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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Too popular? Timed entry might be coming soon to Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier as seen from the summit of Mount Stuart on Aug. 17, 2019.  (Eli Francovich/The Spokesman-Review)
By Craig Sailor (Tacoma) News Tribune

On a sunny summer day, visitors rush to Mount Rainier National Park to see slopes of wildflowers, cascading waterfalls and glistening glaciers. And that, say park officials, is the problem: Mount Rainier is the belle of the ball with too many suitors.

Now, a plan is underway to limit visitors by using timed entry into the park’s three major vehicle entrances beginning in summer 2024.

The National Park Service (NPS) want’s to know what the public thinks of the proposal.

Growing popularity

From 2008 to 2021 annual visitation at Rainier rose from 1.7 million to more than 2.4 million. Visitors decreased in 2020, the first full year of the pandemic, with 30% fewer visitors than 2019. In 2022, the park had 2.3 million visitors.

In 1977, the park saw 2.4 million visitors, nearly equal to 2021. But vehicle traffic has outpaced the visitors they contain. In 1977, only 658,000 vehicles entered the park. In 2021, just over 1 million vehicles did.

“Visitors currently experience wait times of more than an hour to enter the park through the Nisqually and White River Entrance Stations on busy days, causing congestion both inside and outside of the park,” the NPS said in a statement Wednesday. “Roadway congestion also occurs within the park at popular trailheads, which leads to parking in undesignated areas and pedestrian safety concerns due to limited roadway visibility.”

Even on its busiest days, Mount Rainier National Park’s 369 square miles can make for secluded hiking and backpacking trips. The congestion comes mostly in the form of vehicle drivers accessing the park’s limited roads.

While many enjoy Rainier’s snow-covered slopes in winter, 70% of the park’s visitors come between July and September, according to the NPS.

The plan

If you’ve visited Paradise on a summer weekend, you know open parking spots can be rarer than a Sasquatch sighting.

The NPS’s draft plan would manage and pace vehicle entry into key areas of the park, including Paradise and Sunrise. The park’s preferred plan, the NPS said, would implement a timed-entry reservation system at the park’s Nisqually, Stevens Canyon, and White River entrance stations during peak times.

Park superintendent Greg Dudgeon said the majority of recent visitor feedback has centered on traffic congestion, parking shortages and crowding.

“That is exactly what we are hoping to address with a timed-entry reservation system,” he said.

The Park Service has timed-entry programs at other parks, including Glacier National Park.

Public comment

Comments on the plan can be submitted online at through June 11. A final decision will be made later this year with a potential start date in summer 2024.

The public can also attend a virtual meeting to learn about the proposal on May 3 from 4-5:30 p.m. NPS staff will answer questions and guide the commenting process. To register for this meeting, visit: