It may be one of the most unique and beautiful winter destinations out there. Mt. Rainier, a huge national park containing a designated wilderness area, a giant stratovolcano, forest reserve, mountains, winter camping, rustic lodges, romantic inns and miles upon miles upon miles of gorgeous, winter wonderland expanse.
And one of the best things about visiting Mt. Rainier in the winter, for athletes and outdoor lovers, is the ability to get your sweat on. With the absence of chairlifts, most downhill skiing and snowboarding here involves hiking.
More: Tips for Winter Hiking
As for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, trails and are limitless. With 20 or so feet of snow on the ground, "it's a great chance to get out and see things that you can't see in the summer," says park guide, Rebecca Roland. "When you're on snowshoes in the snow, you don't need to worry about trampling anything and you can go everywhere you can't go in the summer and spring."
But if you do choose to cross-country ski or snowshoe at Mt. Ranier this winter, always talk to park rangers before you venture out. You've literally got hundreds of options but research the best routes with the lowest avalanche risks, first.
Here are a few options to get you started:
Reflection and Louise Lakes
Located at Nadara Falls, this loop is 7 miles round trip with a 560-foot gain to a high point of 5,100 feet. Avalanche hazard is low to moderate and the bright, flat expanse of frozen, snow-covered mountain lakes, meadows, mountain views makes this journey high on a winter-trekkers wish list. (Ice on Reflection Lake is infamously thin, though, so walking on the lake is not advised.)
Aside from the moderate climb to the ridge, this 6-mile (roundtrip) loop, located at Paradise, offers limitless opportunities for winter-wonderland explorations. The views from the ridge are spectacular but research the safest approach up there and then you're free to wander the ridge line, where you can view Pinnacle Peak, The Castle, Unicorn, Boundary Peak and Mt. Rainier itself. Go back the way you came.
On the east side of Mt. Rainier National Park, this route provides snowshoers and cross-country skiers 10 miles of winter trekking through cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock trees with little to no avalanche danger. Mowich Lake is transformed, in the winter, from the busy, crowded scene that it becomes in summer months. This is a great spot for winter camping, as well.
Ranger-Led Snowshoe Walks
Ideal for your family, these tours are typically easy and informative. Park guides will take you and your group on the Nisqually Vista Trail and fill you in on the ecology and history of the area inside the park, or at Crystal Mountain ski area outside the park.
More: Snowshoeing 101
Search for a hiking excursion.