Sledding at Mount Rainier National Park – 5 Things To Know Before your Adventure!

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Sledding at Mount Rainier National Park is a fun winter activity in the Northwest if you know these tips before you go.

Sledding at Mt Rainier

Update for January 2021: The Sledding area is now open at Mount Rainier – always check their website or Twitter page first, though, before you visit to make sure there aren’t any closures. The Visitor’s Center is closed at Paradise, but bathrooms are available. You’ll need to warm up in your car & get food/drink down at Longmire.

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Looking for a fun adventure with the kids this winter, consider heading to Mt Rainier for sledding fun with the family. Out of the different options for tubing or sledding fun around the Northwest in organized areas, Mt Rainier is one of the more frugal options, especially for families. {Even better if you go on a fee-free day at the National Parks – see a list of fee-free days all year}.  Plus, there’s nothing like the incredible views at Mt Rainier on a clear winter day.

Mt Rainier offers a snow play area right at the Paradise Visitor’s Center – it’s right next to the Visitor’s Center, in fact, so it’s very easy to access from the parking lot. They only offer the Snow Play area when they have enough snowfall for the year, so you’ll need to check the Mt Rainier website to see when it will open as it varies each year as to when it will open and when it will close for the year. They require a significant base of snow at the location before they can open the snowplay area so that the meadows will not be impacted by the activities. In the last 2 years, it seems that the snow play area has opened around Christmas/New Year’s timeframe, but if the snowfall is less significant that year, it could be later.

There are 2 main sledding runs at the Snow Play area as well as a smaller toddler/preschool sledding run. These do get fairly crowded on beautiful days up at Mt Rainier, so just be prepared that you might have to wait in some lines. It is also only one person down each run at a time. But, sledding with the gorgeous mountain in the background sure does make up for the wait times. Definitely one of the most unique and beautiful spots in the US to go sledding!

{And make sure to check out this big list of places to go sledding & tubing around Washington!  And here’s our list of sledding & tubing locations in Oregon.}

Cost::

Mt Rainier Sledding Runs

It is totally free to go sledding at the Mt Rainier snow play area. You will have to purchase a National Park pass for Mt Rainier though to access it, which is $25 for a pass (this is actually good for 7 consecutive days). If you think you’ll be back, think about purchasing a Mt Rainier annual pass for $50 or even a America the Beautiful National Parks annual pass for $80 if you’ll be heading to more National Parks over the course of the year.

{Don’t forget – 4th graders can get in FREE with their free America the Beautiful pass. And active duty military, veterans & Gold Star families can also now get in free to any national park as well!}

Considering other tubing areas often cost a set amount per person (up to $20 – $25/person for 2 hours, such as at Snoqualmie Pass) this can be a significant savings to pay the set $25 fee for admission to the park for everyone in the vehicle.

However, Mt Rainier does have limited areas to sled so there could be long waits. If it’s a beautiful weekend, many folks might be headed to Mt Rainier as well and the parking lots do get full. If the Paradise parking lot & the overflow parking lots are full, then you’re out of luck to access the sledding area – so get there early in the day. {The main Mount Rainier gate also can get waits of 1-2+ hours on beautiful winter weekends as well, so keep that in mind & always have a backup plan.}

Things to Know When Visiting the Mt Rainier Snow Play Area::

Mt Rainier and Tatoosh Mountain Range

Get there early

The gates typically open at 9am and I’d plan on getting there as early as you can after the gates are open. If it’s a beautiful day, chances are many others have the same idea and want to head to the mountain. For those of us who live in the Northwest, we know that if the weather is nice and the “mountain is out”, you have to take full advantage and head to the mountains. Some winters, the sunny days without fog or clouds by the mountain may be rare, so you’ll need to be prepared by watching the forecast.

Also, make sure you keep an eye on the Mt Rainier Twitter feed as they can change the opening times of the gates depending on factors such as weather, road conditions and more. {We were just there this past weekend and due to the heavy snow that the whole area experienced, Mt Rainier was actually closed for a few days & then they were set to open the gates at noon that Saturday. It turned out that they were able to open the gates at 11am, so many people were hanging out in the parking lot just in case. So just be flexible and watch Twitter or call the Ranger Station to get an update on gate openings, road conditions, etc.

