Exploring Mount Rainier National Park in winter is one of my favorite things to do in Washington. The tourist numbers are down substantially, and there’s nothing like exploring the park with fresh snow all around.
While the parking lot isn’t empty on weekends, it’s much better than peak summer. And you can get out and explore the popular trails without feeling like you’re at a zoo. It’s freeing, exhilarating, and peaceful, being surrounded by snow, a 14-thousand-foot volcano, and stunning views for as far as the eye can see (clouds dependent)!
Inside, we’ll dive into snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier, what you need to know about visiting, and some lagging questions. As always, thanks for reading!
Your Guide to Visiting and Snowshoeing at Mount Rainier National Park in Winter
We are diving into everything you need to know about Mt. Rainier National Park in winter. Are you ready? Let’s do this!
Things to know about visiting Mount Rainier National Park in Winter
The National Park does a great job maintaining the roads in Mount Rainier National Park during the winter months. Sometimes, there will be an incredibly strong storm that will close the road for a day or two.
But usually, they are open. I recommend checking the park’s road conditions page before making any trip.
Carrying Chains is Mandatory
From November 1 until May 1, all vehicles that enter Mount Rainier National Park must carry chains. Now, you may not have to use them – I haven’t in my two trips – but they are there as a precaution.
Park Hours at Mount Rainier National Park in Winter
Mount Rainier National Park in winter has much stricter hours compared to summer. All cars not staying overnight (ie: winter camping or at the Paradise Inn) must clear the gates at Longmire by 4pm. This means people should be departing the parking lot around 3:30pm.
And sadly, the gates at Longmire do not open until 9am (though the west entrance should be open before that).
Now, everyone enjoys a nice full day at the park, but Mount Rainier National Park in winter is hard to enjoy for a long day. After just a few hours of snowshoeing at Mt Rainier, you’re cold, wet, and hungry. Odds are you’ll be ready to leave by 3:30pm anyway!
Estimated Temperature at Paradise Visitor Center
The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise sits at 5,400 feet above sea level. It’s the highest paved road in the state, and with that comes chilly temperatures. While most weather apps and websites will provide a temperature for the parking lot, you can also do the math from surrounding areas.
Ashford, WA, the town just outside the western entrance, is at 1,700 feet. There’s just under 4,000 feet of elevation between the two, which means there’s about a 15-20-degree difference in temperature between when you enter the park and when you arrive at Paradise.
Snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier National Park
What Gear Should You Bring for Mount Rainier National Park in Winter?
Winter hiking gear is just like any other gear you need. Except, you need a few more layers, and snowshoes can be bulky to travel with. But I promise you it is worth it, as winter adventures at Mount Rainier are a blast!
Expect it to feel goofy
The first 15-20 minutes of walking in snowshoeing will feel 100% awkward. You’ll trip yourself, fall over, hit others’ snowshoes, and feel uncomfortable. But, after some trial and error, you’ll figure it out and, after a while, be cruising on the trails with no issues.
The first time, I was a mess, but now, it’s such a fun activity. Spending time outdoors during the winter, instead of being cooped up inside, really helps lighten the mood and feel alive again!
Top trails for snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier
Note: Much of this distance and time information was pulled from the Mt. Rainier NPS website.
Distance: 3 miles+ (you can make it longer if you want)
Estimated Hike Time: 2-4 hours
Trailhead Location: Paradise Visitor Center; walk down the road to the east of the parking lot.
This is an extension of the Paradise Valley Road below. This trail does have some avalanche risk, so ask about it before going. I did this one in April of 2023 and loved it! It’s a beautiful trail, and even though we went on a weekend, we were the only ones on it.
My Garmin GPS watch said we did about three miles round trip with 900 feet of gain combined. (There’s an elevation gain on the way back at the end, too.) You’ll get your heart rate up on the include to the ridge line, but it’s nothing too challenging!
And once up top, your views will astound you. I still remember how peaceful and still it all was. Most of the snow was untouched and looked like fluffy pillows. It’s incredible how good the views are from snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier.
Alta Vista Trail to Panorama Point or Glacier Vista
Distance: It depends. It could be a mile or four, depending on where you go.
Estimated Hike Time: 1-5 hours
Trailhead Location: Paradise parking lot
Right up there with Mazama Ridge as my favorite snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier trails. On a clear day, you’ll see Rainier, the surrounding peaks, and maybe even Adams or Hood if you get high enough.
The one time we went, we only got into the basin area and not up to Panorama Point. Still, the views were incredible, and I can’t wait to get back out there this upcoming winter!
This is one of the most popular routes at Mount Rainier National Park in the winter, so it’ll be packed down enough that you should have a trail to follow. However, up higher, where the wind blows stronger and more consistently, it may not be there.
Don’t worry, though; it’s mostly a free-for-all as you make your way up.
