Topographic Maps of Mt. Rainier NP
Find 1915 map survery locations
MPG V2.8, January 2013


Below are the links to the different sections in the description about the 1915 topographic map of the NP. The sections will be updated as additional information is found to incorporate into the section.

Introduction   Background   Pre-Map   Necessity   1915 Map   Other Maps   7.5' maps   Links   Map


The first topographic map exclusive of and for Mt. Rainier NP was produced by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 1915 from two traverse surveys from Kaposwin or Eatonville to McClure Rock in Mt. Rainier NP (northeast of Jackson Visitors Center at Paradise) and from plane-table surverys of the peaks, landmarks and features, all of the work done during the summers of 1910-13.

In addition a reconnaissance was done to establish the extent of the glaciers on Mt. Rainier down their respective river valley(s). This was part of the observations and monitoring of the glaciers, beginning with the Nisqually Glacier, and which has been continued by the USGS and the National Park Service (NPS) along with research into the other glaciers of Mt. Rainier.

The 1915 topographic map established the base map for future editions and research studies of Mt. Rainier NP, including the later updates in 1938 and 1971 with intervening revised editions of the map when the boundaries of the NP were remapped for new lands included in the NP, with changes in facilities, roads and trails, and with the latest mapping of the extent of the glaciers.


The US Geological Survey was established in 1879 with the expressed purpose to conduct a scientific survey of the lands and territories of the United States. From the outset of the USGS, topographic mapping and geologic mapping were two focuses and work of the agency. And without accurate topographic maps, no other research could be done.

To produce a topographic map, the USGS employed three different field survey methods. The first was to establish benchmarks, fixed permanent markers with an established elevation, to calibrate survey instruments and to establish benchmark at new locations. This is done with stadia surveys.

To establish elevation benchmarks at other locations, a survey team does a traverse survey from an existing benchmark to the location for a new one. This is done either with double or closed, loop levels or single loop and return levels. The former is the used when the distance is significant, usually over a mile or so.

The second was a plane-table survey. Starting from a known location, the survey team sets up a plane-table with the alidade and telescope and then surveys the surrounding peaks and features for azimuth, angle and distance, with which the same information from other sites, are used to establish the location of peaks, landmarks and features for the map of the area.

The third was the reconnaissance of the glaciers around Mt. Rainier, with the focus on the extent and terminus of each glacier. This involved hiking around the mountain noting the extent of the terminus with field surverys to include on the map being done with the plane-table survey.

This work was an extention of the 1896 expedition by a team of USGS geologists who investigated the glaciers on the northwest to northeast slopes of Mt. Rainier. From this Isreal Russell proposed a classification system for the glaciers of Mt. Rainier, which was revised by F.E. Matthes from their reconnaissance of the glaciers around Mt. Rainier for the 1915 map.

Pre-NP Maps

The maps of Mt. Rainier before the designation as a National Park and before the USGS 1915 topographic map were made from observations and photographs. Only two maps made their way into publications. The first, the Bailey Willis map of 1886 from his work with the railroad was the first to show the number and names of some of the glaciers.

The second map is the one Israel Russell published in the report on the 1896 expedition, This map, shown here with larger view, was an update of the Bailey Willis map by Sarvent and Evans and updated from the expedtion notes. To date, no other early maps have been identified in the research with the NP and the expedition.

Necessity for a Topographic Map

Not long after the designation of Mt. Rainier as a national park in 1899, efforts began to develop the NP and area for visitors. Up until then, only the diehard recreationists and mountain climbers traveled the long journey to Paradise via the train and then on trail with wagons, horses or walking. The problem was that there were competing ideas and interests to what extent the lower reaches, near Longmire and the upper elevations at Paradise needed to be developed.

The commercial interests, mostly the railroad, local governments, commercial and civic groups, and even the federal government, especially the NP management and the Corps of Engineers, wanted roads, and preferably lots of roads, but initially a road to Paradise and one, up the Carbon River valley to the Carbon glacier. They also wanted resort facilities. The recreationists and climbers wanted the better access and facilities, just not as extensive.

The real conflict came in the early 1900's when an number of interests wanted a road to circumnavigate the mountain within the boundaries of the NP. The road would be connected via the Carbon River road and the road to Paradise, and eventually roads to and into the NP in the southeast and northeast areas.

