Recent storms have set the stage for winter fun at Mount Rainier for the upcoming holidays, with enough snow at Paradise for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. For visitors without equipment, the National Park Inn and General Store at Longmire offer full-day rentals of cross-country skis and snowshoes, in addition to lodging and dining.
With snow varying from 3 feet to 6 feet on the ground and trees still protruding, the snowplay area at Paradise – the only park location authorized and designated for sliding –doesn’t yet have enough snow depth to open. A minimum of 5 feet and rocks, and provide enough snow to create containment berms. The snow play area allows visitors to enjoy groomed snow runs, using “soft” sliding devices such as plastic, flexible sleds, inner tubes, and plastic saucers. Hard toboggans and sleds with runners are not permitted because of the increased potential for injuries.
Winter backcountry camping is available outside the Paradise area where snow depths exceed 2 feet. Camping on snow at Paradise requires 5 feet of depth, and is not yet open. A snow depth of 8 feet is recommended before constructing snow caves. Permits are required for backcountry camping and can be obtained by calling 360-569-6575, between 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Group size is limited to 12 persons. Overnight car camping is not allowed at any time.
Before exploring the winter wonderland, visitors should prepare for the elements with adequate clothing and equipment, and check with park staff for current conditions. The Longmire Museum is open daily, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and provides park information, winter activity guidance, backcountry permits, and books and maps for sale. At Paradise, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center is open weekends only, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with additional daily openings for holiday break from December 23-January 3. On days the visitor center is open, the Paradise Camp Deli offers dine-in and to-go lunch and snack options. The book/gift shop and deli close 15 minutes prior to JVC building closure.
Ranger guided snowshoe walks at Paradise are scheduled to begin December 23, 2015 through March 27, 2016. Walks are offered when the Jackson Visitor Center is open on weekends and during holiday periods. Each walk lasts 2 hours, departing at 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sign-ups are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and begin one hour in advance of each walk at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk. Beginning January 2, there will be a 2:00 p.m. walk scheduled on weekends for reserved groups of 15 to 25 participants. Reservations for group walks can be made by calling 360-569-6575 between 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Participants should dress in warm layers with hats and gloves, and wear footwear suitable for snowshoes. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are also advised. Snowshoe walk times may be adjusted or led from the Longmire Museum if the gate opening to Paradise is delayed.
Visitors are reminded that all vehicles (including 4WD) are required to carry tire chains or other approved traction devices (i.e. tire socks) 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 at the Summit House in Ashford and at the National Park Inn in Longmire.
The main gate at the southwest entrance to the park remains open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, unless hazardous conditions require temporary closure. The higher elevation gate located on the road from Longmire to Paradise is closed nightly to ensure visitor and staff safety. The standard access hours of this road are daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with uphill entry closing at 4:00 p.m. to allow for visitors and staff to exit safely. Rangers and Road Crew staff evaluate road, weather, and avalanche conditions to determine when it is safe to open the road above Longmire each morning. Daily road opening/closing updates are posted to Twitter: twitter.com/MountRainierNPS.