Mount Rainier National Park News
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MPG V2.8, January 2013

Current Season Conditions and Photo Opportunities
May 2011

The purpose of this Web page is to provide some general monthly and seasonal conditions in Mt Rainier NP. It's not meant to be completely accurate or updated, see the other news and access Web pages for that information. It is meant to be a general guide to help you visit to the NP. Much of the information has been gleaned from a variety of sources, often from trip reports, conversations with experienced people, Websites, news stories, etc.


 The NPS is reporting potential hazardous conditions for all visitors along plowed roads and near snowbanks as the late season extreme snowdepth and warmer spring weather is creating conditions for avalanches and snowbank failures.

May is the start of spring operations, see access and conditions Web page. This year the weather is still dynamic and consistently cool to cold with periods of clear and sunny along with rain and still occasional snow at the upper elevations.

May is the usual month of change from winter to spring, but this year the late spring snowfall and higher than normal (120-140%) snowpack will delay many openings of the roads, facilities and trails. The highways will open during the month, see the Washington Department of Transportation status of mountain passes.

This means the trails has and will have snow during the month above 3-4,000+ feet and lower elevations in some areas well into the May. You should always check the most recent trail conditions for the trails you're interested during your visit but still be ready for unexpected conditions.

One important note. Please stay on the designated trails when hiking on snow covered open fields or meadows and don't wander off because of bad trail conditions or to get some photographs. These areas are sensitive to damage this time of year and may not recover until the spring.

With respect to the weather, you should be aware of both the latest NWS forecast as well as the latest real-time weather data and check the Webcams at Paradise.


Advisory about Trails.-- During adverse weather in meadows and open areas, it is important to minimize the danger to vegetation, expecially wildflowers and low vegetation, and as such please follow this rule.

Stay on the designated paths and trails on the snow where flagged.

This is critical in the popular areas and on the trails in the Paradise area. This is less critical in the backcountry where many of the trails are already established.

Advisory about Guns.-- Beginning February 22, 2010, openly carrying guns in the NP is legal and concealed with a legal permit. However, there are a number of conditions, which you can find here with links to additional information.

It is illegal to carry a gun indoors and it is illegal to use or fire a gun anywhere in the NP.

This is especially important in the visitors areas, the campgrounds, on the trails, and in the backcountry. You can only openly carry a gun or concealed with the proper (state permit) and nothing else. You can not unholster, use or discharge the weapon anytime or anywhere in the NP. The NPS has trained and instructed the park and backcountry rangers to treat all visitors as if they are carrying a gun unless it is clear the visitor is not carrying a gun.

Photo Opportunities

The photo opportunties in May are great for winter and spring photographers. There are lots of excellent nature and landscape scenes everywhere, many outside the popular areas. AS the snow melts the open tourists areas will be more crowded, more so on weekends and holidays, as are the trails almost everywhere within about 1-2 miles of the trailheads, especially those along in the visitors areas and along the main highways.

This is also the time you can get winter scene photos as snow is still present at elevations above 4,000 feet, and lower in some areas of the NP. You can check the latest weather conditions on the Mt. Rainier map of weather sites. The lower elevations are excellent for winter forests scenes with the background of snow on the upper elevations and Mt. Rainier.

A good destination photo hike are the four fire lookouts in the NP along with two just outside the NP on the south and north sides. You should first check ahead ask about the trail and snow depth on the trail.. You can get a description of them and locate them on a map. They provides excellent vista of Mt. Rainier and the entire 360 view of the NP and area.

You can get additional information about areas by quadrant and Paradise area in the detailed descriptions, currently Paradise area, southwest area and northwest area available.

Another photo opportunity are on the highways approaching Mt. Rainier. On clear days the mountain should provide an excellent subject or backdrop for scenes around the NP. This is outside the scope of this photo guide, but doing some exploring of roads can provide some excellent views of the snow-capped mountain.

