Winter Access Changes for Mount Rainier National Park’s Paradise Area

Last week we met with leadership from Mount Rainier National Park to hear more about their recent decision to close the Longmire to Paradise Road on weekdays this winter. We share more about the reasons for the decision, the staffing challenges the Park is facing, and what you can do to help.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 20, 2022
Winter Access Changes for Mount Rainier National Park’s Paradise Area
Mazama Ridge, in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park. Photo by Eryn Allen.

We’ve heard from many members expressing concern about this winter’s weekday closure of the Longmire to Paradise Road in Mount Rainier National Park. We share those concerns for the loss of winter recreation access, and we are sympathetic to the staffing challenges the Park is currently facing.

Mountaineers have cherished the natural beauty and challenges offered by Mount Rainier since our beginning. Our community visits the Park often, through Mountaineers youth and adult programming and personal trips to go day hiking, backpacking, scrambling, snowshoeing, climbing, backcountry skiing, and more. As the highest and oldest road access area for winter recreation in Washington, Paradise is a tremendous outdoor destination for The Mountaineers and the broader recreation community. Paradise is an important destination for newer recreationists and families looking to experience an alpine environment for the first time, and serves as an unparalleled outdoor education resource with its spectacular access to high-altitude climbing, backcountry skiing, and snow skills practice opportunities.

Paradise Winter Access Changes

Due to staff shortages and safety concerns, vehicular access via the Longmire to Paradise road has been limited to weekends-only this winter. The Park is open and operating just as in previous winters except for the Longmire to Paradise Road access. The Longmire area will remain open every day, the Park’s Carbon River entrance is open to foot traffic, and the east side of the Park offers winter recreation options as well.

Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP) staff will work throughout the week to plow the road and prepare to open for their usual winter gate opening schedule on weekends. General road status information for Mount Rainier can be found on the Park’s website. Staff will also continue to update the Longmire to Paradise road status and announce weekend opening times using their Twitter feedYou can learn more about these access changes in this FAQ from the Park.

Hearing from Park Leadership

Last week, our conservation team and several recreation partners - including Washington Trails Association, the American Alpine Club, Access Fund, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Cascade Backcountry Alliance, American Alpine Institute, and Northwest Avalanche Center - met virtually with MRNP Superintendent Greg Dudgeon and Deputy Superintendent for Operations Kevin Skerl. The conversation shared more about the closure and how our community can help address current challenges and increase winter access to Paradise in the future.

We approached this meeting with a spirit of partnership. We understand the challenges the Park is facing and also shared our desire to see Paradise open more this year and every day next winter. Park leadership shared that limiting vehicular access to the Paradise area this winter is disappointing for the Park staff, who care very deeply about providing access for the public. 

The decision to close on weekdays came down to staffing challenges and safety concerns. Park leadership emphasized that the issue is not a lack of funding, but rather a lack of staffing. The Park has 110 permanent employees, and typically experiences a 10 percent turnover each year. They currently have 21 open positions, 13 of which serve the Paradise area. The staffing gaps and hiring challenges can be partially attributed to the cost of housing near the Park, pandemic labor shortages, and a lack of qualified candidates.

Primarily the Park is short about half of the road crew they need to operate regular winter openings. Vacancies in facilities, custodial, search & rescue, and emergency services present additional safety concerns, and the Park already relies heavily on volunteers to make weekend gate openings viable during the winter. When search and rescue or other emergencies occur, Park leadership doesn’t feel existing staff capacity will allow them to respond while also keeping recreational access open safely. 

Deputy Superintendent Kevin Skerl shared that they’re working to fill crucial vacancies to restore more regular road access next winter. They’ve re-advertised open positions and are continuing to recruit and adapt management strategies accordingly.

Even if the Park is able to hire a few more staff members this winter, they expect that additional staffing will only help augment the skeleton crew they currently have. It’s not likely that they’ll be able to open the Longmire to Paradise road on weekdays this winter, but they do anticipate being able to open the road seven days per week next winter.

How you Can Help

We heard loud and clear that our members and community can help Mount Rainier National Park staff navigate these challenges in several ways. Our support starts with educating the recreation community about the reasons for these changes and the staffing issues the park is facing. Help us increase our community’s awareness of these changes by sharing this post and the Park’s FAQ.

The Park is also asking the recreation community to amplify their job opportunities. Consider sharing this story map with your networks.

The staffing issues the Park Service is facing are not unique to Mount Rainier. National park sites across the Park system are feeling the crush of staffing and hiring challenges. Increasing federal land manager staffing and funding is a top advocacy issue for The Mountaineers and partners. That's why Conservation & Advocacy Director Betsy Robblee discussed National Park Service funding with Congressional staff on her recent visit to Washington, DC, and why we’ll continue to share ways to take action on this important issue. We encourage you to reach out to your senators and representatives to express your support for increased resources for land managers like the National Park Service. 

