public wilderness area in 1899.

Today, Mount Rainier National Park receives an estimated two million yearly visitors, many of them coming from nearby urban centers. Visitors to Mount Rainier National Park can enjoy more than 300 miles (482.8 kilometers) of hiking trails. About 10,000 people attempt to summit Mount Rainier each year. The park also boasts about 91,000 acres (370 square kilometers) of old-growth forests. The slopes of Mount Rainier are home to over 26 glaciers, making it America's biggest glacier system.

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