Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Mount Rainier, thanks to the beautiful weather and stunning wildflowers everywhere. In fact, August is so busy that I usually recommend that people only visit very early in the morning or on weekdays only. If you don’t want to deal with crowds, consider visiting Mount Rainier in the winter.
While parts of the mountain are closed during this time of year, there are plenty of winter activities at Mount Rainier. This is a fun time to get away from the city for a day or to rent a cabin nearby and have some playtime in the snow.
I get a ton of emails during the year asking about what is winter in Mount Rainier like, so I wrote an article to help answer those questions. This guide will go over what to expect for winter weather at Mount Rainier, what to pack, where to stay, and things to do at Mt. Rainier in the winter, such as what to know for winter hiking.
Mount Rainier Weather in Winter
At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington State. The weather here is, on average, lower than in the surrounding areas. Temperatures start to lower sometimes as soon as October to between 32ºF and 48ºF.
The tallest peak in the Cascade Range is also known to have immense snowfall, usually starting in early November. This area is also known as Paradise, perfect for snowboarders and skiers, as snowfall totaled over 700 inches in the last year.
It’s important to note that spring in Washington is very different up here – while most of the state is thawing out, Mount Rainier will have snow until mid-summer.
Mount Rainier in November
November is Mount Rainier’s most rainy month, with an average precipitation of roughly 20 inches. It’s also when temperatures start to drop to freezing, and you can expect it to be within a range of 25ºF to 37ºF.
So while you might be eager to get out there, there might be better times. This is due to the sludge caused by mud, snow, and water mixing.
Mount Rainier in December
December is the perfect month for snow sports – as it’s when Mount Rainier gets the most snowfall. On average, December accounts for 124 inches of the annual total. While you wouldn’t expect it, this is not the area’s busiest time of the year.
So it may be perfect for you if you’re looking for a less crowded festive getaway. The downsides are that temperatures can dip to the low 20s and only two park entrances are open. These are the Nisqually and Carbon River entrances.
Mount Rainier in January
January has similar weather to December, and temperatures range from 23ºF to 35ºF. So it’s still great to visit for skiers and snowboarders. You can hike during this period though it is advised to check the park’s website or social media for updates on avalanches and road closures. Snowfall during January is around 118 inches, so it’s slightly less than in December.
Mount Rainier in February
In February, the temperatures remain cold and often are below freezing. You can expect temperatures to be from 22ºF to 36ºF. However, there is much less snow and rain than in the previous three months. On average, there are only 13 inches of precipitation in February. So this makes for another excellent time to visit the park as there are fewer rainy days.
How to Visit Mount Rainier in the Winter
Mount Rainier National Park is a beautiful park to visit year-round, but you should know a few things before planning your trip. Winter brings quite a few caveats to the park, as it gets very snowy here.
Mt. Rainier is one of the snowiest places in the USA, with almost 56 feet of snow yearly. Don’t worry; I will give you all the best tips to ensure you’re prepared for anything.
You’ll want to be aware that not all roads are open during winter in Mount Rainier. For example, SR 410 (Chinook Pass) is closed for the winter, and you can check the NPS website to verify other closures.
As of December 2022, there have been a few updates for this season:
- Paradise will only be open on Saturdays and Sundays due to a staffing shortage.
- Sledding at Paradise will not be open this season.
- Winter camping is only available by permit on Saturday nights.
- All vehicles must carry chains (they’ll check at the ranger station).
What To Pack for Mount Rainier in Winter
When packing for a trip to Mount Rainier, there are many things to consider. What type of activities are you going to do? Where are you staying? When are you going?
If you’re hiking, pack winter clothes, such as thick socks, a light waterproof jacket, and waterproof hiking boots. If you plan on skiing or snowboarding and have gear, I recommend bringing it along.
While you can rent equipment from Whittaker Mountaineering and Mt. Rainier Guest Services, it can get quite pricey. For example, ski goggles cost $11.88 for one day of usage.
Lastly, I’d advise bringing snow chains for your tires if you’re from Seattle or snowy areas. Make sure to check what type of chains your tires are compatible with – otherwise, you could damage them.
If you are planning on visiting Washington or road-tripping through the Pacific Northwest, check with rental car agencies to see if they allow snow chain usage. Most companies don’t allow them due to the potential damage they could cause or the associated risk of driving in bad weather.
