Living in Portland, you’ve probably hit the slopes at Mt. Bachelor more than once, twice or even three times. If your family is ready for a new mountain experience, you are in luck! Mt. Rainier National Park is only a two to three hour drive North of Portland and offers a multitude of winter activities and adventures that the whole clan will love. From sledding and snowshoeing to gondola and tram rides through the wilderness, this mountain experience will bring your nature-loving crew back again and again.

mt-rainier-at-kautz-creek
photo: by Annette Benedetti

Getting to Mt. Rainier 

The entrance to  Mt. Rainier National Park  closest to Portland is the Nisqually entrance located in Ashford, Washington. To get to there by car head North on I-5 to Hwy. 12 (exit 68) then head East on Hwy. 12 to SR 7. In Morton, head North on SR 7 to SR 706 in Elbe. From there go East on SR 706, which will take you to the Nisqually Entrance.

Mt. Rainier National Park
Online: nps.gov/mora/index.htm

Winter Adventures Await

Mt. Rainier offers plenty of opportunities to take winter activities to the next level. The mountain offers spectacular views that you won’t find anywhere else and the likelihood of running into wildlife, including dear and elk, is high. If you aren’t sure where to begin, consider some of the following activities.

The Paradise Snow Play Area
Your kids won’t be able to get enough of this area, which is the only area that that allows sleds. They will kill hours racing down the slopes on disks and tubes that fulfill their need for speed. The snow play area is located north of the upper parking lot at Paradise and is open from mid-December through the end of March.

snow-play

photo: Seth Stoll via Flickr

Snowshoeing
During the summer months, Mt. Rainier has and endless number of trails that give you access to breathtaking mountainscapes. Now imagine being able to leave the trail and see what’s beyond the defined paths! Well, you can do just that once the snow has become too deep to see trails. Snowshoeing is an activity that even the younger set can enjoy. If you are new to the mountain or snow shoeing, consider signing up for a ranger guided tour at Paradise. And added bonus of the tours is that snowshoes are provided by the park and there is only a suggested donation of $5.00 for both the tour and the equipment. They are offered from mid-December through early March. There are over thirty Snowshoe trail descriptions you can check out by visiting visitrainier.com.

Ride Crystal’s Mt. Rainier Gondola
See Mt. Rainier from the sky! This gondola ride will take you to the Crystal Mountain summit for unforgettable mountain views. Your family will “ooh” and “ah” as you travel almost 2,500 vertical feet to the summit where you will be able to see Mt. Rainier in all of it’s glory as well as the Cascade Range.

Cost: $22/adult, $17/youth ages 11-15 and $5/child 10 years and under.
Online: crystalmountainresort.com/activities/mt-rainier-gondola

Once at the summit, you can hit the Summit House, Washington’s highest elevation restaurant. Warm up with some Bison and Elk chili or fill up with a Rainier burger, better known as “The Mountain”. There’s even a kids menu offering favorites such as butter noodles and parmesan and the classic cheeseburger. For more information visit crystalmountainresort.com/summit-house-restaurant.

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photo: courtesy of Three Bears Lodge

Take a Tram Ride
Break out the blankets and warm clothes because you don’t want to miss this chance to view native Northwest animals in their natural winter environment. Catch the tram at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville and tour 435 acres of free-roaming area of park. See who has the best eye in your family and try to spot bison, caribous, elk, mountain goats, deer and moose. If you are lucky an animal may even approach the tram.

11610 Trek Dr. E., Eatonville
Online: nwtrek.org

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photo: courtesy of Three Bears Lodge

Family Accommodations

While you can make a visit to Mt. Rainier a day trip, there’s so much to do that planning a full weekend away (or longer) will give you ample time to get a real taste of what the mountain has to offer your clan. If your crew prefers to stay in a hotel or lodge setting, consider staying at the Nisqually Lodge in Ashford. Your stay comes with comfortable accommodations and amenities like Free Wi-Fi, TV and air conditioning and heat. They also serve a full continental breakfast every morning between 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., which features waffles, sausage, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy and more so you can power up for the active day ahead.

Renting a cabin is another attractive lodging option. Three Bears Lodge offers eight cabins just outside the year-round Paradise entrance to the national park in Ashford. The cabins accommodate groups of all sizes and the owners of the cabins have kids themselves so they have designed six of the 8 cabins specifically for families with young children. These cabins come with highchairs, boosters, toys, cribs and anything else you could imagine you might need. All of the cabins have fully equipped kitchens that have the supplies for a complimentary waffle breakfast. If you choose this lodging option, the only thing you need to bring with you is food.

If you have furry family members, good news, four of the Three Bears Lodge cabins are pet-friendly and equipped with amenities just for fido including a doggie basket; which includes dog tags with the cabin address and phone number; dog towels; a sticky roller for hair removal; dog treats and plastic baggies. They also provide a washable dog bed and food and water bowls.

Nisqually Lodge
31609 SR 706 E., Ashford
Online: whitepasstravel.com/nisqually/

Three Bears Lodge
206-241-8080
Online: rainierlodging.com

Has your family been to Mt. Rainier National Park? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

—Annette Benedetti