In anticipation of this weekend’s significant snow event, Mount Rainier National Park announces holiday season hours of operation and recreation opportunities available for visitors. Though many park roads are closed to vehicle access for the winter, areas throughout the park remain open for recreation. Superintendent Randy King advises: “Visitors can have a great park experience during a time that offers incredible seasonal opportunities if they plan ahead, prepare for changing environmental conditions, and always keep safety in mind before heading out.”
The Paradise snowplay area (the only area in the park where sledding is allowed) is not yet open. A sufficient snowpack depth is needed before sledding and sliding can occur, for both visitor safety and to avoid resource damage to the fragile meadows below. A minimum of five feet of snow depth is needed across the entire sledding area to prevent resource damage from the grooming equipment and sledding activity. In some areas slightly more than five feet is needed to clear vegetation. The snowpack is currently adequate for park visitors to enjoy snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and backcountry use which create minimum impact on the meadows and resources. Provided the area receives sufficient snow cover to allow grooming equipment to operate, snowplay will open no later than Friday December 23, 2016. Further updates will be announced, depending on conditions.
The Longmire area is open seven days a week, unless major storm events require closure. Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Longmire Museum provides general park information, winter activity guidance, backcountry permits, and Discover Your Northwest books and maps for sale. The historic National Park Inn provides lodging, food, gifts, and snowshoe/ski rentals. For reservations, call 360569-2275 or visit mtrainierguestservices.com.
At Paradise, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center is open weekends only, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with additional days of operation for the holidays on December 21-January 2, January 16, and February 20.
Ranger guided snowshoe walks at Paradise are scheduled to begin December 23, 2016 through March 26, 2017. The walks will be offered on weekends and holiday periods when the visitor center is open, at 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and last two hours each. Sign-ups are filled on a first-come, firstserved basis, and begin one hour in advance of each walk at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk. Participants should dress warmly (layers), wearing warm hats, gloves, and waterproof footwear suitable for snowshoes. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are also advised. On January 7, snowshoe walks for organized groups of 15 to 25 visitors begin. Group snowshoe walk reservations can be made by calling 360-569-6575 between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. If the gate opening between Longmire and Paradise is delayed, snowshoe walk times may be adjusted or led from the Longmire Museum.
As in past years, the main gate at the southwest entrance to the park (Nisqually) will remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unless hazardous conditions require a temporary closure. The higher elevation gate, located on the road between Longmire and Paradise is closed nightly to ensure visitor and staff safety, with uphill access closing at 4:00 p.m. to allow time for visitors and staff to exit safely. Each morning, rangers and road crew staff evaluate road, weather, avalanche, and equipment conditions to determine when it is safe to open the road above Longmire. In addition, unexpected staffing shortages due to illness or injury can also impact projected opening times. While park staff understand that visitors are disappointed when the gate is opened later than projected, in all cases, public and staff safety is the highest priority. Webcam viewers should note that a clear parking lot at Paradise doesn’t mean that road conditions between Longmire and Paradise are safe. The standard open hours of this road are from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with daily road opening and closing updates posted to Twitter. Follow the feed at twitter.com/MountRainierNPS.
Visitors are reminded that all vehicles (including 4WD) are required to carry tire chains or other state-approved traction devices when traveling in the park from November 1 – May 1. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly at any time and mandatory chain use may be required even for 4WD vehicles. Tire chains are available in Ashford and at the National Park Inn in Longmire.
Overnight winter camping is allowed in many areas throughout the park with a valid permit; however, access is dependent on road conditions and snow depth, as follows:
- In the Paradise Day Use Zone (surrounding Paradise, outside of Wilderness), camping is permitted when snow depth exceeds 5 feet at the campsite. All Paradise Zone camping must be at least 300 feet from buildings, roads, established winter trails and the designated sledding area. The maximum party size is 12 persons.
- Elsewhere the park, camping is permitted in undeveloped areas, where snow depth is at least 2 feet. Campsites must be more than 200 feet from roads and at least 300 feet from lakes, streams and wetlands. The maximum party size is also 12 persons.
Campers should plan their travel with an understanding of nightly gate closures. Overnight camping in vehicles is not allowed in the park. For winter camping reservations, call 360-569-6575 between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Backcountry travelers are encouraged to get updates on weather conditions, current and projected snow, and avalanche conditions before coming to the park. Additionally, backcountry travelers must heed warnings, and come prepared to survive winter conditions.
Vehicle access to other areas of the park is closed for the winter, but the following areas remain open for recreation. Please note that temporary closures may become necessary due to changing conditions:
- Carbon River Road
- Mowich Lake Road
- Paradise Valley Road
- Ricksecker Point Road
- SR123 (Cayuse Pass)
- SR410 (Chinook Pass)
- Stevens Canyon Road
- Sunrise Road
- Westside Road
- White River Road
Information on current park road closures and weather conditions can be obtained by calling the park at 360-569-2211 for recorded information that is updated regularly. Park information, announcements, and the Mount Rainier webcams are available on the park’s official website, nps.gov/mora.