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

Current Season Conditions and Photo Opportunities
May 2012

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.


Note.-- The road (uphill) from Longmire to Paradise is controlled at the gate just east of longmire and at a turnout at Glacier Bridge over the Nisqually River. The gate is closed around 830 pm nightly and opens in the morning between 8-11 AM. Sometime in mid-May the gate will be open for the season. You can check the NP's Twitter page for the latest information about the gate and road.

May is the end of winter operations and the start of spring to summer operations which continues through June and into early July. You can get the latest information for places in the NP. May is also the month visitor season begins, especially during and after the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

May is the month the seasonal snowmelt begins. Except for the rare early-May snowstorm the snow is gone at the lower elevations in the NP, under 3,000 feet, and melting through May in the mid-elevations, 3-5,000 foot, depending on the location in the NP and melting through June in the higher elevations, above 5,000 feet, normally ending in mid-late July.

May and June are the months the NP comes alive from the long winter as the snow melts and the temperatures warm. But this also means that many trails still have snow in the backcountry areas and on the higher elevations into July so plan and prepare accordingly and always get the latest trail information.

May News:
The weather is spring at the lower elevations and winter-like at the mid-upper elevations with sunny and clear and periods of clouds or overcast with rain and with melting snow at all elevations;
The day and night temperatures are consistently cool to cold;
The facilities are open at Longmire and the visitors center at Paradise is open daily after May 5th. Paradise Inn opens for the season on May 18th;
The people will be increasing in numbers, especially during and after the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Paradise snowplay and winter camping areas.-- The Paradise snowplay area is closed for season. Winter camping closes May 14th.

Many of the trails have snow through May, snow-free below 4,000 feet and clearing above 4,000 feet through the month and clearing 4-5,000 feet through June. You should 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.

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

You can check the latest weather site data for weather and snow conditions and the Washington State Department of Transportation Website for road conditions.

Note.-- With the late winter and early spring weather and conditions, this means you should plan, get the most recent information, be prepared for quick and severe changes in the weather and conditions and be flexible with your plans and schedules, especially when and where the NPS issues advisories.

Photo Opportunities

The photo opportunties through May are good for the transition to spring and then summer. There are lots of excellent nature and landscape scenes everywhere, many outside the popular areas. The open tourists areas will become crowded, especially during and after the Memorial Day holiday weeken, as will be the snow-free trails almost everywhere within about 1-2 miles of the trailheads, especially those in the visitors areas and along the highways.

This is also the time you can get winter to spring scene photos as snow is present is still present at elevations above 3-4,000 feet throughout most areas 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 to spring 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 conditions 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.

While only 3 of the five areas have detailed information, see area overview, you can get additional information about areas by quadrant and Paradise area, see the 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 wintery spring weather the month has many good photo opportunities for winter to spring scenes and landscapes. The problem in the month is access when the weather is still dynamic from sunny and clear, overcast with rain which includes some road closures in the northwest area and the occasional control to Paradise at Longmire east of 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. You can check the sun and moon times for the periods of your visit.

Another great photo prospects later in the spring are the many open meadows and alpine areas, above 5-6,000 feet elevation when the weather and condition permits. In many areas the vegetation are still under winter snow for which I have to stress one point.

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

It is easy to damage the vegetation until 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 prospects 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 (PDF), and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather and conditions.

Until the snowmelts completely from the areas you want to visit and photograph, you should be experienced or go with hiker with experience with winter travel and navigation, camping. Everything is different than hiking and camping in other seasons due to the cold temperatures, dynamic weather, snow, closed and restricted areas.

Photo Locations

The seasonal openings later in May and June limit access to many areas in the NP as roads, facilities and campgrounds until they open. In addition, as is happening this year, snow is present in most areas in the NP, above 3,000 feet and melting during the month in the 3-4,000 foot elevations. Storms in May will bring rain in the lower elevation and occasionally snow in the mid-upper elevatons.

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

Northwest Area.-- The Carbon River valley is snow-free, leaving many opportunities if you're prepared for cooler, wetter weather. This provides many spring forest scenes and snow in the higher elevations.

The Mowich Lake road is closed at the boundary until June 29th and open to hikers. The campground is open to camping with a backcountry permit. This provides many scenic landscapes of the mountains, Lakes (Mowich and Eunice) and trails to remote areas, but expect snow on the higher elevations.

Northeast Area.-- Highway 410 is open to the summit of Cayuse and Chinook Passes and over to eastern Washington. The White River road opens June 29th but is open to hikers until then. This provides opportunities to follow the White River valley.

Southeast Area.-- Similar to the northeast area, this area is still under snow and highway 123 is open to Chinook Pass. The Stevens Canyon entrance opens May 25th and the road from the entrance to the intersection with the road to Paradise opens May 25th.

Note.--The Stevens Canyon road will be undergoing repairs and maintenance this summer along two 5-mile stretches, one on the west end of the road and the other along the Backbone Ridge. You can expect 30-minute delays for this work which will continue through the summer to September.

Southwest Area.-- This is the only area that is maintained for ready public access with visitors facilities at Longmire open year-around) and Paradise open daily beginning May 4th. 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 throughout the year. The gate just east of Longmire used to control traffic to Paradise is opened 24/7 for the season in mid-May. The snowplay area is closed and snow camping closes May 14th. The limitation for photographers is simply the sheer quantity of snow limits access for many scenes outside the visitors area and along the road unless you're an experienced winter traveller.


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.


May is a good month for photographers, weather permitting. While many areas still have snow some areas in early to mid-May in the northwest and southwest are open to visit and travel for photo oppotunities. These areas and the other areas will improve as the snow melts through May and June to summer in July.

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