Mount Rainier is beautiful any time of year, but it’s particularly majestic in winter.
Roads and trails crowded with tourists in the summer transform into quiet places for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and winter hiking. Campgrounds close but there are plenty of isolated spots to pitch a tent under the stars. And there’s a cozy inn for those who prefer to stay indoors sipping cocoa.
There’s plenty of fun to be had in one of the snowiest places on earth.
The Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park, elevation 5,400 feet, is known for its snowfall.
It once held the world record for measured snowfall in a single year, with 93.5 feet falling in 1971-1972.
Although the amount of powder has lessened in recent years, there’s still enough to please any winter recreation lovers.
Here’s a list of our three favorite things to do in the park during winter, and what you should know if you go.
Want to wander below huge trees covered in snow and ice while gazing out at spectacular mountains? Strapping on snowshoes affords you the opportunity to go any distance you desire, at your own pace. You can join a ranger-guided snowshoe walk on weekends (starting at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. from the Jackson Visitor Center) or find a little more solitude on several trails.
One of our favorites are Reflection Lakes, which starts from the Narada Falls parking lot and has a steep little hill that brings you to Stevens Canyon Road. From there it’s mostly flat going through a meadow until you reach the frozen, snow-covered lake. Soak in the front-row seat view of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier before turning back. If you keep going a bit farther to Louise Lake, the trek is 7 miles round-trip and 560 feet of gain.
Another favorite is Panorama Point, which starts at Paradise and will likely be a bit busier. This one is 5 miles round-trip and 1,900 feet of gain. You’ll follow the Skyline trail for a while, pushing uphill before the path mellows out and leads you to Edith Creek. You’ll carefully cross here and continue over a ridge and up a steep slope. Expect to share the area with skiers and snowboarders. There’s plenty of views from Panorama Point, with Mount Rainier behind you and the Tattoosh sprawled in front of you. We recommend bringing a map and/or GPS to help you find your way.
Snow Camping in the Tattoosh Range
There’s something special about setting up camp in the backcountry and sipping a mug of hot cocoa while staring up at a star-studded sky. If you’re brave enough to sleep in freezing temperatures, we recommend getting cozy in the Tattoosh mountains.
Easiest access in the winter is from Pinnacle Peak trail, but seasonal road closures mean you’ll head out from Narada Falls parking lot and gain Stevens Canyon Road. The trailhead (which will be covered in deep snow so be ready to break trail and post hole) will be on your right near Reflection Lake. It’s 1,050 feet of gain to reach the saddle and then you can walk until you find the perfect camp spot right across from Mount Rainier.
First off, don’t forget your permit from Longmire Museum. Rangers ask that you pick a spot 300 feet from roads, parking lots, trails and buildings. You also must pitch your tent at least 100 feet from water.
Although your kit can vary, don’t forget a shovel, insulated sleeping pad, stove and fuel, waterproof gloves, avalanche probe and receiver and a map and compass.
Mount Rainier National Park’s snowplay area is open to sledders in the winter. Here’s Sam Fordham enjoying a fun run down the hill.
Sledding at Paradise
Squeals of excitement are a guarantee at the park’s snowplay area, which is typically open late December through mid-March. This designated area is meant for anyone with a plastic sled or inner tube who wants to get their slide on. The area features two sledding troughs, each about 100 yards long, just north of the upper parking lot at Paradise.
Sledders will line up and wait for the troughs, though there is plenty of room to careen downhill elsewhere in the designated area. Watch out for trees and tree wells. Hard toboggans and runner sleds are prohibited.