Winter snow means it’s time to play in the national park

  • Friday, December 21, 2018 9:30am
  • Life

Recent storms have set the stage for winter recreation at Mount Rainier National Park.

On the north side of the mountain, easily accessible from the Plateau via state Route 410, vehicle access is closed for the winter, but the following areas remain open for recreation. All park visitors should note that temporary closures may become necessary due to changing conditions:

• Carbon River Road

• 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

Visitors are reminded that all vehicles (including four-wheel drive) are required to carry tire chains or other state-approved traction devices when traveling in the park between Nov. 1 and May 1. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly at any time and mandatory chain use may be required even for 4WD vehicles.

OVERNIGHT CAMPING

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.

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 a.m. and 4 p.m.

ON THE ‘OTHER SIDE’ OF RAINIER

As of late last week, the Paradise snow play area remained closed due to an insufficient snow depth to open. 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 percent plastic sleds, saucers or disks.

Beginning Friday, Dec. 21, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise is open throughout the winter on Fridays through Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. In addition, the visitor center will be open daily Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, Jan. 21 and Feb. 18. Gift shop and snack bar services are available Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and daily between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1.

Ranger-guided snowshoe walks at Paradise are scheduled from Dec. 22 through March 31, 2019. The walks are offered on weekends and holiday periods at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and last 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. The park offers a limited number of snowshoe walks for organized groups of 15 to 25 people. Group snowshoe walk reservations can be made by calling 360-569-6575 between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. 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 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 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 will remain open 24 hours a day, seven 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 p.m.

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. 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 a.m. to 5 p.m. with daily road opening and closing updates posted to Twitter. Follow the feed at twitter.com/MountRainierNPS.

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.

Information on 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.

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Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in a neighborhood near you. You can read more of her writing on her website livingwithgleigh.com. To see her columns come to life, follow her on Facebook at Living with Gleigh by Gretchen Leigh.
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