Distance: 3.75 miles
Estimated Hike Time: 4 hours
Trailhead Location: Narada Falls parking lot
Snowshoeing Paradise Valley Road
Distance: 0.6 miles to 4th Crossing or 1.8 miles to Reflection Lakes junction
Estimated Hike Time: 45 min – 3 hours, depending on the turnaround point
Trailhead Location: East end of the upper parking lot at Paradise
Nisqually Vista Loop
Distance: 1.2-mile loop trail
Estimated Hike Time: 1 hour
Trailhead Location: Lower parking lot at Paradise
Distance: 3 miles to summer gate
Estimated Hike Time: 2-3 hours
Trailhead Location: One mile after the Nisqually Entrance
Wonderland Trail to Cougar Rock
Distance: 1.7 miles
Estimated Hike Time: 1-2 hours
Trailhead Location: Next to Longmire Wilderness Information Center
Distance: 4.5 mile loop
Estimated Hike Time: 4 hours
Trailhead Location: Back side of the Trail of the Shadows Loop, across the street from National Park Inn in Longmire
Winter Safety Tips at Mount Rainier National Park
Do not hike alone
Hiking alone in the winter can be dangerous thanks to weather changes, avalanches, tree wells, and whatever else crosses your mind. It’s safer to go with a hiking buddy and make sure you both come back safely.
Check with the visitor center for avalanche risks
Quickly pop into the Jackson Visitor Center and see how the trails are looking. The NPS staff will have updated terrain reports to help you recreate safely!
Stay on popular routes
For most people, you should stick to the popular routes while visiting Mount Rainier in winter. This isn’t the time to put your hero cape on and try something crazy. Thankfully, the popular routes snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier are really cool and not crowded at all. (I mean, most people mingle around the parking lot anyway.)
Carry Appropriate Gear while snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier
We touched on it above, but it is VITAL to have emergency gear with you just in case.
Other Winter Activities at Mount Rainier
Sledding at Mount Rainier National Park in winter
Sledding is allowed in one location in the Paradise area – north of the upper parking lot. It’s open to families and people of all ages.
“The official Paradise Sledding Area is the safest and only location that sledding is permitted in Mount Rainier National Park. The sledding area at Paradise is generally open late December through mid-March, depending on snow. Sledding runs are only opened when there’s sufficient snow depth to prevent resource damage. Use only inner tubes, plastic sleds, saucers, or other soft sliding devices. No wooden toboggans, runner sleds with metal edges, or other hard devices are permitted. Dress warmly in layers with wicking fabric.”
Photographing Mount Rainier National Park in winter is amazing. Everything is just stunning, and my two times there, I landed incredible photographs. Snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier gives you opportunities few other places do in the nation.
The only bummer is that you cannot stay for sunset or be there for sunrise (unless you are winter camping/at the Paradise Inn).
So, if you’re looking for great golden hour photos, plan to stay overnight.
Photography tips at Mount Rainier
- Make sure to bring extra batteries and keep them close to your body so they are warm.
- Odds are your camera lens will fog up. Just wait it out, and it’ll be fine.
- You’ll photograph slower in the winter because you’ll likely have to remove gloves to shoot. Or, get gloves that allow you to hit your trigger and control the camera.
- Slowing down your shutter can create some fantastic images if it’s really windy out.
Camping on snow is allowed almost anywhere in the park with a permit. According to the park, the Paradise area requires “five feet of snow before camping is allowed.” Adding, “Mazama Ridge, Reflection Lakes, and other areas require at least two feet of snow.”
If you want to tackle this, you have to secure a wilderness permit. (It shouldn’t be too hard.)
For those looking to shred it, you can do so at Mount Rainier National Park in winter. The only caveat is you have to supply your own transportation up and down the slopes!
FAQ: Snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier
Are pets allowed?
No, pets are not allowed while you are snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier. And due to potentially freezing conditions, I would not recommend leaving them in your car either.
What hours are Mount Rainier National Park in winter open?
Unless road conditions are poor, they will be open from 9am – 4pm.
What pass is required to visit Mount Rainier National Park in winter?
You will need the America the Beautiful Pass, which applies to all federal lands. It allows you to access all National Parks and National Forests.
When is sunset during the winter in Washington?
Sunset can be anywhere from 4:30 to 5:30pm during winter in Washington. That means the sun can begin to go down before 4pm, and it’ll be dark by 5pm. Unfortunately, days are quite short, and yes, it’s depressing.
If you spend the day at Mount Rainier, you’re guaranteed to be driving home in the dark.
Final Thoughts on Mount Rainier National Park in Winter
Every trip to Mt. Rainier is memorable.
But visiting Mount Rainier National Park in winter is something else. It’s just so freaking perfect, and you are going to have the most amazing time!
Enjoy the adventure of snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier!
Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.
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