How to Get to Mount Rainier From Seattle
The drive from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park takes around two to three hours, depending on traffic, weather conditions, and how fast you like to drive. It is approximately 90 miles – this is because there are several entrances and routes you can use. Here are the two routes that I would recommend – with jaw-dropping views and fun-filled pit stops.
If you travel on the I-5S and the WA-7S, you will pass through the city of Tacoma. If you feel like a pitstop, check out these fantastic cheap things to do in Tacoma. After this, you’ll take the Steele Street exit in Parkland and stay on Spanaway Loop Road, which leads to WA-7S.
You’ll pass various lakes on your way there, including the magnificent Alder Lake. This is also an excellent scenic drive with coastal views of Washington, and if you want to visit state parks, such as Nisqually State Park, along the way.
You can also get there by driving on the WA-167S, as it takes roughly the same time. What differs is that this is a more inland route. Along the way, you’ll notice some of the beautiful lakes Washington has to offer.
These include Lake Tapps, Lake Fenwick, Lake Kapowsin, and the namesake Lake Washington. If you’re traveling with kids, a fantastic driving break is the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. You can spot all kinds of wild animals at the park, from grizzly bears to gray wolves.
Where to Stay in Mount Rainier in the Winter
There are many excellent places to stay in and around Mount Rainier National Park. There are quite a few options, from vacation house rentals to well-established hotels, but it all depends on what you are looking for.
I love staying at Mt. Rainier cabins when I go up there, as they’re perfectly cozy.
These are some other choices I’d recommend.
- Nisqually Lodge – This classic hotel is situated in Ashford and is only five miles from Mount Rainier, which is why it’s such a popular option. Its rustic decor gives it quite a modest feeling, but it offers great amenities, including free Wi-Fi, a laundromat, a microwave, a refrigerator, and a flat-screen TV. (rates start at $149 per night)
- Paradise Village – This beautiful hotel is also in Ashford and is very close to the Nisqually Entrance. Besides the location advantage, Paradise Village also has an onsite restaurant and fantastic amenities, such as a hot tub, a kitchenette, and free Wi-Fi. It is a brilliant option with a mix of modern and antique decor. (rates start at $90 per night)
- Mountain Meadows Inn – This lodge is located just outside Ashford and is only a 6.6- mile ride from Mt. Rainier. It is an outstanding option if you want to be close to nature, and it offers terrific views of the area. This is perfect for a homely stay with personal touches, including s’more ingredients in your room, campfires, and a hot tub. Hop in on a snowy day to warm up – if you dare. (rates start at $135 per night)
- Alexander’s Lodge – Opened in 1912, this inn is full of history. However, it is far from outdated and dusty. Rooms are equipped with cable TVs, Google Home Minis, coffee makers, and free Wi-Fi. Additionally, you’re welcome to bring your fuzzy friends, as they are allowed on request. It’s situated close to the park – an 11-minute walk to the Nisqually Entrance. (rates start at $131 per night)
What to Do in Mount Rainier in Winter
Parts of Mount Rainier are literally paradise in the winter, so it’s the perfect place to escape from Seattle in the winter. This is especially true for snowsports lovers as the park is full of snow, perfect for skiing, snowboarding, and many activities.
Go on a Tour with a Ranger
A fantastic option to explore Mt. Rainier is joining in on a ranger-guided snowshoe walk. These walks usually happen from late December until March on weekends and public holidays.
It is a great way to learn more about the park and how its inhabitants, such as plants and animals, survive what can be a brutal winter. If this piques your interest, you’ll want to be quick, as it’s first-come, first-serve, and each walk is limited to 25 people. There are usually two walks a day, but this depends on staff availability and weather conditions.
If you want to bring along your kids, just be advised that this is for eight years and older. Also, it is a 1.8-mile route that lasts about two hours. It begins at the Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise, where sign-up sheets are available one hour before the walk.
All you need to bring is suitable boots, a hat, gloves, and adequate sun protection, including sunscreen and sunglasses. Snowshoes are provided by the park, and there is an optional $5 donation. However, if you want to avoid this cost, you can always bring your own.
