That beautiful, quiet fragment of a season after the end of the wildflower watching and before the skiing and snowshoeing is just about over. This weekend, on Saturday, Dec. 21, winter hours at Mount Rainier take effect, which means it's time for ranger-guided snowshoe walks, snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowball fights, and mugs of hot cocoa.
Mount Rainier National Park Announces Winter Operating Hours
Snow play and winter camping areas remain closed due to insufficient snow
“Winter is a magical time of year at Mount Rainier. In winter, blue sky days alternate with those that are reminiscent of the inside of a snow globe. Whatever the weather, we hope you will explore Mount Rainier in this quiet, peaceful season,” invited Superintendent Chip Jenkins.
Recent storms have set the stage for winter recreation at Mount Rainier National Park with enough snow at Paradise for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. However, the Paradise snow play area and winter camping remains closed due to insufficient snow depth. A sufficient snowpack is needed throughout the area to create the run and the containment berm, and to prevent resource damage from the grooming equipment and sledding activity. The Paradise snow play area is the only location in the park where visitors are allowed to use soft-sided sliding devices, such as 100% plastic sleds, saucers, or disks.
Beginning Saturday, December 21, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise is open throughout the winter on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, from 10:00 am to 4:15 pm. In addition, this visitor center will be open daily December 21-January 1, for winter break. Gift shop, snowshoe rental, and snack bar services are available on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and daily between December 21-January 1.
Ranger guided snowshoe walks at Paradise are scheduled from Saturday, December 21, 2019 through March 29, 2020. The walks are offered on weekends and holidays at 11:00 am and 1:30 pm, and last for two hours. Sign-ups begin one hour in advance of each walk at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants should dress warmly (layers), wearing warm hats, gloves, and waterproof footwear suitable for snowshoes. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are also advised. If the gate opening between Longmire and Paradise is delayed, snowshoe walk times may be adjusted or led from the Longmire Museum.
The Longmire area is open seven days a week, unless major storm events require closure. Open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, 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 is also open daily and provides lodging, food, gifts, and snowshoe/ski rentals. For reservations, call 360-569-2275 or visit mtrainierguestservices.com.
The main gate at the southwest entrance to the park near Ashford will remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unless 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 pm to allow 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. 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 opens 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 road conditions between Longmire and Paradise are safe. Standard open hours of this road are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm 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 for rent or for sale in Ashford, and for sale at the National Park Inn gift shop in Longmire. Review Tire Chain Frequently Asked Questions for detailed information.
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 12 persons.
Campers should plan travel with gate closures in mind. Overnight camping in vehicles is not allowed in the park. For camping reservations, call 360-569-6575 between the hours of 9:30 am and 4:00 pm. Permits are available the day of arrival at the Longmire Museum (daily) or the Paradise Visitor Center (open weekends and holidays in winter).
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.
Park entrance passes can be purchased electronically prior visiting Mount Rainier National Park through yourpassnow.com, at no additional cost. Once purchased, passes are emailed and can be used immediately or stored on a personal device for a future use. Passes must be printed prior to use at Mount Rainier. While in the park, the paper copy is presented at entrance stations and displayed on the vehicle dashboard, particularly when the vehicle is parked at trailheads, campgrounds, and park inns. Connectivity is limited or non-existent in the park, therefore printing the permit in advance is required.
The National Park Service has announced that entrance fees will be waived on five days in 2020, including January 20, April 18, August 25, September 26, and November 11.
Vehicle access to the following areas of the park is closed for the winter, but the following areas remain open for non-motor vehicle recreation, such as hiking and snowshoeing. Please note that temporary closures may become necessary due to changing conditions:
- 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.
Get additional information and updates by joining the Mount Rainier community on Facebook: facebook.com/MountRainierNPS. Find out breaking news and road status updates through Mount Rainier’s Twitter feed: twitter.com/MountRainierNPS. Explore the park and behind-the-scenes operations with our videos on YouTube: youtube.com/MountRainierNPS. Share your own photos of Mount Rainier on Instagram or Flickr: instagram.com/MountRainierNPS or flickr.com/groups/MountRainierNPS.
Communities in the local area provide great getaway experiences throughout the year. More information on the range of services available in and around the Mount Rainier area can be found on their websites: mtrainierguestservices.com, visitrainier.com, mt-rainier.com, minerallake.com, destinationpackwood.com, discoverlewiscounty.com, stayrainier.com and whitepassbyway.com.