Snowstorms so far this month have convinced officials at Mount Rainier National Park that it's time to move to winter hours in the park in Washington state.
"Mount Rainier provides outstanding winter recreation opportunities and has been doing so for over 100 years," says Superintendent Randy King. "It's a wonderful time to visit the park and the area, provided visitors come prepared for winter conditions. The recent, successful search for two overdue snowboarders above Paradise, and the tragic death of five visitors last winter, remind us that safe backcountry travel- whether going out for the day, or overnight- requires a high level of preparation, caution and knowledge."
The park transitioned to winter hours of operation and services in early November. The gate at Longmire is closed nightly through March to keep visitors and plow operators safe during road opening. New this winter and starting November 27, the road between Longmire and Paradise will be closed to public travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Longmire and the park will remain open seven days a week, barring major storm events.
"We are strategically deploying available park staff and resources to provide access to Paradise Thursday through Monday, the five days of the week with greatest visitation," Superintendent King said.
Visitation statistics show that Tuesday and Wednesday are, on average, the park's least visited days, with fewer than 60 visitor vehicles coming through the Nisqually Entrance on a typical day. By focusing staff on fewer days, the park will be better able to provide access and services during times of greatest visitation, including more consistent road plowing and emergency patrols for visitor safety. The area above Longmire will be closed to overnight camping on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because safe road access won't be available.
On Thursdays through Mondays, and every day during the Christmas holiday, the road from Longmire to Paradise will open as soon as the park's snow plows can make it safe for travel. In good weather the road may open as early as 7 a.m., but in bad weather (or following a heavy snowfall) the road opening may be delayed to late morning or, in some cases, may not open at all. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains when entering the park. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly during the day and mandatory chain use may be required even for 4WD vehicles.
To better accommodate visitor needs and reduce energy costs, the visitor information center at Longmire will move across the road from the Longmire Museum to the historic Administration Building, in the space occupied by the Wilderness Information Center during the summer. Park rangers will be available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to provide information on hikes, locations of interest, and interpretive map talks for visitors to the Longmire Historic District.
Located at Longmire, the historic National Park Inn is open year round, providing dining, lodging and a gift shop. For reservations call 360-569-2275. Businesses in the gateway communities are also open throughout the winter.
The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise will be open on weekends and holidays through March. The Paradise snowplay/sledding area will open during the Christmas holiday provided snow depth is adequate.
Highways 123 and 410, and the Stevens Canyon Road east of Paradise, and the White River, Sunrise, and Mowich Lake Roads are now closed to vehicle access for the winter, but remain open to winter recreation.
Visitors are encouraged to obtain up-to-the-minute updates on road conditions and restrictions by calling the park at 360-569-2211 and listening to recorded information.
Backcountry travelers should get an update on current and projected snow, avalanche, and weather conditions before coming to the park, and be prepared to survive winter conditions.