Encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice, Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. Originally known as “Tahoma” to the Klickitat Indians, it is also the most beautiful backdrop any national park could hope for. Seeing the summit can prove elusive at times, though, because the magnificent mountain makes its own unpredictable weather. But when “the mountain is out” you can’t click your camera fast enough!
Although 140 miles of road loop through Mt. Rainier National Park, only the Nisqually entrance in the southwest corner of the park is open year-round. Beginning here, the road leads up to Paradise Inn and is known as the Nisqually-Paradise Road— by far the most popular 20-mile drive in the park. The entrance elevation is 2,000 feet and climbs to 5,400 by the time you reach Paradise. After the first six miles, you’ll arrive in the Longmire Historic District. In the winter, you’ll want to stay here at National Park Inn because the campgrounds are closed. The rooms are small and rustic, but the view outdoors can’t be beat. Choose a chair on Inn’s wide covered front porch and admire the alpenglow on the south face of 14,410-foot Mount Rainier.
In the late 1880s, this was the site of James Longmire’s family homestead and mineral springs resort. For many years, the Longmire family ran a thriving tourist business here. A short interpretive trail across the road from the Inn tells the story and passes by a small, but still bubbling, hot springs. With the establishment of Mount Rainier National Park in 1899, Longmire became park headquarters. The original headquarters building has since been turned into a museum, and the office is now located outside of the park. For more on the history, wander around the Inn and check out the various displays and signage. A well-stocked souvenir shop next to the Inn also carries a few grocery and snack items, but the restaurant is where hungry travelers congregate.
If first-rate scenery is high on your list, but crowds are not, you’ll definitely want to visit the nation’s fifth oldest national park during the winter. And since Mount Rainier’s bulk can be seen from 150 miles away, you’ll be treated to grand views long before you arrive at the park entrance.
Phone: 360-569-2211 (call ahead to confirm road conditions)
$15 entrance fee per vehicle; campgrounds are closed in winter.
The road above the Longmire gate that leads up to Paradise is closed nightly at dusk, and reopens when daily snowplow operations are complete.
(360) 569-2211 ext. 3314
October 12 through winter open 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily
Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise (360) 569-6036
Paradise Camp Deli and Gift Shop inside the Jackson Visitor Center
October 12 through winter Open daily Dec. 18 – Jan. 2 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Open weekends and holidays only after January 2, 2011 through winter.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com