Cascades Volcano Observatory

U.S. Geological Survey
Fact Sheet 2008-3062
version 1.0

Mount Rainier—Living Safely With a Volcano in Your Backyard

By Carolyn L. Driedger and William E. Scott


photo of pastoral scene with giant volcano looming in the background
The flat floor of the Puyallup River valley near Orting, Washington, is formed by deposits of the 500-year-old Electron lahar, which surged down from Mount Rainier (in background). Lahars, or volcanic mudflows, are rapidly flowing slurries of mud and boulders that destroy or bury most manmade structures in their paths. Lahars from Mount Rainier can travel for tens of miles along river valleys and reach Puget Sound. (USGS photograph by D.E. Wieprecht.)

Majestic Mount Rainier soars almost 3 miles (14,410 feet) above sea level and looms over the expanding suburbs of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. Each year almost two million visitors come to Mount Rainier National Park to admire the volcano and its glaciers, alpine meadows, and forested ridges. However, the volcano’s beauty is deceptive—U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research shows that Mount Rainier is one of our Nation’s most dangerous volcanoes. It has been the source of countless eruptions and volcanic mudflows (lahars) that have surged down valleys on its flanks and buried broad areas now densely populated. To help people live more safely with the volcano, USGS scientists are working closely with local communities, emergency managers, and the National Park Service.

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