Despite the smoke-filled skies of summer, the whiteout winter months and the endless drizzling rain of spring and fall, 2018 Was Mount Rainier National Park’s most popular year since at least 1992 and the 13th most-popular year in Rainier history. 

A lot has changed since 1992. Back then, the popular songs were Achy Breaky Heart, I Will Always Love You, and Jump by Kriss Kross. Just over 5.1 million people lived in Washington State in 1992, compared to just under 7.5 million today. Seattle’s population was just 521,137 and the median household income for King County was $41,647. Today, those numbers are 724,745 people in Seattle and a King County median income of $84,897. In 1992, the Seahawks won just two games all year, while the Sonics lost game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the Phoenix Suns. The Mariners had yet another frustrating season, so I suppose not everything has changed. 

In 1992, Mount Rainier had 1,522,057 visitors. In 2018, Mount Rainier received 1,518,491 recreation visitors. 

1,518,491 visitors may sound like a lot. The number, combined with the knowledge of knowing that Mount Rainier had its best year in a quarter century will more than likely have the old guard hikers screaming that the park is being loved to death, a phrase they use over and over again like John Muir quotes. There is no need to panic, though. As I mentioned at the top, 2018 is only the 14th highest year for visitation in Mount Rainier National Park history. All National Park numbers listed on this post are from the official NPS visitation statistics website. 

Top Years for Visitation For Mount Rainier National Park

  • 1970 was the most visited year, seeing 1,925,100 recreation visitors. 
  • 1962 is second with 1,905,300.
  • 1977 had 1,819,600 for third
  • 1967 saw 1,805,900
  • 1966 comes in at 1,722,300 for fifth
  • 1968 is sixth with 1,682,700
  • 1969 had 1,659,500 for seventh
  • 1965 saw 1,643,100
  • 1978 come in at 1,606,968 for ninth
  • 1991 rounds out the top ten with 1,549,412
  • 1963 is eleventh with 1,544,300
  • 1992 had 1,522,057 for twelfth
  • 2018 had 1,518,491
  • 1979 had 1,516,703

Where Did People Go? Where Did they Stay?

In 2018, the majority, 748,944, entered the National Park through the Nisqually entrance station. Cayuse Pass saw the second highest number of visitors entering the park with 284,402. White River and Ohanapecosh were next, with 183,461 and 179,165, respectively. Mowich had 52,800 visitors, while the Carbon River had just 35,565. Both the Carbon River and White River Entrances saw a decrease in visitation from their 2017 numbers. 

While many complained that the lines to get into the park were too long this summer, tens of thousands entered the park via bus, saving both gas and parking spaces. In 2018, approximately 34,054 visitors entered the park via bus, up 17% from 2017. 

For those interested in camping numbers for 2018, the stats should come as no surprise. Backcountry stays increased from 2017 numbers by 16.2%, giving 64,294 stays. Overall, tent stays in the park increased by 11.9% from 2017, seeing 83,645 stays. RV stays also increased, raising 4% from 2017, seeing 30,623 stays. Even group stays increased, jumping 14% from 2017 to 11,073. The Lodges, both at Longmire and Paradise, saw 22,543 guests 2018, down 24% from 2017.

Cars wait to enter Mount Rainier National Park and experience freshly fallen snow.

As always, the most popular months to visit Mount Rainier National Park were July and August, followed by June and September. Just under half of the annual visitation to the park occurs during these months, so if you go during the summer, don’t forget to pack your patience. Everyone wants to experience the alpine bliss of Rainier, and bask in the mountain wonderland that this iconic volcano possesses. You are part of the crowd and we all own the park, so enjoy your day and encourage all you see to use LNT Principles! 

Mount Rainier will see increases and decreases in popularity over the next few years, just like it always has. 2019 might be even more popular than 2018, and then again it might not. Personally, I hope everyone has a chance to experience Mount Rainier. I hope every kid and adult gets to hike a trail, stare at a glacier, see a marmot and become mesmerized by the splendor and scale of our National Parks. 

Story was originally published on January 9th, 2018.

Mount Rainier is a featured destination in Summit Book 2019, a one of a kind celebration of public lands around the PNW. In the Summit Book 2019, the Mount Rainier sections detail the history, routes of hikes and climbs, and awesome locations of the iconic National Park.