Psst. Want to know an honest-to-goodness Pacific Northwest secret? Keep it quiet because they might kick me out of the state if I tell you. The truth is… you can snowshoe all year long out here. Yeah. Even in Summer.
As long as you’re willing to chase the snow there’s snow to be had. It can be a lifesaver when the temperatures here skyrocket into the 80s. (Once, we even had a high temperature of 90 degrees! And you thought it rained all the time in the Northwest.)
By far the easiest snow to access, not to mention the most scenic, is in Mount Rainier National Park. There are two visitor centers located high on the mountain that have snow or make access to snow much simpler.
Sunrise is in the northeast corner of the park. It’s the least developed of the two high elevation visitor centers and doesn’t open to the public until late June or sometimes July. When the snow covers the meadows you can make your own trail up to the ridge to look into the basin on the other side. That is, if you can take your eyes off the Mountain itself.
From the ridge you can hike toward the mountain to join a network of trails including the Wonderland Trail that circles the peak over 93 miles. Some easier, but still magnificent destinations include Frozen Lake, the Fremont Lookout, or the three peaks of Burroughs Mountain. All have amazing views as well as their own special features. Be on the lookout for hoary marmots and mountain goats.
On the south side of the park is Paradise. With year-round access and a great visitor center (not to mention the Paradise Inn open during the Summer) it’s where first time visitors should start. Paradise gets about 641 inches of snow each year that lasts well into the summer. (Yes, that’s more than 50 feet of snow!) Until the meadows melt out the snowfields close to the visitor center are covered with visitors enjoying the novelty of snow.
Snowshoe up only a few hundred feet and the crowds thin almost to nothing. Climbers make their way toward Camp Muir, about 5,000 feet higher on the mountain, or train for glacier travel on the safer slopes. You wouldn’t think such a short distance would make a difference, but the views get better with every step. And for every foot you climb, that’s a foot you can glissade. Just remember to take off your snowshoes before you slide down.
Even late in the summer you can find snow by packing your snowshoes up the trail from Paradise. Pass by the amazing displays of wildflowers in the meadows until you get to the snow. The Muir Snowfield has snow all year long and provides unmarred intimate views of the southern face of Rainier. (If you start up the Muir Snowfield you need to be prepared. WTA has a good route description.)
Make sure you have sunglasses, plenty of sunscreen, and dress in layers. Weather can move in quickly so you’ll need warm layers in case a storm hits, but also t-shirts when the sun comes out.
As good as they sound, beware these trips. They’re so good you’ll find yourself pushing higher and higher on the mountain. Before you know it, you’ll be climbing for the summit like Backcountry Ambassador Tim. When you go, make sure you do your Tubbs proud.