I’m not sure I love the snow—especially driving in it. My terrified reaction when navigating along the edge of an icy mountain pass is enough to have my well-used REI card revoked. But I wanted to snowshoe and get outside. The National Park Inn at Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park turned out to be the perfect destination for a snow-driving wimp.
Only two hours from Seattle, the inn sits at a relatively low 2,760 feet, making it fairly easy to access even in the winter months, with rooms often available on short notice. It’s also the only hotel in the park that’s open all year.
The road was packed with snow but easy to drive. Once parked at Longmire, everything got even easier. Access to a variety of snowshoe routes, from beginner to advanced, including parts of the Wonderland Trail, are just outside the door of the hotel. Snowshoeing here means the trees provide a canopy of shelter to wander under, even in challenging winter conditions; that’s not the case near Paradise, which also has many trails to explore but is above the tree line.
You can rent your snowshoes at the Longmire General Store, located next to the hotel, or do as I did and stop at Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford, about 6 miles from the Nisqually entrance to the park. The pros at Whittaker can set you up with snowshoes and other helpful gear to rent, such as poles, boots and tire chains, which you must have in your vehicle while traveling in the park from November through May.
The morning of my trek, I chatted with a ranger at the Longmire Museum, next to the hotel, about trail and weather conditions. Within a few minutes of beginning my snowshoe adventure, most of the crowds in the parking lot were behind me, and I was left with the quiet stillness of the snow-covered old-growth trees. As I walked along, I also was quickly reminded that this quiet walk in the woods was actually an intense workout.
As I headed back to the lodge, I was already envisioning shaking the wet snow from my coat and boots, sinking into a chair in front of the hotel’s enormous stone fireplace and sipping a “Camp Muir,” a hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps.
Built in the early 1900s, the lodge retains a quirky charm. Rooms are small but clean and comfortable, and most require a walk down the hall for a shower and bathroom. There are no televisions or cell service. It felt good to unplug and stop staring at my phone. That evening, tired from the trail, and after some time on the porch staring at the mountain and breathing fresh air, I was ready to move to the woods and go full Thoreau.
SNOWBOUND: The dining room at Copper Creek Inn in Ashford; end the day with a slice of the Inn’s blackberry pie. Photos courtesy of Copper Creek Inn
On the way home, I visited the restaurant at Copper Creek Inn, about five minutes from the park entrance, for a slice of warm blackberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream. The dessert is so popular, the shop makes as many as 70 pies per day to keep up with demand. As I walked out of the restaurant, the sun had come out and the roads were clear. It was a perfectly easy adventure.
Mount Rainier’s Nisqually entrance is about a two-hour drive southeast of Seattle.
Copper Creek Inn, 35707 State Route 706 E, Ashford
National Park Inn, 47009 Paradise Road E, Ashford; 360.569.2400; the inn has a restaurant on site Rainier National Park, Nisqually Entrance, 39000 State Route 706, Ashford; $30 park fee for seven days
Whittaker Mountaineering, 30027 State Route 706, Ashford; 800.238.5756; one-day snowshoe rentals, $15