Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
First Things First
Mt. Rainier, copyright Mt. Rainier
When a Washington State local brags about "The Mountain," they're undoubtedly talking about Mt. Rainier. At 14,411 feet above sea level, this snow-capped volcano is not only a conversation piece, it's also the reason people come to Mt. Rainier National Park, a 235,612-acre reserve in Ashford, WA.
There's a lot to do in the park. But your top priority should be doing "The Mountain" itself. The third highest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier is also one of the world's most massive volcanoes. But don't expect any action. Unlike nearby Mt. St. Helens, Rainier last erupted more than 2,000 years ago.
Instead of lava, you'll see glaciers -- lots of them (a real thrill for kids who've only read about these ice rivers in science class!). There are 26 different ones, of which Nisqually is the most visible.
When planning your hike on Rainier, keep the following in mind: This is the "practice mountain" for those training to climb Mt. Everest. Don't expect to reach the summit unless you're a skilled mountaineer. Amateurs and families should stay on easy trails, or take a ranger-led walking tour.