The conservationists and recreationists wanted land exempted from development and preferably designated wilderness, exclusive of development. But all of this was moot unless the engineers had a good topographic map of the NP. While the Corps of Enginners worked on a new road from Longmire to Paradise, the USGS was charged with producing the topographic map of the NP.

It was the hard work of the USGS cartographers and survery crews to conduct the field surveys and make the map, published in 1915. During that period, a large area on the north side of the NP from the Carbon Glacier to the now Sunrise area, was designated wilderness, and the long-sought circumnavigation road route proved infeasible for economic and engineering problems, and then became the Wonderland trail.

1915 Topographic Map

The team of USGS surveyers conducted the fieldwork (map) for the 1915 topographic map of the NP during the summers of 1910 through 1913. This was done with traverse surveys in 1910-11 and 1913 and plane-table survey in 1912 and 1913. It's not known when the extent of each glacier were surveyed, but likely during the summers of 1912 and/or 1913.

Traverse Surveys.-- The traverse survey to and into the NP used the closest benchmark which was in Kaposwin, about 50 miles from the NP entrance and 70 miles from McClure Rock where they established the first benchmark in the NP. The closure error of the entire length of each of the surveys was less than 0.4 feet and the difference in elevation at McClure Rock between the 1910-11 and 1913 surveys was 1.083 feet, over 6,750 foot elevation gain in the 70 mile distance of the survey.

The actual field notes of the traverse survey reside in the USGS archives but aren't of sufficient quality for much beyond reading (communications with USGS, 2008). What remains are the two summaries of the surveys, published in USGS Bulletin 457 (PDF) and Bulletin 557 (PDF), and the orignal sketch of the 1910 survey line from Orting to McClure Rock.

Note.--The descriptions for the reference marks used in the traverse survey are referenced to what roads existed at the time. The road from Orting to Ashford and to the NP entrance has changed in many areas. The road inside the NP from the entrance to Longmire and beyond to Paradise has changed for most of it's length. Only a few sections of the road today are in the same location.

Plane-table survey.-- The plane-table survey, example photo, was done from seven peaks, Mount Beljica, west of the southwest corner of the NP, Eagle Peak and Pinnacle Peak, just inside the southern boundary in the southweast area of the NP, McClure Rock, Johnnie (now Anvil Rock) and Observation Rock, around the summit of Mt. Rainier, and Sharp Peak, north of the northwestern corner of the NP. A summary of the field data was published in USGS Bulletin 551 (PDF).

That publication has one error and two name changes since publication. Whitman Crest, page 329, is misidentified as "Cathedral, Pierce County, Wash." The latitude and longitude matches the southern peak on Whitman Crest, and is confirmed by the distance surveyed from other plane-table sites, such as McClure Rock and Anvil Rock (then Johnnie). Anvil Rock, page 331, is identified as "Johnnie, Pierce County, Wash." as it was known then and later renamed to Anvil Rock. Old Baldy Mountain, page 332, is identified as "Sharp Peak, Pierce County, Wash." as it was known then and later renamed to Old Baldy Mountain.

A description of the plane-table survey of Mt. Rainier is published by F.E. Matthes in an article, "The Survey of Mount Rainier", published in The Mountaineer, Volume 8, page 61-66, 1915. The article describes the method and work to survey the south side of Mt. Rainier and determination the elevation of Columbia's Crest, the hightest point on Mt. Rainier. This work continued for the rest of the plane-table survey of the NP, see, maps of sites.

Glaciers.-- The reconnaissance of the glaciers of Mt. Rainier for the 1915 topopgraphic map isn't well documented, or at least found to date, but likely in field notes and materials in archives. It's likely the areal extent and terminus was noted on the plane-table map from observations of the terrain as seen from the survey site, since it would be difficult to actually map the glaciers through survey methods of the day.

Later Topographic Map

As stated in the introduction the USGS produced three maps exclusively focused on and for Mt. Rainier NP, meaning just the NP and only sufficient adjacent land to fit the scale and map. The USGS did, however, produce other maps which includes the NP for the different series of maps at different scales as part of their mandate to map the whole U.S.