Snowshoe Through the Park
Mount Rainier National Park is a brilliant location for snowshoers year-round. There are many fantastic Mount Rainier hikes that you can do with brilliant views and get back in touch with nature. Hiking in winter may seem challenging and dangerous, but there are quite a few options here.
A great place to go is in the Paradise area of the park, as it has scenic views. That said, you should check in with rangers or via the park’s social media for weather updates. They will be able to recommend fantastic routes or advise you about areas with the highest chances of avalanches.
For more experienced hikers or snowshoe enthusiasts, the hike from Narada Falls to Reflection Lake is a brilliant pick. Be warned, as it has an elevation gain of 1,150 feet. After this, it’s smooth sailing and full of great photo opportunities. Check this post for more breathtaking waterfalls in Washington, or visit waterfall hikes by Seattle, such as Myrtle Falls.
Snowmobiling and Backcountry Skiing
Snowmobiles are allowed in certain parts of Mount Rainier National Park. For example, in the southwest area of the park, along Westside Road, for 6.5 miles until the Round Pass. Besides this, snowmobiles are permitted on all the road loops of Cougar Rock Campground.
Another fantastic opportunity for snowsport fun is skiing down from Camp Muir. It’s located at 10,080 feet, and you can ski or board down past the Muir snowfields, Panorama Point, and eventually back to the parking lot. This is not for beginner skiers though, so make sure you’re with a group and have enough experience to do this.
Park at the Jackson Visitor Center by Paradise to get up to Camp Muir. Then you’ll ascend over 4,600 feet on a 4.5-mile hike, with brilliant views of the Tatoosh mountains and the glorious Mount Rainier.
A brilliant thing to do is visit Longmire, in the southwest part of Mount Rainier National Park. This is where the first park entrance and visitor center was established and is named after James Longmire. He was a great American explorer who led the first wagon train along the Naches Trail and across the Cascades Range.
You can visit the Longmire Museum in the winter as it is open from the 1st of October until the 31st of December from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. It is a brilliant way to learn more about the park’s origins, local flora and fauna in the area, and the history of Mt. Rainier and its surroundings. This is an excellent excursion, especially if there’s unsuitable weather for outdoor activities.
Sledding at Paradise
A fantastic thing to do for families in winter at Mt. Rainier National Park is to go sledding or tubing in the snow play area at Paradise. It is open from late December until March and is the perfect activity to do with your kids. It is above the historic Paradise Inn and the Jackson Visitor Center, so it’s not hard to find.
Be advised that it is only open on the weekends and during the school vacation period. Also, hard toboggans and runner sleds are not allowed for safety purposes. Lastly, there has to be a minimum of five inches of snow for sledding, as the park wants to protect the delicate grass underneath. It is a great cheap activity near Seattle, however.
As noted at the beginning of this article, sledding is not allowed for the 2022 season due to a lack of staff.
What to Do Near Mount Rainier in Winter
Need a few more activities? Check out these winter activities near Mount Rainier.
Snowboarding and Skiing at Crystal Mountain
Snowsports near Mount Rainier are absolutely brilliant. Crystal Mountain Ski Resort is North America’s seventh-best ski resort due to the variety of options you have. This is because there is thick snow, well-maintained ski trails/paths, a gondola, and chair lifts to get you up and down mountains There are over 2,600 skiable acres with runs for all levels, from amateurs to black diamond pros.
You’ll also be happy to know that no matter what you prefer, you can find an option here. There are routes for you, whether that’s backcountry, cross country, nordic, snowboarding, tubing, sledding, or snowshoeing.
Would you prefer to avoid crowds? Check out this private snowshoe adventure at Crystal Mountain.
Take the Mt. Rainier Gondola
For those who are less adventure-inclined, you can always ride up Crystal Mountain on the Mount Rainier Gondola. You’ll ascend over 2,400 vertical feet while taking in all the exquisite views of the national park around you. Once you’ve reached the summit, you can enjoy a meal at Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant – Summit House.
On a good day, you can sit outside on the patio enjoying a clear view of Mount Rainier and the rest of the Cascade Range. However, in winter, indoor seating is available. It is definitely advised to wear warm clothing to avoid any discomfort.
You can expect a variety of meals, including soups, sandwiches, burgers, and salads. There are also many great drinks, from locally-produced craft beers and wines to warm beverages.
Now it’s time to start planning your trip to Mount Rainier in the winter!