The lowlands might be rainy in December, but at Mt. Rainier, the flurries are flying. Take a winter daytrip to the mountain to experience its gorgeous winter scenery, unique snow play area and new visitor center.
Mt. Rainier’s popular snow play area is the only place within the national park where you can tube or sled — it’s too dangerous elsewhere — and at $15 for a carload, it’s a bargain compared to commercial tubing parks. The groomed sledding hill is located north of the upper parking lot at Paradise, making it easily accessible for families, and it opens in mid-December (depending on snow levels) when snow in other mountain areas isn’t guaranteed. The snow play area is groomed and ranger-supervised on weekends and holidays (but you can still go anytime).
After a morning of sledding, head to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, which opened in 2008. Watch a new park movie, visit the cafeteria, and join a ranger-led snowshoe walk. Snowshoe walks are offered on weekends and holidays at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Snowshoes are provided by the park, and the $4 donation is another bargain.
Need to know
The snow play area and visitor center are located at Paradise, which is accessed via the Nisqually entrance at the southwest corner of the park. This entrance is open year-round, but the road to Paradise is frequently closed for plowing. It's highly recommended that families check the road’s status online before setting out to avoid getting stuck in traffic on the way up the mountain. . You may also call the park for current road conditions at 360-569-2211 or check MountRainierNPS on Twitter for road updates and announcements. You will also need to have chains with your car in case you need them.
Also, bring warm, waterproof clothing for your visit. Layers are best so that you can adjust your clothing to your activity level, and cotton is not recommended.
Other items to bring include plenty of water and snacks, and your own soft sledding device. Wooden sleds or toboggans aren’t allowed in the snow play play area because they can injure sledders, and Mammel emphasizes that this rule is followed strictly.
If you go . . .
The Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center is open 10 a.m.–5 p.m., weekends and holidays only, during the winter. 360-569-6036. In 2014, it is expected to open on Jan. 18, 2014.
For directions to the Nisqually entrance, visit nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/index.htm. The Nisqually entrance is located about 87 miles from Seattle, about 65 from Tacoma. Driving time from the entrance to Paradise is about 40 minutes, excluding road closures.
If you’d like to stay overnight in the area, lodging is available in nearby Ashford (mt-rainier.com). The Paradise Inn, located at Paradise, is closed during the winter, but the National Park Inn, located at Longmire, is open year-round. Visit mtrainierguestservices.com for information.
This article was originally written in 2010 and updated in December of 2013.