These maps were mostly small scale (large area) maps, such as the 30-minute and 1-degree map series, until the USGS had the field data and photo imagery to produce the commom topographic map series we know today as the 24,000:1, or 7 1/2 minute, maps, now available in DRG's, PDF's and print format, see information.

Specifically for the NP series of maps, following the 1915 map, the USGS didn't update the map until the mid-1930 and then not again until the late 1960's. These maps were updated for the new land added to the NP, for the changes in the roads, facilities and trails, and for the latest mapping of the glaciers.

The 1924 Map.-- Although this map was not in the NP map series, it was part of the USGS 1:125,000, or 30-second, map series as the Mount Rainier Quadrangle, which includes the complete area of the NP, even including the land east of the map boundary in the NP. The notes for the map states the map for the NP was reduced from the 1915 map, rescaled for this map.

It is interesting to note this map, dated 1924 (original edition map), has the updated NP boundaries from the original designation in the east and southest, but those lands were not officially designated and included into the NP by law until 1931. This conflicts with the map date as there is no mention in the NP history of this prior to the passage of the law.

In addition, some of the information on the map, such as trails, roads, etc. supersede the map's date. It is possible the map was updated and reprinted but not noted on the map as a revised or reprinted edition. I'll add more when I find additional information.

The 1938 Map.-- The 1938 map, my copy reprinted in 1943, was updated from the 1915 map for the changes in the NP boundary and changes in the roads and trails and additional facilities. The key update was due to the increased land designated for the NP on the eastern and southern sides of the NP by law in 1926 and 1931.

The eastern boundary was moved eastward in the northeast corner of the NP to the divide between the White River and Silver Creek basin (now Crystal Mountain Resort) to the crest of the Cascade divide, then southward along the Cascade divide to the divide with Carlton Creek to the southwestern corner of the NP. This made for better land management of the river basins on the western side of the Cascade Mountains, now entirely in the NP.

The southern boundary was extended from the southwestern corner extension along the divide with Carlton Creek to the top of the Backbone Ridge to accommodate the new Stevens Canyon road, an extension of Highway 706 from Paradise to Highway 123 and the north-south highway along the east side of the NP. The southern boundary was extended south in the southwestern area to follow the Nisqually River from the NP entrance to the bend in the river then extended the boundary on a straight line from there to the Cowlitz River (adding land in the Cowlitz River basin).

The 1971 Map.-- The 1971 map and later reprints were produced for the small boundary changes from the additonal lands added since World War II and the changes in roads, trails and facilities, and the latest mapping of the glaciers. This is the last known version of the map of the entire NP on one sheet.

Changes.-- To date there have been a few changes since the 1971 map, specifically three land acquistions. While some of the 7.5-minute quadrangle maps have been updated to reflect these changes, the 1971 NP map has not been updated and reprinted.

One is the southern extension in the southeast quadrant of the NP along the Backbone Ridge for the inclusion of the entire Stevens Canyon Road, Highway 706, between Paradise and Highway 123 from Highway 12 over White Pass. The other is the inclusion the parcel of USFS land along the western NP boundary for the inclusion of the entire old Westside Road at Klatpachte Point on Klapatche Ridge. Both of these were in 1998 legislation.

The newest, in 2003, is the exclave on USFS lands outside the northwestern corner of the NP along the Carbon River Road to the NP, see NPCA news release (PDF), for the extention of the Carbon River gateway for the NPS to work with the USFS for better management of the roads and facilities for visitors and better management of the natural resources of the Carbon River and old-growth forest.

Other Early Maps

The 1907 USACE Map.-- This map was produced by Eugene Ricksecker, US Army Corps of Engineers, in 1906 (my copy updated in 1907) from available information of landmarks, roads, trails and facilities. Nothing to date has established the reason or purpose for the map other than perhaps with the road improvements from the southwest entrance to paradise (Ricksecker Point is named after the engineer).

The 1914 Relief Map.-- This map predates the 1915 topographic map. It's a full shaded relief map of the generalized features of the NP based on the topographic map produced a year later. Nothing to date has established the reason or purpose for the map other than for a visual presentation of the landscape for the topographic map, and for the engineering of the Longmire to Paradise and Carbon River roads.

