“Although the Paradise area trails that radiate out from the visitor center are popular in any season, winter is when they really shine.” That’s the line on VisitRainier.com that led my dad and me to Mount Rainier recently. There are plenty of trails to choose from but we recommend the Nisqually Vista snowshoe.
You can find the Nisqually Vista trailhead near the entrance to the overnight parking lot, which is just short of the main Paradise visitor center parking lot (map). The drive takes about two and a half hours from Seattle, and you have to pay the daily national park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle. If you’re planning a Mount Rainier day trip, we suggest getting there early and staying as long as possible to really maximize your experience. During the winter, the gate at Longmire to Paradise opens at 9am and closes at 5pm.
The Nisqually Vista snowshoe is an easy 1.8-mile loop that is well-marked by black and orange poles. There are some minor ups and downs, but the trail should be suited for everyone in the family. In the summer, the Nisqually Vista trail is a paved, all-ages loop that is meant to allow everyone access to spectacular views of Mount Rainier. I’ve never been on the trail in the summer. But a park ranger told us the Nisqually Vista snowshoe closely follows the same summer trail.
The highlight of the Nisqually Vista snowshoe is at the turnaround point of the loop. When I first walked up to the viewpoint, I probably said “wow” 20 times. The break in the trees lets you look directly up the Nisqually Glacier and toward the summit of Mount Rainier. Before we did the snowshoe, a park ranger told us it’s his favorite view in the entire national park because it lets you see just how big the mountain is. At 14,409-feet…it’s really frickin’ big.
I’m guessing the Nisqually Vista snowshoe gets pretty busy on the weekends. But my dad and I were lucky enough to get up there midweek in late-February. Aside from the two of us, there wasn’t a single person on the trail when we were there. It was awesome. You could hear the crunch of snow under your feet, birds singing, and water streaming. In my mind, it’s exactly how Mount Rainier National Park should be experienced.
If you’re looking for a fun winter adventure at Mount Rainier National Park, the Nisqually Vista snowshoe is a great place to start. My dad and I continued on to another trail from there, and we eventually stayed for the sunset at Longmire. We really made the most of our day, and you can too!
Have you ever done the Nisqually Vista snowshoe at Mount Rainier? How was your experience? We’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Don’t forget to also check out Seattle Bloggers for more great places to visit around the Emerald City!
If snowshoeing is your thing, be sure to check out our posts about winter adventures at Gold Creek Pond, Keechelus Lake, Mount Baker, Wenatchee Crest, and even Crater Lake. And for summer fun, see our post about Sunrise at Mount Rainier.