Volunteering is also great way to help steward Mount Rainier and support staff in their management of the Park’s natural resources. The Park is currently seeking additional winter volunteers, particularly folks with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) training, winter travel and survival skills, backcountry travel skills, search and rescue experience, and avalanche assessment skills. If you’re interested in volunteering, please email Superintendent Greg Dudgeon.

Share Your Feedback

We appreciate how passionately our community cares for Mount Rainier National Park and the special winter recreation experiences it provides. We plan to meet with Park leadership later this winter to check in on their hiring efforts and discuss long-term improvements in winter recreation access to Paradise. We’ll keep in touch with what we hear from the Park moving forward, but in the meantime please feel free to continue to share your concerns with us by emailing conservation@mountaineers.org.

Superintendent Greg Dudgeon and Deputy Superintendent Kevin Skerl also want to hear directly from you. You’re encouraged to reach out to them to share your concerns and questions.

Visit Mount Rainier This Winter

The vast majority of winter visitation to Mount Rainier National Park occurs on weekends. Staff haven’t seen increased visitation challenges as result of this change, and are not anticipating significant overcrowding at Paradise or elsewhere in the Park on weekends. Visitors are encouraged to keep apprised of road operating status via Park’s website and Twitter feed.

Ranger-led snowshoe walks at Paradise are still planned for each Saturday and Sunday this winter, and were slated to begin on Saturday, December 17. Again, the Paradise area will remain open to recreation each weekend day, and the Park offers a plethora of alternate destinations. Several other recreation areas are available to enjoy outside the park boundary in Ashford and other surrounding areas.


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Dave Schultz
Dave Schultz says:
Dec 29, 2022 10:10 AM

Are the Guide Services (RMI IMG Mountain Madness} currently allowed mid week access to Paradise? I was surprised they are not listed as one of the partners for the virtual meeting with the park service

Betsy Robblee
Betsy Robblee says:
Dec 29, 2022 01:06 PM

Hi Dave, thanks for your question. I do not believe they do, but will confirm that with the Park. We had a staff member from the American Alpine Institute in the meeting - they are a guide service that runs AAIRE classes at Paradise.

Robert Schommer
Robert Schommer says:
Jan 01, 2023 06:32 AM

So ... "Park leadership emphasized that the issue is not a lack of funding, but rather a lack of staffing."
What I take from this is that it's really a lack of park leadership and management. They failed to take note of the employee loss as it was occuring and be pro-active with recruiting and hiring. I know ... our company lost about 10% of it's engineering staff over a 6 month period and we had make a major effort to replace them. It wasn't easy and took alot of effort. But ... if we didn't do that, our company might be out of business. This isn't the case with the Parks.

Camille Stephens
Camille Stephens says:
Jan 01, 2023 04:31 PM

Hiring and recruiting for Federal entities is not as easy as jumping on ZipRecruiter and posting a vacancy. There are strict timelines, procedures and qualifications that agencies have to adhere to, and unless Washington DC changes these laws and regulations, hiring will not get any easier. The management at Mount Rainier cannot simply increase wages to attract more applicants -- wages are set at a location-specific grade levels -- and due to its isolated location, incentives like hiring bonuses don't mean much if you can't find a home in the community. These aren't the fault of local management, and I'm guessing they have already tried to fill these positions, perhaps multiple times, without success. I would be careful, before tearing apart park management, to understand government hiring practices and the unique challenges it presents.

Yann Merrand
Yann Merrand says:
Jan 01, 2023 11:11 AM

Unlocking the gate at 9 am on weekends is not helpful. Perhaps the park could make an effort to open earlier since there is no access during the week and most of road clearing probably has to occur before Saturday morning.

It'd be interesting to see a timeline of rule changes regarding access to the mountain over the years to ponder what really changed to make it so.

Barbara Rose
Barbara Rose says:
Jan 02, 2023 07:50 AM

The Park is also asking the recreation community to amplify their job opportunities. Consider sharing this story map with your networks.

When I opened the link to read before sharing, all of the positions are shown as closed for the season. "Check back next year to apply for 2024!" Perhaps we should wait to share until the positions are open for applications, since no action can be taken at this time?

Conor Marshall
Conor Marshall says:
Jan 05, 2023 12:33 PM

Hi Barbara, thank you for your feedback about the inconsistencies in the Park's hiring resources. We're going to raise this with leadership and see if there are other announcements we should be sharing.