7.5 Minute Qudrangles

Mt. Rainier NP is covered by fifteen 7.5-minute quadrangle maps, which you can download (PDF's), in the USGS' 1:24,000 map series of the entire US. These maps are updated or photo-revised over the years as resources are available, but to date just over half have been updated as noted in the table below.

USGS 7.5-minute Topograpic Maps
with print (update Years)

Northern Map
Golden Lake - 1971
Mowich Lake - 1971
Sunrise - 1971
White River Park - 1971
Norse Peak - 1971 (2000)
Central Maps
Mt Wow - 1971
Mt Rainier West - 1971
Mt Rainier East - 1971
Chinook Pass - 1971 (1987)
Cougar Lake - 1971 (2000)
Southern Maps
Sawtooth Ridge - 1971 (1989)
Wahpenayo Peak - 1971 (1989)
Tatootsh Lakes - 1971 (1989)
Ohanapecosh - 1971 (1989)
White Pass - 1971 (1998)

This means the print edtion of the maps are out of date for changes in the NP since the print or revision date. There are other non-USGS maps which also cover the NP which may be more current, such as National Geographic or Green Trails.

Topographic Map Software

The newest technology with maps are the topographic software and map applications for different platforms, such as desktop computers (PC and Mac), tablets and mobile devices, such as the iPad and iPhone. These applications vary in features, functions, tools, maps, etc for each platform including being self-contained for the software and maps or for downloading maps with the software.

The main advantage of these besides the many features and tools is the ability to display USGS 7.5-minute topographic maps seemlessly with no loss of resolution. These do still have the limitation of the date of the map (above). Some packages have updated versions with their own presentation of the maps with newer information.

The desktop packages seem to be the most complete, which I wrote a review of the three that I currently have on my Mac Pro, National Geographic's (NG's) TOPO!, MacGPS Pro, and Garmin's BaseCamp. I also have NG Park Map and Topo Maps applications for Mt. Rainier NP on my iPad, the former using the NPS and their own maps for the latest information.

Advisory.-- One word of caution about using the topographic map applications on tablets or mobile devices, specifically the GPS information. The accuracy is variable with the device to be a little off to significantly off for location, distance and travel route. Use them with caution for other uses.

It is my experience from tests using them with desktop topographic map software and print maps that the latitude and longitude and elevation information from topographic map applications on tablet or mobile devices should never be used for accuracy or any other application. The underlying point data and algorithms aren't that good.

Personal Notes

The goals of this and the map Web pages about the 1915 topographic map is to provide the background information to understand the extent of the work by many USGS and other people around and in Mt. Rainier NP to provide the first definitive map of the topography and features, which provided the basis for later scientific research and maps.

I also wanted to provide a glimpse into the technology and work of the time used to collect the field data used to produce the map. It was hard, difficult work for the different surveys, the work of doing two 70-mile traverse surveys, hiking up and down 7 mountains in and around Mt. Rainier with cumbersome and heavy plane-table equipment and survey instruments, and hiking around to map the extent of the glaciers.

In addition it should be remembered that most of the roads and many of the trails we see today did not exist in the early years in the NP. The only road was the one from the Nisqually entrance to Longmire and the Paradise valley and area. Trails existed to all of the plane-table sites, some longer due to extra distance from the then existing trailheads, except Observation Rock where no trail exists even today.

The last goal was to demonstrate the technology then in comparison to the current mapping technology which more than demonstrates the correctness and accuracy of the field work, minus mis-identifying a few features, to produce a map basically still in use, even with the updates with the latest aerial, satellite and GPS technology and computer mapping systems.

You can see the comparison in the accuracy of the locations for each landmark in the information window for each one (map Web page) between the original location and corrected using the latest USGS 1:24,000 topographic maps and the description of the site within some reasonable error. It demonstrates the skills of the USGS field crew and the field cartographer then with precision instruments and field experience.


Below are the links to the various maps resources for current and historical maps and other historical resources for the early years of Mt. Rainier NP. To date I haven't posted a link the my copy of the USGS 1915 topographic map of the NP because while the map is public domain and free for use, but my copy was acquired from the Bailey Willis collection at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles and we haven't resolved the use and public distribution rights yet.

Please use the contact link to send e-mail. Photo from USGS archives.

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WSR V2.8, January 2013