Photo Prospects

Despite the cooler weather so far this spring the month still has many good photo opportunities for winter scenes and landscapes at mid-to-upper elevations and spring scenes at the lower, snow-free elevations. The problem in the month is access where May still has significant amounts of snow and very dynamic weather from sunny and clear, overcast with rain with snow above 5-6,000 feet.

That said there are many opportunities if you are prepared for the range of weather conditions and are flexible with the changing weather and conditions. These include the lower elevation forests, the waterfalls and lakes, and snow scenes at the mid-to-upper elevations. Remember the while the days in the NP are getting longer as we head into June, see sun and moon times for the NP.

Another great photo prospect in May are the many open meadows and alpine areas, above 5-6,000 feet elevation when the weather permits. The bushes and trees are under winter snow, so I have to stress one point.

Stay on the designated paths and trails in the meadows and open areas.

Even though there is sufficient snow it is easy to damage the underlying vegetation near the surface. In addition you will run the risk of being given a ticket by a Park Ranger for violating the rules (which all visitors accept when entering the NP).

The other prospect for nature, landscape and scenery photography are up to your imagination and willingness to go and explore off the roads on many of the trails, many accessible via day hikes, see map of hikes. Just remember wear appropriate hiking clothes and boots, and carry the basic backpacking gear and supplies, including the ten essentials, and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather and conditions.

You should be experienced or go with hiker with experience with winter travel and navigation, winter camping and winter in the NP. Everything is different than hiking and camping in the other seasons due to the cold temperatures, dynamic weather, snow, closed and restricted areas, and shorter days. This means experience with cross-country skiing or snowshoeing and means knowing and following the winter rules.

Photo Locations

The spring openings provide access to many areas in the NP as roads, facilities and campgrounds will open for the upcoming summer season, but this year late snowfall and higher than normal snowpack has delays some openings, even down to the lower-to-mid elevations in some areas.

That said there are still a number of photo opportunities in May for all photographers, winter and spring scenes and spring and snow landscapes in the mid-to-upper elevation and forest scenes in the lower-to-mid elevations. This is further described by area.

Northwest Area.-- The Carbon River valley is snow-free at the lower elevations, below 3-4,000 feet, leaving many forest scenes for the length of the river valley up to the Ipsut campground and beyond to the higher elevations and many of the trails off the river trail.

The Mowich Lake road is closed at the boundary (no real designated entrance) and open to hikers. The campground is open with a backcountry permit. This provides many scenic landscapes of the mountains, lakes (Mowich and Eunice) and trails to remote areas where you can expect snow well into May.

Northeast Area.-- This area still has significant snowpack and will have snow through May and into June, so while the roads and facilities will open later in May, expect snow. The road past the campground to Sunrise will open later in June.

Southeast Area.-- Similar to the northeast area, access is restricted to highway 123 until the spring opening, but expect snow about 3-4,000 feet elevation through the month along highway to the passes and the Stevens Canyon Road.

Southwest Area.-- This is the only area that is maintained for ready public access with visitors facilities at Longmire (all open year around) and Paradise (visitors center weekends and holidays). This provides a wealth of prospects from the low elevation forest through the mid elevation transistion to the upper elevation snow, especially along the highway with many turnoutsa and trailheads.

Paradise Area.-- This area is only accessible from the southwest (Nisqually) entrance through the winter. It is also the most visited winter area mostly for the snowplay area later in the winter and the easy access for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. The limitation for photographers is simply the sheer quantity of snow limits access for many scenes outside the visitors area and along the road.


May is a good month for photographers, weather permitting. While many areas are opening to travel, there are some areas with significant snow, especially above 4,000 feet, so you need to be prepared for the widest range of conditions. After that it's all in your interest and willingness for snow.

Many photo opportunity are there, so there is a wealth of places to go, look and capture. Please enjoy your visit to the NP and follow the old adage, Leave No Trace. We'd all like to enjoy it in your footsteps without seeing your presence.

You can can get reports for previous months here.

Please use the contact link to send e-mail.

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WSR V2.8, January 2013