Winter in the Pacific Northwest can be frustrating for families looking for outdoor recreation. As summer ended, so did the majority of weekend adventures. The gray returned, as did the rain, forcing many to retreat indoors during the short days. Yet, high above our towns, on the slopes of America’s most recognizable mountain, a wonderland awaits in snowy silence.
On Mount Rainier, in the Paradise region of this iconic national park, family-friendly sledding opportunities are sure to be the highlight of outdoor adventures these frosty months. Thanks to a fantastic sledding area and jaw-dropping views, Mount Rainier should be destination number one for your family’s snowy activities.
Sledding at Mount Rainier is an exciting day for the whole family, with the designated sledding area open to snow enthusiasts of all ages. At the Paradise region, the snowplow area is located just above the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. Once the snow piles up, the staff at Mount Rainier opens the sledding area. This typically occurs around mid-December, since sufficient snowpack is required to protect the meadow vegetation before the snowplay area can be opened. Lasting through mid-March, the sledding here is awesome, family-friendly and is the perfect way to experience winter on the tallest of the Cascade mountains. Be aware that sledding is not permitted anywhere else in the park, due to trees, tree wells, cliffs and avalanche danger. This is not a ski resort; this is a wild and wonderful wilderness region.
Going outside in the winter can be tough. At least, a lot tougher than in the summertime when the sun beckons and all you need to bring is a water bottle. Bundling up the whole family and planning for various weather conditions requires more commitment, but the rewards of breathing in that fresh air are incomparable. Dress warmly, bring extra clothes and be prepared for a day of winter adventures.
Mathias Eichler is a parent and co-founder of The Outdoor Society, a local publisher dedicated to encouraging and inspiring outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest. He, as well as his family, can more often than not be found outdoors, exploring the best regions of the Pacific Northwest. To him, winter at Mount Rainier is one of the must-experience adventures in the region.
“Once the snow falls at Mount Rainier, the region becomes transformed into a winter wonderland and experiencing the outdoors during a different season is magical and memorable,” Mathias explained. “With Paradise blanketed in snow, sledding down the slopes in the shadow of this majestic volcano brings joy to my kids’ faces and a deeper appreciation for the great outdoors and our mountain.”
Before you go, remember to check road conditions, as well as the weather. Just because the weather is nice down below the mountain doesn’t mean the Paradise sledding area will be accessible, open or even safe. Road and weather conditions can be found on the Mount Rainier National Park website. Also, know that all vehicles are required to carry tire chains while visiting Mount Rainier during the winter months. This includes four-wheel-drive vehicles of every make and model. Also, the sledding area does not allow hard toboggans or runner sleds for everyone’s safety. Please only bring what the park considers to be “soft” sliding devices, like inner tubes, flexible sleds and saucers. Park rangers do monitor the slope and will ask those breaking rules to leave.
Enjoying the snow at Mount Rainier is a timeless adventure. The region is the most dependable place to find snow, thanks to the combination of high elevation and exposure to incoming storms. Paradise received an estimated 698 inches of snow in the winter of 2015/16, making this an amazing region to explore snowdrifts and witness the awesome power of winter in the Pacific Northwest.
Mount Rainier’s winter activities aren’t limited to just the sledding area. The park also has family-friendly snowshoe walks with national park rangers, as well as numerous trails to explore.
The ranger-led snowshoe hikes cover a little over a mile and a half in two hours and are open to hikers eight years old and up. Make sure you arrive early and sign up at the information desk in the Jackson Visitor Center; the ranger-led hikes are only open to the first 25 individuals who show up. The best part of the ranger-led hikes is that you don’t even need your own snowshoes. Snowshoes are provided by the park for those attending the ranger-guided snowshoe walks using the hike, with a suggested $5 donation for each participant. If you’d rather explore on your own, snowshoes can be rented outside the park and at the Longmire General Store. Of course, you can always bring your own pair.
“Any way you explore the snowy fields and trails around Mount Rainier National Park is sure to inspire more adventures all year in the area,” says Mathias Eichler. “Conquering the foreign, perhaps even harsh environment leads to incredible experiences that transform the potential of a dreary day, stuck at home into family memories that last a lifetime.”