Thanks to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas that help shape the Puget Sound, Seattle ends up situated between two mountain ranges. There’s the Olympic Mountains located on the Olympic Peninsula approximately fifty miles to the west. To the east, also roughly fifty miles away, is the Cascade Range. Within the Cascade Range, located about 80-ish miles to the south east is Mt. Rainier.
Looking from Seattle across the Puget Sound, one can easily see the Olympic Mountain Range. Compared to the height of many of the peaks of the Cascade Range, the Olympics are smaller. The highest peak is Mount Olympus, clocking in at around 7900 feet.
However, what makes the Olympics notable is the fact that the range is part of the Pacific temperate rain-forest ecoregion, noted by the World Wildlife Fund as the largest temperate rain-forest ecoregion on the planet. This region runs from Prince William Sound in Alaska, all the way south through the Pacific Northwest, down to northern California. The forests that this massive, interconnected region contains are larger than any other ecosystem on the planet.
However, to visit the Olympics from Seattle takes some planning, due to the Puget Sound. Either one has to wait in a car to pick up a ferry in order to cross the Sound, or the other option is to drive an hour or so to Tacoma, and cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. From a purely logistical perspective, it is far easier to access the Cascade Range to the east. Due to this, when a Seattle-ite talks about the mountains, they primarily mean the Cascades.
Specifically, the Central Cascades, which have loads of hiking, climbing, and skiing. A quick 30 minute jaunt to Issaquah, WA via Interstate 90 is all that’s needed to get to the foothills of the Cascades.
The Cascade Range is considered part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the planet that contains about 90% of the world’s earthquakes, and contains about 75% of the world’s volcanoes, both active and dormant. It runs from the west coast of Chile, up north through the western coast of South America, then through the west coast of Mexico and the United States, up through the Pacific Northwest and into Canada. Around Alaska, it turns west, and heads over to Russia, before turning south to Japan, and the Philippines. It runs east-west around Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea, before turning south again around Fiji and Samoa. It ends up just east of New Zealand. Or, to put it another way, the Ring of Fire encompasses the border of the Pacific Tectonic Plate. What this means is that Seattle shares similar risks to volcanoes and earthquakes as Japan and even New Zealand.
The mountain range of the Cascades run from northern California, to the Fraser River in British Columbia, which separates the Cascade Range from the Coast Mountains. Included in this range are some of the more well-known mountains in the United States, including Mount Shasta in California, Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington, Mount Baker near the Canadian border, and Mount Rainier, about 85 miles south/southeast of Seattle.