Introduction to the Forest Zone

Mount Rainier, one of the world's great majestic mountains, is without doubt surrounded by some of the world's greatest primordial, or ancient, forests; also known as "old growth" forests. While most visitors to the Park come for the grand views found above the tree line, the deep forests of Rainier - about fifty-eight percent of the Park - provide a great abundance of flowering plants.

The forest zone in the Park proper extends from approximately 1,750 feet elevation at the Carbon River and southern SR 123 entrances to approximately 5,000 feet (click here for discussion of elevational zones). All entrances to the Park are in the forest zone except the eastern entrance via Hwy. 410 at Chinook Pass, elevation 5,432 feet. Most of the Park's lakes are within this range and cascading streams emanating from the glaciers and snowfields above form the major rivers here. Waterfalls abound.

The old growth forests of the Park are not uniformly populated with massive fir and cedar trees. Forest vegetation has been greatly affected by major disturbances such as fires, insects, avalanches and lahars, wind storms, etc. Within the broader zone are sub-zones, or life zones, where the species of trees, shrubs and flowering plants will also vary by elevation. Forest "patterns" are also affected by micro-climatic conditions and soil features. Trees and associated understory plants will vary within these patterns (ref. Moir). Hikes such as Huckleberry Creek (ref. Spring) offer strong evidence of the changing nature of the forest environment.

Amidst towering 700 year old Douglas-firs exceeding the height of twenty story buildings are some of the smallest and most splendid of Rainier's flowering plants.

.East Side Trail crossing of Ohanapecosh River, elev. 2,200'

 

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