As I mentioned, not only will it be more crowded at the sledding area (which is why you want to get there early to get some good runs in before the crowds get too big), but the parking is definitely an issue. They only have a select amount of parking at Paradise in the regular and overflow lot and that includes everyone who is there to go sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and just to visit & see the mountain. They will tell you when you enter the park, though, if the parking lots have been full so you can decide whether you want to pay for the park pass or not.

The last time we went to the sledding area, we had gotten a late start due to prior morning commitments and by the time we got there around noon, they told us the parking lots were most likely full. We took the chance and still paid for the pass as we had our snowshoes with us, so could always head back to Longmire or another area further down the road to go snowshoeing. And we really didn’t want to head back after driving over an hour to get there. It turned out that we were able to find a spot, but we had to drive around for about 10 minutes before a spot opened up in the main lot (we did see a few spots open in the overflow lot though).

Carry Chains in your vehicle

You will almost always be required to carry chains in your vehicle, even if you have 4 wheel drive. You may not need to use them – that will vary day by day & you will find out when you get to the park if you will need to use them. But you will need to carry them in your car. If you do not want to go out and buy chains, you can stop at Whittaker’s Mountaineering store and rent chains on your way up. This store is in Ashford, the last town before you enter the park.

As for the roads, they do keep them plowed and cleared, but there often can still be snow or slushy snow on the roadway. We’ve visited twice in the last few weeks – the first time, there were just patches of slushy snow but it was a warm day so it wasn’t icy. Our last visit a week ago was after the big snowstorms in the NW & there was definitely snow on the roadway, so they were requiring chains on for all vehicles (except 4 wheel drive).

Bring your own sleds or tubes

Sledding fun at Mt Rainier

You will need to bring your own sleds or tubes to the Paradise sledding area. You can only use “soft” sliding devices at Paradise – flexible sleds, inner tubes and plastic sleds. Hard toboggans and runner sleds are not allowed at Paradise. For example, we have an old Radio Flyer wood & metal “runner” sled, so this is not allowed, but we can use our plastic sleds & inner tubes.

You might be able to find inner tubes at Les Schwab – call your local store to see if they have any inner tubes for sledding available to purchase. Whittaker’s Mountaineering Store in Ashford does also rent snow tubes as well.

Park Gates Close at 5pm – Must exit parking lot by 4:30 at the latest

Make your own sledding fun at Mt Rainier

You can always make your own sledding fun too if you didn’t bring a sled!

This is a very important tip that you must be aware of if you’re headed to Mt Rainier, especially if you decide to do some exploring of the mountain after sledding. You absolutely must make sure you are driving out of the Paradise parking lot by 4:30 at the very latest. It takes the full half hour to get back down to Longmire, which is where the gates will close at 5pm.  The rangers close the sledding area at 4pm, so that gives you a little time to take a bathroom break or last visit to the gift shop at the visitor’s center before you head down the mountain.

If you do decide to head out for some snowshoeing or hiking, just make sure you have calculated the time it will take to get back to your vehicle (with the snow), so you don’t have to worry about the gate closure.

Food & Drinks

*Update for 2021: The Jackson Visitor Center & Paradise Inn are both closed this year, so you will need to bring snacks/food/drinks in your car & warm up in your car. They do have bathroom facilities available, though. Food/drinks are only available back down at Longmire this year. 

In the winter time, only the Jackson Visitor Center is open up at Paradise. The Paradise Inn is not open in the winter, so just be aware that the only place to eat is in the Jackson Visitor Center cafe, where you can get food for lunch, snacks & warm drinks. You can also bring food with you, which is what we did. We brought sandwiches & other items for lunch, as well as hot water in a thermos & cocoa packets  for a warm drink after a fun day sledding.

If you don’t eat up at Paradise, the National Park Inn is also open for dining down at Longmire, as well as a few restaurants outside of the park gates and into Ashford. There are not a lot of places to eat, though, in the winter, so we just like to be prepared with lunch as well as snacks and drinks for after sledding, too.

More Ideas for Winter Fun:

Snowshoeing at Mt Rainier - Tips on Where to Find Snowshoes, What to Bring & more

Tips for Snowshoeing at Mt Rainier

 

Where are your favorite places to go sledding in the Northwest?

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