Current Season Conditions and Photo Opportunities
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.
September and October are the transition months from late summer into fall in the NP, with respect to the weather of both warm sunny days to the cooler fall days and cool to cold nights with periods of rain, and, in some years, the possiblity of snow in October, which has occurred 23 of the last 32 years.
It's also for the NPS to transition the vistor facilities, camgrounds and roads for the upcoming winter as well as preparation for possible extreme rain events with floods or snowstorms. This requires establishing and following a schedule to close all but one road and almost all the facilities through September and October, the rest closing in November.
September and October are the transition months from summer to fall (September) and fall into early winter (October). September transitions from the warm, usually clear but occasional cloudy or overcast days and cool nights early in the month to cooler evening and overnight weather and cooler daytime weather with varying from clear and sunny to overcast with rain later in the month.
October is the continuation of that weather to consistently cool to cold weather with more rainstorms with rain and early snow in some years with periods of clear, sunny weather, often called indian summers or just good, nice weather to visit the NP. These months can be dynamic months for weather so it is best if you plan and prepare for the extreme weather.
September is the month the NPS reduces days or hours of and closes some facilities, campgrounds, entrances and roads in preparation for the winter. The winter preparation continues through October the where by early November all of them are ready for winter with only the year-around facilities open through the winter with reduced days and hours.
Roads & Highways
The same applies for the highways and roads in the NP and the state highways through the NP as for the facilities, etc., see above description. You can get more from the NPS Website on the status of roads with links to the NP's Twitter account, as well as the WSDOT Websites for highway 410 and 123 over Cayuse Pass and Chinook Pass.
Through this spring and summer the NPS has been repairing and repaving the highway between the Nisqually entrance and Paradise. This work was suspended for August and September to resume in October, so there will be altered traffic patterns in September but no delays. The delays will return in October until the end of the work for the season.
Trails & Trailheads
All of the trails will be snowfree into October and accessible through these months when and where the roads are open, see above description and links to information on road closures, especially the White River Road to the campground and Sunrise and Stevens Canyon Road between highway 123 and highway 706 to Paradise.
The trails will have far fewer hikers through both months especially the backcountry trails and the Wonderland trail. Most hikers will be found on the popular trails and within a few miles of the trailheads at the visitors' areas of Longmire and Paradise.
Visitors and hikers should check the weather for their visit and the NPS Website for hiking information and backcountry camping.
Planning & Preparation
For the most part, September and October shouldn't change your planning and preparation for visiting, hiking and photographing in Mt. Rainier NP except to be cognizant of the schedule to reduce hours or close facilities, campground and roads and the weather reports and forecasts.
However, into mid-late October, the chances for significant rainstorms and possible snow in the mid-upper elevations become likely as the weather transitions into late fall and early winter into November when and where some of the earliest seasonal snow and some of worst rain storms with flooding have occurred.
The photo opportunties in September and October are excellent for late summer into fall. There are lots of excellent nature and landscape scenes everywhere, many outside the popular areas. The open tourists areas will be far less crowded after the Labor Day holiday, as will be the trails almost everywhere. where most visitors will be found within 1-2 miles of the trailheads, especially those in the visitors areas and along the highways.
The wildflower season has ended for the year but there still are some areas of late or longer blooms usually at the higher elevations. You can get more information on the wildflower areas with map of the meadows.
The waterfalls are at their extreme low (flow) levels this year after the record low winter snowpack and early snowmelt, and low summer rainfall. This will not improve until the fall with significant rainstorms before the winter snowstorms. You can check the latest weather conditions on the Mt. Rainier map of weather sites.
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 any snow 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.
The Wonderland Trail will be clear of snow and in good condition from the long dry summer and lack of rain. You should check with the NPS on snow and trail conditions for the period of your reservation and remember to get the permit for the campgrounds you plan to stay. You can get additional information on the backcountry Web page.
While only three 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.
September and October has many good photo opportunities for the last summer scenes and landscapes, but remember the mountain makes its own weather, often the opposite of the weather around the mountain and in the lower elevations or the Puget Sound. You can check some places in the NP through their Webcams of Longmire, Paradise and Sunrise areas.
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 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 when the weather and condition permits. 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 through the season. In addition you 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.
The last prospect are the many areas open with a backcountry hike, see map of information, meaning an overnight or longer hike into the more remote areas of the NP. This is where many of the less photographed and more beautiful scenes can be found and captured. But these are for the experienced backcountry hiker, especially solo, and with planning for the trip and camping permits for your overnight stays.
If you plan a hike into the backcountry, the NPS may have issued an advisory on the backcountry trails, see press releases. In addition there are rules for hiking the Wonderland trail. With the above normal snowpack this year high elevation trails will have more snow and the weather will be cold. It's the same adage about the NP, be prepared.
That said many of the best photo opportunities are in the backcountry areas, often 3-5 day round trip hikes. In addition many more areas are off the trails in the cross-country zones of the NP. Some suggestions are listed below and you can view a map of the areas along with the rules for the zones.
Note.--If you plan to travel on snowfields or glaciers, you should be experienced or go with guides or hikers with experience with snow/glacier travel and navigation. It's not something you learn when you get there.
September and October are the transition months for both the weather into fall and the work of the NPS to prepare the NP for winter, when facilities, campgrounds, roads will be closed for the winter, information available for the access and conditions in the NP during these two months.
That said there are many photo opportunities in September and October for all photographers, late summer and early fall forest scenes at all elevations and scenes of the last snow in the higher elevations for the new winter snow later this fall and into winter. This is further described by area.
Northwest Area.-- The Carbon River valley is a lowland forest for the first five miles of its length to Ipsut Creek campground as is the Mowich Lake Road to Mowich Lake and the campground, but many trails above Ipsut Creek and Mowich Lake to mid-upper elevations areas, meadows and alpine areas have expansive views of Mt. Rainier
The Carbon River Road and NP entrance is closed at the NP boundary with the new Carbon River Ranger Station located west of the entrance with visitor parking. The Ranger Station has no scheduled hours.
The Mowich Lake road closes for the season in October or the first seasonal snowfall. The campground is open through the winter with a permit. This provides many scenic landscapes of the mountains, Lakes (Mowich and Eunice) and trails to remote areas with possible snow on the higher elevations around the Mowich Lake area in October.
Northeast Area.-- Highway 410 is open to Cayuse Pass and Chinook pass until closed for the season later in November. The White River entrance closes in October. The campground closes September 30. The road to Sunrise from White River campgraund closes in October. The Sunrise vistor facilities closes September 20.
Southeast Area.-- Highway 123 from the NP entrance to Cayuse pass is open until closed for the season later in November. The Stevens Canyon Road closes in October or the first snowfall. The Ohanopecosh visitors center and the campground closes in October.
Southwest Area.-- This is the only area that is maintained through the winter for public access with visitors facilities. The Longmire visitors center open daily until October and then Thursday through Mondays until spring. The Jackson visitors center is open daily until October and then only weekends and holidays until spring. The Paradise Inn closes in October. The Mountain Guide Center closes in October. The Cougar Rock campground closes in October.
Paradise Area.-- This area is only accessible from the southwest (Nisqually) entrance throughout the year. The limitation for photographers will be the weather at the higher elevations in October and into the winter.
Advisory about Trails.-- During the summer 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, especially 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.
September and October are excellent months for photographers, but just be prepared for dynamic weather. While many areas may have snow some areas at the higher elevations, the rest of the NP will be snow free through September but not necessarily in October.
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.
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