L. Lisa Lawrence

There is a perfect winter landscape where sparkling ice crystals adorn the branches of evergreen trees and snow-covered Cascade Mountain peaks grace the horizon below stunning blue skies. A snowshoe trip across Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park provides fresh air, exercise, and postcard-perfect views.

Begin your journey from the Narada Falls parking lot. Before heading for the trail, don’t forget to check out the falls, which take on a unique winter beauty surrounded by snow, icicles, and frozen mist. Pick up the trail just above and to the right of the heated comfort station bathrooms, and follow Paradise Creek as it winds near an easy trail before joining the road.

Follow the road around a few switchbacks until you see an orange sign directing you to a trail that climbs up to the ridge. This stretch of trail is steep, but short, and the reward is a 360-degree view of canyons, alpine forest, meadows, and beauty in every direction. The Tatoosh Range stretches across the Southeast horizon, and Mount Rainier dominates the landscape in the opposite direction. Take it all in and catch your breath before continuing on.

From the top of the ridge, you continue down the other side to reflection lakes, or turn to your left and follow the top of the ridge toward Paradise, where you will eventually intersect with other trails that can take you down to Paradise. Stopping at the trail junction and then heading back makes a 6-mile round-trip and keeps you out of avalanche zones.

If you choose to stay on the road from Narada Falls instead of taking the Mazama Ridge Trail, you’ll come to a stretch that crosses above the parking area over to Inspiration Point, which provides stunning views. This is a very dangerous avalanche slope that should be avoided in all but the most stable snow and weather conditions. (When in doubt, don’t go there, even if you see other people’s tracks, unless you have confirmed with park staff that the conditions are safe.)

You’ll enter the park at the Longmire entrance station. You will want to call ahead to find out what time the road will open on any given day if you wish to access Paradise or Narada Falls. If for some reason, the gate doesn’t open on a given day, there are numerous routes out of Longmire that will provide a full day of fun and adventure.  

On your way back from your snowy adventure, stop at the National Park Inn at Longmire for lunch, dinner, or a warm beverage, or drive down to the Copper Creek Inn at Ashford, where you can enjoy blackberry pie for dessert.  

A winter snowshoe trip across Mazama Ridge provides a winter experience that summer visitors can only dream of.

Be Safe

As with any winter travel in the mountains, conditions can change rapidly. Hypothermia, especially with wind chill, can be a concern, as can low visibility/whiteouts due to sudden changes in weather. Never travel in the backcountry without a map, compass, and survival gear including extra food, water, and clothing. If in doubt, shelter in place along the trail until visibility improves. Staying in one place along the trail will help you be found should you need help from searchers/rescuers.

Before You Go

 Call the park at 360.569.2211 to confirm road conditions. The gate above Longmire is closed nightly, and morning openings can be delayed due to weather conditions.

Always check in with the ranger station for the latest on avalanche, road, and trail conditions.

Carry tire chains in your vehicle (and know how to use them) for winter travel anywhere in the Cascades. 

Get safety information at Washington Trails Association: wta.org/hiking-info/basics/winter-skills-courses.

Mileage: 6 miles round-trip

Elevation gain: 900 feet

Maps: Green Trails: Mount Rainier East No. 270, Paradise No. 270S 

Passes: An America the Beautiful or Mount Rainier National Park Pass is required for entry into the park.