Take a look at the webcam for Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise and you’ll see that snow is starting to pile up at Mount Rainier National Park. As visions of snowshoes dance in park lover’s heads, park staffers are preparing for winter operations and visitors.
“Mount Rainier provides outstanding winter recreation opportunities and has been doing so for over 100 years,” Park Superintendent Randy King said in an email. “It’s a wonderful time to visit the park and area, provided visitors come well-prepared for the snow and road conditions. Safe backcountry travel in winter requires an especially high level of preparation, caution, and knowledge.”
The park will transition to winter hours of operation and service on Tuesday, Nov. 12. Here’s a roundup of what to expect all winter:
- As in past years, the road gate immediately above Longmire will be closed nightly. Rangers and snow plow operators will evaluate road, weather, avalanche and staffing conditions every morning to decide whether it is safe to open the Paradise road above Longmire. Visitors planning a trip to Paradise should check for current road status and weather on the park’s website, www.nps.gov/mora, or Twitter feed, @MountRainierNPS. Recorded information is also available by phone at 360-569-2211.
- Between Nov. 12 and Dec. 21, the gate at Longmire will open Thursdays through Mondays at 9 a.m. The road will close nightly at 5 p.m., with the uphill gate closing at 4 p.m. to allow time for visitors and staff to exit safely. The gate will not open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during this period.
- Between Dec. 21 and the end of March, the goal will be to provide daily access to Paradise. The target open hours for the road above Longmire during this period will continue as 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with the uphill gate closing at 4 p.m.
- The entire park is open for visitor use throughout the winter season, including overnight winter camping with a valid permit seven days a week. Overnight campers should plan their travels with an understanding of scheduled gate closures. Visitors camping at Paradise between Nov. 12 and Dec. 21 should not plan on driving out on Tuesday and Wednesday when the road is closed.
- The Longmire area will remain open daily all winter barring problems caused by major storms. This includes the National Park Inn, where lodging, food, gifts, snowshoes and ski rentals are available; 360-569-2275.
- The Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise will be open weekends only most of the winter, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The visitor center will also be open on Thanksgiving Day and the Friday that follows, as well as daily Dec. 21 – Jan. 1. Weekdays, park rangers will be available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Longmire Visitor Information Center.
- Businesses in the gateway communities are also open throughout the winter. Check these websites for contact information: www.visitrainier.com, www.mt-rainier.com, www.mtrainierguestservices.com, www.minerallake.com, www.staycrystal.com, or www.destinationpackwood.com.
- Visitors are reminded that all vehicles, including those with four-wheel-drive, are required to carry tire chains when traveling in the park. Tire chains are available at the Summit House in Ashford. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly.
- As of Nov. 7, Highways 123 and 410 remain open, but dependent on changing weather conditions. The Stevens Canyon Road east of Paradise, and the White River, Sunrise and Mowich Lake roads are closed to vehicle access for the winter, but remain open to winter recreation.
To sustain daily access to Paradise it will be important for visitors to heed gate closure times, park officials noted, adding that each instance of overtime required when visitors have not exited on time will impact services available in summer. If set daily hours prove ineffective, or the park’s budget and staffing picture is worse than anticipated, mid-week closures or other management actions may be necessary at Paradise, officials warned.
“Conservative management decisions are required in the current funding environment,” Superintendent King said. “This year’s winter operation – with fixed hours of access to Paradise – is an experiment. It seeks to balance winter services against summer needs when most people visit the park. It will require cooperation from the public to work… If it doesn’t work, we’ll make adjustments as needed.”