The Ultimate Guide to Washington’s Mountains: The Name Game

Washington’s got great mountains, and some of the stories about how they got their names are just a

By Anna Samuels May 2, 2011

The Brothers, 6,565 feet; Mount Constance, 7,743 feet; Mount Ellinor, 5,952 feet
In the 1850s, during his survey of Northwest mountains for the U.S. Coast Survey, Lieutenant George Davidson found the perfect way to impress his future in-laws when he named several peaks after members of the family of his soon-to-be bride, Ellinor Fauntleroy. The double summits known as The Brothers, the most imposing mountains of the Olympic range when viewed from Seattle, were named for Ellinor’s siblings, Arthur and Edward. Mount Constance honors Ellinor’s older sister and, of course, Mount Ellinor was named for the bride-to-be herself. Now that’s an engagement rock!

Mount Olympus, 7,980 feet
The highest peak in the Olympic range was named in 1774 by Spanish explorers led by Juan Perez, who dubbed it Cerro Nevada de la Santa Rosalia. In 1778, English captain John Meares marveled at its majesty and rechristened it Mount Olympus because it resembled a godlike paradise.

Mount Anderson, 7,321 feet
This craggy peak boasts unbeatable views from its central location in the Olympic range. Because of its size and location, it is sometimes referred to as the Mount Olympus of the eastern Olympics. Its name honors U.S. Army General Thomas Anderson, a hero of the Battle of Manila in 1898.

Mount Deception, 7,788 feet
G. A. Whitehead of the U.S. Forest Service renamed the second-highest mountain in the Olympics for its nearly impossible-to-find climbing routes (thanks to perpetual cloud cover). The mountain’s previous name, Mount Holmes, honored John H. Holmes of the Boston Herald and the Seattle Press Expedition, a group that set out to explore the Olympics on the occasion of Washington’s receiving statehood.


Mount Angeles, 6,454 feet
This popular climbing spot is named for its proximity to the city of Port Angeles, the original name of which was Puerto de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (Port of Our Lady of the Angels) by Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza y Reventa.

Mount Rainier, 14,410 feet
The iconic Northwest peak was first referred to as Talol or Tacoma by the Puyallup tribe. It is the Lushootseed word for “mother of waters.” Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy was presumably among the first Europeans to spot the mountain in 1792, and he named it for his friend (and boss), Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.

Mount Adams, 12,276 feet
American settler Hall Jackson Kelley named this giant after former U.S. Ppresident John Adams. In the 1830s, Kelley attempted to rename all the mountains in the Cascade Range after presidents, but his plan for the Presidents’ Range was not realized. He actually intended to give the name Mount Adams to Mount Hood near Portland, but a mapmaker’s error placed the name near the Mount Adams we know today—and it stuck.

Mount Baker, 10,781 feet
Spanish explorers in 1790 called it La Gran Montañna del Carmelo because the snow-capped peak reminded them of the white robes of Carmelite monks. Two years later, British explorer George Vancouver named the mountain to honor his shipmate, Lieutenant Joseph Baker, who had first spotted the mountain.

Mount St. Helens, 8,365 feet
Also named by Vancouver, this mountain honors Alleyne Fitzherbert, Baron of St. Helens and ambassador to Spain. Previously, the mountain was referred to as Louwala-Clough” by Pacific Northwest Native Americans, meaning “smoking mountain” for its eruptive tendencies.

Glacier Peak, 10,541 feet
Only 70 miles northeast of Seattle, this active volcano has produced some of the largest and most explosive eruptions in Washington, most recently about 300 years ago. In 1870, Daniel Linsley surveyed the mountain when researching possible railroad routes, but its name was not printed on any maps until 1898.

Slate Peak, 7,440
Intended for use as a lookout point during World War II, the peak takes its name from the surrounding Slate Creek gold mines. In the 1890s, Colonel Thomas Hart built a narrow road into the district to make the mines more accessible; today Hart’s Pass is the highest point in Washington accessible by car.

Crystal Mountain, 7,012 feet
Home to Washington’s largest ski resort, this mountain shares its name with Crystal Lake on the south end of the peak.

Mount Pilchuck, 5,340 feet
Unlike most of Washington’s peaks, this mountain stuck with its original name. Native Americans referred to it as Pilchuck, which means “red water” and refers to a nearby creek.

Mount Si, 4,167 feet
This mountain and its smaller twin Little Si were named for pioneer Josiah Merritt (affectionately known as Uncle Si), who made his home at the base of the mountains in a cabin he built in 1862.


Steptoe Butte, 3,612 feet
This butte commemorates Colonel Edward Steptoe of the U.S. Army who, in 1858, was defeated by a group of Native Americans at the battle of Pine Creek in the Palouse region. Steptoe Butte is also the archetype for its specific variety of rock form; subsequent to the naming of the butte, “steptoe” has come to refer to isolated protrusions of bedrock in lava flows.

Mount Constitution, 2,409 feet
The highest peak in the San Juan islands was named by Charles Wilkes during the Wilkes Expedition of 1838–1842. Before it was known as Orcas Island, Wilkes had dubbed the land mass Hull Island to commemorate Commodore Isaac Hull of the USS Constitution of “Old Ironsides” fame. Historians believe Mount Constitution was named for the ship itself.


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