From the main parking lot at Paradise, you’ll climb the slope above the parking lot between the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center and the Paradise Inn. Snowshoe above and parallel to the inn a short distance to find yourself in a large basin. You generally can follow the tracks in the snow.
Once in the basin, you can wander around at will. You can go for as long or as short a time as you wish. Take a thermos of something hot to drink and a lunch or a snack to enjoy a picnic in the snow.
A couple of words of caution. Be wary of avalanche conditions and whiteouts. One of the features of a whiteout is that you lose the play of light and shadow that helps you differentiate terrain.
Avalanches are, well, avalanches. And to be avoided. You can check avalanche conditions online at the Northwest Avalanche Center at the Longmire Museum when you get to the park and at the Jackson Visitor Center.
Directions: From Tacoma, drive east on state Route 7 to the town of Elbe. From there, take state Route 706 to the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park and continue up the road to the Paradise parking area.
Difficulty rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult)
Miles round-trip: 3
Elevation: 200 feet
Best time of year: December to May
Map: Green Trails 270S – Paradise
Pass: Annual or weekly Mount Rainier or national parks pass required
Also: Start your day with a stop at the Longmire Museum on the way to Paradise and pick up a winter travel map for the Paradise area. You also can get updated information on road conditions, weather conditions at Paradise and more.
Winter weather can vary from minute to minute. Be prepared for anything and stay within your experience and skill parameters. Carry your compass and a map. Ask about current avalanche conditions and follow the rangers’ advice on areas to avoid.
Poles with snow baskets are recommended for balance and for probing the snow to avoid breaking through a snow bridge – around trees, where you know there are streams in the summer time and anywhere else the terrain looks like a rock or downed tree is covered in snow. And, yes, even in winter, you need sunscreen and wrap-around sunglasses.
Snowshoes and poles can be rented at outdoor stores in town, in Ashford and at Longmire. Extra clothing and a thermos of something hot will make your lunch stop that much more enjoyable. With every winter breath, you lose fluid because of evaporation so be sure to carry enough water or sports drink, protected from freezing.
Restrooms are at Longmire. Please remember that “leave-no-trace” does not mean burying trash or toilet paper in the snow.
The road from Longmire to Paradise is closed at night and reopens in the morning, when the snow-removal equipment has cleared the road. State law prevails in the park – all vehicles (including 4-wheel- and all-wheel-drive) are required to carry chains when driving in the mountains in the winter. Two-wheel drive vehicles are often required to chain up at some point on the road beyond Longmire or are turned back at the point rangers require four-wheel-drive to be engaged.
Hike of the Week is presented by The Mountaineers Tacoma Branch Hiking/Backpacking Committee.