Snowshoeing Mount Rainier at Paradise and Longmire

We’ve yet to meet a hiker, snowshoer, or skier who didn’t enjoy winter recreation at Mount Rainier National Park, especially Paradise. There are plenty of options for snowshoeing Mount Rainier between Longmire and Paradise ranging from short trips to more strenuous trips such as Mazama Ridge. Even non-hikers will be rewarded with the views from Paradise, especially when Mount Rainier emerges from the clouds or wears a cap of lenticular clouds tinted with alpenglow.

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Before you hit the slopes at Paradise visit the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center for up-to-date weather conditions and route suggestions. The Visitor Center also provides free hand-outs designating winter routes and identifies slopes subject to avalanche. The information desk is manned with friendly rangers who will help you pick a route based upon your level of experience and weather.

One easy and scenic point of interest is Glacier Vista, one of several high points above Paradise and the Visitor Center. Enjoy views of Mount Rainier rising over the snowy, billowing ridges above Paradise and to the south views of The Tatoosh Range and on a clear day, Mount Adams and the Goat Rocks. Glacier Vista Stats:  3 miles round-trip with 1,000 feet elevation gain.

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Strong, experienced snowshoers with “avy savvy” (the ability to judge avalanche conditions) can continue to higher points above Paradise such as Mazama Ridge and/or Panorama Point. Snowshoers with mountaineering experience can snowshoe (or ski) to Camp Muir, a strenuous and potentially hazardous undertaking due to avalanche danger, crevasses and white-outs. A white-out is when snow, fog or clouds move in to obscure landmarks; then it can be hard to tell up from down and can result in route-finding errors.

You can also get to Reflection Lakes starting from Narada Falls (a lower trailhead between Longmire and Paradise) with designated trailhead parking and a heated facility. From the Narada Falls trailhead follow a route wanded by park rangers that lead to the Stevens Canyon Road and the lakes. At this trailhead you might spot tracks where others have climbed straight up to the Stevens Canyon Road from the parking lot on a steep snowy slope; don’t do this as this slope is prone to avalanche. When you get to the lakes don’t walk out onto the lakes as you won’t be able to tell how thick the ice is. This route can also present route-finding issues if there isn’t a track to follow or the route is not wanded. Stats from Narada Falls to Reflection Lakes: 3-3/4 miles round trip with 515 feet of elevation gain.

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If you don’t want to drive to Paradise or Narada Falls there are also easy to moderate snowshoe trips that begin at Longmire (elevation 2,700 feet). Park behind the National Park Inn near the Wilderness Information Center. The easiest snowshoe trip is Trail of the Shadows, a nature loop that starts across from the National Park Inn. Snowshoe past historical hot springs discovered by pioneer James Longmire as well as a cabin built by James Longmire’s son, Elcaine. The hot springs became a popular spot for tourists to come and soak. Stats: the loop is about ¾-mile with negligible elevation gain.

More challenging is the Rampart Ridge Trail which branches off from Trail of the Shadows. Hiking clockwise, most of the trail is in the forest, a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees. You’ll climb to a designated viewpoint (4,100 feet) on the ridge with views of Longmire, the National Park Inn, the Nisqually River and Tumtum Peak. If you continue on the Rampart Ridge loop there is another view point where Mount Rainier and Eagle Peak come into view (if avalanche danger is moderate to high don’t linger as this is an open slope with some avalanche risk). Stats:  The loop is 4.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet.

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For a very easy and scenic snowshoe trip try The Wonderland Trail between Longmire and Cougar Rock. The trail is mostly level as it parallels the Nisqually River. There are also stunning views of Eagle Peak and views of the Nisqually River are about as good as river-views get, especially in winter as the glacier-fed river flows between snow-topped boulders. You may be able to walk the trail without snowshoes but take snowshoes anyway. Even if the trail is packed down you’re more apt to slip or break through the snow without snowshoes. Stats: it is about 4 miles round-trip to the bridge with 400 feet elevation gain.

Getting to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle: Head south on I-5 to Exit 127 (State Route 512) then turn south onto State Route 7 to Elbe; continue east on State Route 706 to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and continue to Longmire or Paradise and the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center (5,400 feet). The road to Paradise is closed at Longmire on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in winter. Chains are required in all vehicles November 1 through May 1. Allow about 2.5 hours of drive-time from Seattle.

For additional information on fees, rules and regulations, current conditions call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit their website at www.nps.gov/mora/ . Map: Map is Green Trails No. 269S Mount Rainier. Paradise is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. All vehicles are required to carry chains (include dates) Call the Northwest Avalanche Conditions hot-line at 206-526-6677 for the latest avalanche conditions or visit their website at www.nwac.us

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