Mount Rainier National Park is considered to be one of the snowiest places on Earth, having averaged more than 640 inches of snow per year between 1920 and 2011. In the winter it truly is a winter wonderland. With the seasonal tourists gone, it’s easy to find isolation in the wintertime.
Exploring Rainier in the winter gives you the feeling as if you’re in Narnia. It has a sense of magic and mystery, but also there are a lot of hazards that you should know about and extra precautions to take.
Know Before You Go
One of the biggest things when it comes to winter explorations is safety and preparation. Mount Rainier National Park has a lot of useful resources that will get you prepared and informed on what to expect. The National Park Services Website is full of useful information when planning your trip.
Some key things you should know before you go:
- All vehicles in the park are required to carry tire chains from November 1 – May 1.
- The only entrance to Mount Rainier National Park that is accessible year-round is the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire (access to Paradise).
- Winter Schedule: the gate to Paradise from Longmire is closed nightly and opened daily unless there is severe weather. Road conditions are updated daily on Twitter at MountRainierNPS.
Planning your trip can be overwhelming, but luckily there are plenty of resources available. Here are some key things to check:
- Weather – The weather can change abruptly and unexpectedly. Expect a change in the conditions at higher elevations.
- Road Status – Be sure to check the road conditions and status. Keep in mind, a lot of the side roads are not accessible in the wintertime. Also, be sure to check @MountRainierNPS on Twitter for updates on the current status and any delays.
- Web Cams – A great resource for seeing if the mountain is out, what the snow conditions are, air quality, and what to expect.
Safety and Preparation Tips
The 10 Essentials – Be sure to carry the 10 hiking essentials. For winter, your 10 essentials will look different than what you might have during summertime. You can find the winter 10 essentials here.
Traction Devices – With temperatures below freezing, you are sure to encounter ice both on the roads and on trails. Having the proper traction devices such as crampons or microspikes for your feet can prevent slips and falls. While driving on the roads, be aware of possible black ice and take it slow and avoid extra braking.
Additionally, be prepared for a lot of snow. Although the roads going to Paradise are plowed, trails are not groomed and not all of them are accessible. Some trails require route-finding and winter navigation experience. Having the proper footwear is a must. For some trails, you’ll need snowshoes, skies, or split boards to avoid falling through deep snow. It’s good to know your limitations — just because there are tracks, it doesn’t mean the route is safe or good for the inexperienced or that it actually follows a trail. Safety is the number one key and if you aren’t sure, it’s good to check with a park ranger or staff member.
Some changes for the 2020-2021 winter season with Covid-19 and the shutdown guidelines are as follows. As of November 2020, Visitor Centers, Ranger Stations, and Wilderness Information Centers parkwide are expected to remain closed until further notice. The restrooms will remain open. The Snowplay/Sledding Area is closed until further notice which means there is no sledding allowed in the park. For more information and updates check the Winter Recreation Page.
Another great resource and tool for planning your trip to Rainier is Visit Rainier. You can find information about Lodging, Events, and Recreational Activities in and around the park. Be sure to check out their winter guides and suggestions. If you haven’t explored Mount Rainier in the winter, hopefully now you have some ideas to plan your winter wonderland adventure. Remember to be safe and recreate responsibility.
Nearby, check out Crystal Mountain Resort for skiing and snowboarding near Mount Rainier. Not into winter sports? Read our story on Visiting Crystal Mountain for the Non-Skier or Snowboarder.