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Mt Rainier Winter Solitude

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Mt Rainier National Park is truly a treasure in the Pacific Northwest. Every part of the park is beautiful and unforgettable, even after a lifetime of exploration. For this reason, some parts of the park can become extremely crowded, particularly in the summer. However, once the snow flies, and in certain areas, you can find Mt Rainier winter solitude cross country skiing or snowshoeing. For this post, we’ll be exploring a winter visit to the east side of the park, where highway 410 closes for the winter.

Winter is an amazing time to explore, and it’s even more important to make sure to carry the 10 Essentials, with an extra focus on warm clothing, food and water and to tell someone at home where you’re going. It’s also always important to check Northwest Avalanche Center for the current avalanche danger as well as being aware of areas that are possible for avalanches (slopes and valley terrain traps). Winter sports like snowshoeing and cross country skiing get really warm while you’re moving, so it’s critical to have warm layers in your pack to put on when you stop for lunch or in case of an injury or getting caught after dark on our short winter days. In my mind the winter 10 essentials include a thermos of soup or a hot drink!

This adventure in Mt Rainier is also relatively close to Seattle. It takes about a hour and a half (more in bad weather) to get to there from Seattle (a bit less from Tacoma). To get there, you head out on 410 until you get to the turnoff for Crystal Mountain Ski area which is where 410 is closed in the winter. It’s pretty obvious when you get there, because the road closure looks like this:

Mt Rainier winter solitude behind the closed gate
A closed gate in winter leads to beautiful snowshoeing or skiing on the east side of Mt Rainier National Park near the Crystal Mountain road turnoff.

The parking is a little unpredictable. There is supposed to be a sno park plowed right there, but sometimes it isn’t plowed and then there isn’t much room to park by the road, but I’ve always been able to fit in (there aren’t many people!). You will need a Washington State non-motorized sno park pass to park here (and you can use it at all the other sno parks in the state). You can purchase a Sno park pass online here.

Once parked, you’ll be right by the picturesque sign as you enter the park. You can head out on the closed road on snowshoes or cross country skis (this area is not groomed). On this day I chose cross country skis (though I have also explored this area on snowshoes).

Mt Rainier winter solitude on closed roads
This picturesque sign is just beyond the closed gate on hwy 410 along the ski or snowshoe route. A closed road means lots of solitude!

The route follows highway 410 through the park through some huge old trees, gorgeous with fresh snow.

Mt Rainier winter solitude
Sunny skies while skiing along closed Highway 410 in Mt Rainier National Park

Weather changes quickly in the mountains in the northwest. The two photos above were taken on hour apart in the same location!

The road follows the river which you have views of from time to time…

Mt Rainier winter solitude along white river
Stopping for a break along the river while snowshoeing along the closed road

On this route, it’s important to keep track of time as the road goes much farther than you could go on a day trip. Pick a turnaround time that will get you back to the car well before dark, and then just turn around when you get there.

A set of ski tracks next to a set of snowshoe tracks through a snowy forest under an overcast sky
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!