With winter coming on, Mount Rainier National Park lovers will be glad to hear that the park will be open seven days a week this year beginning in late December.
Last year the park, citing staffing levels and budget cuts, kept the road to Paradise closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But now park officials are saying they'll aim to keep the road open throughout the winter beginning December 21.
The park will transition to winter hours of operation and service on Tuesday, November 12. As in past years, the road gate immediately above Longmire is closed nightly to ensure visitor safety and the safety of park staff, including rangers and the road crew.
Rangers and snow plow operators evaluate road, weather, avalanche and staffing conditions every morning in making a decision on whether it is safe to open the Paradise road above Longmire. Visitors planning a trip to Paradise should check for current road status and weather on the park’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.
“Due to the reduced and uncertain budget picture, we are strategically deploying available park staff and resources to provide as much access as possible”, said Superintendent Randy King.
Between November 12 and December 21, the gate at Longmire will open Thursdays through Mondays, at 9 a.m. The road will close nightly at 5 p.m., with the uphill gate closing at 4 p.m. to allow time for visitors and staff to exit safely. The gate will not open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during this period.
Between December 21 and the end of March, the goal will be to provide seven day a week access to Paradise. The target open hours for the road above Longmire during this period will continue as 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., with the uphill gate closing at 4 p.m.
Maintaining fixed hours through the winter use season is intended to maximize public access to Paradise, while managing costs for snow plows and ranger staffs. To sustain seven-day-a-week access to Paradise, it will be important for visitors to heed gate closure times, park officials say.
Each instance of overtime required for handling after-closure issues will impact services available in summer. If set daily hours prove ineffective, or the park’s budget and staffing picture is worse than anticipated, mid-week closures or other management actions may be necessary at Paradise.
The entire park is open for visitor use throughout the winter season, including overnight winter camping with a valid permit seven days a week. Overnight campers should plan their travels with an understanding of nightly or scheduled gate closures.
Visitors camping at Paradise between now and December 21 should not plan on driving out on Tuesday and Wednesday when the road is closed.
The Longmire area will remain open seven days a week, barring major storm events. This includes the historic National Park Inn (where lodging, food, gifts, snowshoes and ski rentals are available).
The Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The visitor center will also be open on Thanksgiving and the Friday that follows, as well as December 21 – January 1. During weekdays, park Rangers will be available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Longmire Visitor Information Center (historic Longmire Administration Building).
“Conservative management decisions are required in the current funding environment,” Superintendent King said. “This year’s winter operation – with fixed hours of access to Paradise - is an experiment. It seeks to balance winter services against summer needs when most people visit the park. It will require cooperation from the public to work, particularly as the days get longer. If it doesn’t work, we’ll make adjustments as needed.”
Visitors are reminded that all vehicles are required to carry tire chains when traveling in the park, including 4WD. Tire chains are available at the Summit House in Ashford. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly at any time and mandatory chain use may be required even for 4WD vehicles.
At this time, State Routes 123 and 410 remain open, but dependent on changing weather conditions. The Stevens Canyon Road east of Paradise, the White River, Sunrise and Mowich Lake Roads are now closed to vehicle access for the winter, but remain open to winter recreation.