By New Years, Paradise measured more than twice the snow as on the same date a year earlier
Here’s a winter-recreation update issued by Mount Rainier National Park for the winter of 2015-16:
For visitors without equipment, the National Park Inn and General Store at Longmire offers full-day rentals of cross-country skis and snowshoes, in addition to lodging and dining.
Snow play: The snow-play sliding hill at Paradise, the only place where sledding is allowed in the park, opened Jan. 1, 2016, with more than 120 inches of snow on the ground, double the depth measured on the same date a year ago. A uniform minimum of 60 inches of snow is needed throughout the area to cover vegetation and rocks and provide enough snow to create containment berms. Last winter, with insufficient snow, the area never opened.
The snow-play area allows visitors to enjoy groomed snow runs, using “soft” sliding devices such as plastic, flexible sleds, inner tubes, and plastic saucers. Hard toboggans and sleds with runners are not permitted because of the increased potential for injuries.
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Winter backcountry camping is available outside the Paradise area where snow depths exceed 2 feet. Camping on snow at Paradise requires 5 feet of depth. A snow depth of 8 feet (96 inches) is recommended before constructing snow caves. Permits are required for backcountry camping and can be obtained by calling 360-569-6575, between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Group size is limited to 12 persons. Overnight car camping is not allowed at any time.
Visitors should prepare for the elements with adequate clothing and equipment, and check for current conditions online. The Longmire Museum is open daily, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and provides park information, winter activity guidance, backcountry permits, and books and maps for sale (360-569-6575). At Paradise, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center is open weekends only, from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with additional daily openings for holiday break from Wednesday, Dec. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 3. When the visitor center is open, the Paradise Camp Deli offers dine-in and to-go lunch and snack options. The book/gift shop and deli close 15 minutes prior to closure of the visitor center.
Ranger guided snowshoe walks at Paradise began Dec. 23 and continue through March 27, 2016. Walks are offered when the Jackson Visitor Center is open on weekends and during holiday periods. Each walk lasts 2 hours, departing at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sign-ups are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and begin one hour in advance of each walk at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk. A $5 donation is asked of each participant.
Beginning Jan. 2, there will be a 2 p.m. walk scheduled on weekends for reserved groups of 15 to 25 participants. Reservations for group walks can be made by calling 360-569-6575 between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Participants should dress in warm layers with hats and gloves, and wear footwear suitable for snowshoes. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are also advised. Snowshoe walk times may be adjusted or led from the Longmire Museum if the gate opening to Paradise is delayed.
Travel safety: Visitors are reminded that all vehicles (including all-wheel-drive) are required to carry tire chains or other approved traction devices (i.e. tire socks) when traveling in the park from Nov. 1 -May 1. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly at any time and mandatory chain use may be required even for all-wheel-drive vehicles. Tire chains are available at the Summit House in Ashford and at the National Park Inn in Longmire.
The main gate at the southwest entrance to the park remains open at all hours unless hazardous conditions require temporary closure. The entry fee is $20 per vehicle. The higher-elevation gate located on the road from Longmire to Paradise is closed nightly to ensure visitor and staff safety. The standard access hours of this road are daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with uphill entry closing at 4 p.m. to allow for visitors and staff to exit safely. Rangers and road crew evaluate road, weather, and avalanche conditions to determine when it is safe to open the road above Longmire each morning. Daily road opening/closing updates are posted to Twitter: twitter.com/MountRainierNPS.
For information on current park road closures and weather conditions, call the recorded information line at 360-569-2211. Park information, announcements and the Mount Rainier webcams are posted on the park’s website, nps.gov/mora.
Nearby communities have lodging and dining throughout the year. More information can be found on these websites: www.visitrainier.com, www.mt-rainier.com, www.mtrainierguestservices.com, www.minerallake.com, www.staycrystal.com, www.discoverlewiscounty.com, www.destinationpackwood.com.