Some folks are under the impression that there is nothing to do at Mt. Rainier with the Snow Play Area closed, I am happy to inform you that those people are way off base! Winter is fascinating at the mountain, you never know what you’re going to get! There’s less than 6ft of snow at Paradise right now, more than 40% less than we usually have. Not all winters are like this though- did you know that the winter of 1971/72 Paradise set a world record of 1,122 inches (93.5 ft) of snowfall. Find that interesting? Interpretive Rangers are filled with neat information about Mt. Rainier, and they share with you on their Ranger-led Snowshoe walks!
These Ranger-led Snowshoe walks are great for a number of reasons. 1. You get to learn about Mt. Rainier, the animals that survive there (even in the 93.5 ft of snow years), and information about the National Park Service itself. 2. It’s open even though the Snow Play Area isn’t. 3. It’s a great activity for everyone- no experience necessary, and you can bring the kiddos (8+ years)!
To go on a Snowshoe Walk, you meet in the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise and can sign up an hour before; they are limited to only 25 spots that fill up fast! Make sure you’re prepared for winter at 5,400 ft- wear warm coats, pants, and waterproof shoes, don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen, the snow is super reflective! You can borrow snowshoes from the rangers, or rent them in Ashford from Whittaker Mountaineering Rentals. If you haven’t gone snowshoeing before, don’t stress! In our group, 20 of the 25 visitors had never been before. The rangers will explain how to strap on the snowshoes, and friendly mountain-goers are helpful people if you need a hand.
The snowshoe walk follows the Nisqually Vista trail; you might have walked it in the summer. It is marked moderately-strenuous, but it’s a nice 1.5 mile walk round trip. Each Interpretive ranger has a different program, but is knowledgeable about winter at Paradise and happy to answer unrelated or off-the-wall questions. The snowshoe walks take about 2 hours, and are offered at 11:15 and 1:45 on weekends and holidays through March.
If you want to go snowshoeing but don’t want to go on the Ranger-led walks, that’s okay too! The Nisqually Vista Loop is the only marked route, the rest you need to rely on your navigating skills alone. Remember, if there’s tracks, it doesn’t necessarily mean those people knew what they were doing, make sure you know where you are, and know how to get back even if visibility is near lost, as can happen when clouds settle on the snow. Also, make sure you know where rivers and cliffs are, the snow can disguise them, but you want to avoid falling in either of those. The rangers prefer that those going out have a GPS, as they will be the most efficient if you get into a hairy situation. Always bring the 10 Essentials, and in the winter, more is better, and things change fast. Interested in other winter activities? Check here for park info on snow camping, cross country skiing, etc.
Remember tire chains are required in ALL vehicles (yes, even those with 4WD, AWD, studded tires, even if you’re from Alaska, or have never been in a wreck-you’re driving on the side of the mountain people! Better safe than really really sorry!) so bring them with you or rent them in Ashford. The road from Longmire to Paradise closes nightly in the winter, opening at 9 am (if it’s safe) and closing at 5 pm, so make sure to leave Paradise by 4:30 pm.