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

Current Season Conditions and Photo Opportunities
Winter 2011-12

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 road (uphill) from Longmire to Paradise is controlled at the gate just east of longmire. The gate is closes 4-5 pm daily and opens in the morning between 8-11 am or remains closed for the day based on weather and road conditions. You can check the NP's Twitter page for the latest information about the gate and road.

As of December 1st all the winter closures and restrictions are in place throughout the NP including for the two eastside highways, 410 in the northeast from the NP boundary to the summit of Cayuse and Chinook Passes and 123 in the southeast from the NP boundary to the summit with highway 410. These highways are closed for the season by the Washington Department of Transportation.

Paradise snowplay and winter camping areas.-- The Paradise snowplay and winter camps areas will open when there is at least 5 ft of snow, check the NPS Web page for winter recreation. Winter camping is open where there is more than 2 ft of snow in the designated camping areas

All the trails have snow through the winter above 2,500 feet and for periods below 2,500 feet. You should always check the most recent trail conditions for the trails you're interested during your visit but still be ready for unexpected weather and trail conditions.


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 December are great for winter photographers. There are lots of excellent nature and landscape scenes everywhere, many outside the popular areas. The open tourists areas are less crowded, except 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 will be present to some depth at elevations above 2-2,500 feet, and lower in some places in 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 winter weather the month has many good photo opportunities for winter scenes and landscapes. The problem in the month is access where the months of winter have very dynamic weather from sunny and clear, overcast with rain and snow. Once into January, through the winter and into spring the NP closures will be from major snow storms. These will include road closures into the northwest entrances and the Nisqually entrance in the southwest.

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. But remember the days in the NP are short but getting longer, check the sun and moon times.

Another great photo prospect in winter 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 I have to stress one point.

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

Until there is sufficient snow it is easy to damage the underlying vegetation when the snow melts in the spring. 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 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 winter closures limits access to many areas in the NP as roads, facilities and campgrounds are closed for the season. In addition, as happened this year, an early snow storms brought snow throughout the NP. These storms often don't last until the seasonal snow in December, but so far this has not proven the case as the snow is present throughout the NP.

That said there are still a number of photo opportunities in December for all photographers, winter and snow scenes 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 usually snow-free throughout the month, and most of the winter except for rarely major snow storms, leaving many opportunities if you're prepared for colder, wetter weather. This provides many winter forest scenes.

The Mowich Lake road is closed at the boundary and open to snowshoers and cross-country skiers. The campground is open to winter camping with a backcountry permit. This provides many scenic landscapes of the mountains, lakes (Mowich and Eunice) and trails to remote areas both before and after the snow falls and then stays.

Northeast Area.-- This area is restricted to highway 410 to the summit of Cayuse and Chinook Passes until the seasonal winter closure at Crystal Mountain Boulevard. The White River road is open to all foot traffic and snow mobiles to the campground. This provides opportunities similar to Mowich Lake area following the White River valley.

Southeast Area.-- Similar to the northeast area, access is restricted to highway 123 until the winter seasonal closure. Everything else and after the seasonal closure, it's restricted to snow travellers and snowmobiles along identified stretches of highway 123 and 706.

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 and upper elevation snow, especially along the highway with many turnouts 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.


January and February are good months for photographers, weather permitting. While many areas are closed except for winter travel, there are some areas in the northwest and southwest open to vist and travel for photo oppotunities. And all the rest is 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