The mountain community of Ashford, Washington, is tucked away in the forested foothills of Mount Rainier. This charming small town has lodging ranging from cozy cabins to friendly hotels, and there are a few lovely restaurants that stay open year-round.
Ashford is a quirky yet charming small town with an interesting mix of small local businesses. It is a perfect place to while away a winter weekend. You can relax in front of a roaring fire or be more adventurous by exploring the many trails in Mount Rainier National Park. No matter which you choose, it is sure to be a perfect weekend.
Ashford is just six miles from the park’s Nisqually Entrance, the only entrance with vehicle access in the winter to the park. Make this lovely town your basecamp for exploring Mt. Rainier.
Note: Travel Tacoma hosted me on a press trip to Ashford. This included lodging and meals. All opinions are my own.
Tanwax Country Chapel
On the way to Ashford, if you take Mountain Highway E, you will pass the Tanwax Country Chapel, which has one of the most incredible unobstructed views of Mount Rainier in the area. If you luck out and the “mountain is out,” this is the place to take a photo. The Tanwax Country Chapel community has been blessed with this beautiful scenic view of Mt. Rainier, and they love to share it. Park in the parking lot and follow the gravel trail to a bench where you can enjoy this viewpoint.
Paradise Village Hotel And Restaurant
Plan to stay at the Paradise Village Hotel and Restaurant. It is more than just lodging and is a destination in itself. Owner Anatoliy Zaika is a man with a dream. An immigrant from Ukraine, he purchased the property to establish a family business and bring a bit of his homeland to the United States.
This is one of the most unique places to stay in the area. The resort has been remodeled to resemble a Ukrainian village. The rooms and cabins have a rustic feel but have comfy beds and are spotless. The renovations kept the charm of this iconic property while adding modern amenities.
Plan to eat at least one meal here. The food is incredible. The bakery offers coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Try the freshly baked pastries or try one of the crepes. For dinner, the restaurant offers authentic Eastern European food. Make sure to try the galushki, which are Ukrainian gnocchi. These tasty light puffs of pasta are served in a sauce similar to alfredo. The Borsch is also very good and hearty on a cold day, especially when served with the house-made bread.
Stop at Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford to rent all your cold-weather necessities. In addition to equipment like snowshoes, sleds, and tubes, you can rent winter clothing, gloves, and boots. They also rent snow chains, which are mandatory to carry in your car when visiting Mt. Rainier National Park. Their Gear Cache sells gently used clothing and equipment. Plan to rent snowshoes here for your trip into the park.
Mount Rainier National Park
Summer crowds are gone, and the winter snows in Mount Rainier National Park create a magical wonderland that is fun to explore in the winter. The Nisqually Entrance has a rustic wooden archway marking the entrance. It is a great photo opportunity on a quiet winter day, and you would never be able to take it in the summer due to traffic.
Driving through the park. keep your eyes peeled for the Twin Firs Loop Trailhead on the left. It is about two miles before you reach Longmire. Most people miss this small section of old-growth forest, which has stunning Douglas firs, western hemlock, and western red cedar trees that tower above the forest floor. It is just a 0.4-mile trail, and in winter it is covered with snow — you may need your snowshoes depending on how much. It is a stunning hike, and the trees are just lovely. If the snow is too heavy, you can still just do a short walk into the woods to view these giants.
The Longmire area is open year-round and has the only lodging in the park during the winter, at the National Park Inn. The restaurant is open as well as the Longmire General Store. You can rent snowshoes here, but Whittaker Mountaineering has a better selection. Longmire is the gateway to a variety of trails.
The entire Longmire area is a national historic district. Take the Longmire Historic District Walking Tour, which is 1.25 miles and self-guided. Each point of interest has interpretive signs. The early history of the national park is very interesting.
Across the street is the Trail of the Shadows. This loop trail brings together human and natural history as you walk through a forest and meadows. Look for the replica of a settler’s homestead cabin and the bubbling mineral springs. It is a perfect trail for snowshoeing and is not too strenuous.
Paradise is an iconic area you must visit in Mount Rainier National Park. It offers hiking, camping, and once enough snow has fallen, a snow play area set up for sledding and playing in the snow. There is plenty of room to spread out or take a snowshoe hike.
Make sure to read the Winter Recreation bulletin for everything you need to know to visit this area safely in the winter. The park provides weather updates and road conditions on Twitter at MountRainierNPS and on radio station 1610 AM in the park. There are a lot of variables that determine if the road is going to open. The average annual snowfall at Paradise is 639 inches (53.2 feet/61.2 meters), and last year it received 672 inches.
Cannibal Hot Tub
After a day in the park, book a reservation at the Paradise Village Hotel to try the infamous Cannibal Hot Tub. The rustic outdoor hot tub is basically a cauldron that sits perched above a roaring wood-burning fire.
“I saw the idea on YouTube and thought, ‘I can make that,'” explained Anatoliy Zaika, noting these unique hot tubs are common in Ukraine. Zaika had a kettle shipped from home and constructed a rock pavilion to hold the kettle over the open fire. The kettle was so large it had to be turned sideways to fit in the container.
Reservations are required for the Cannibal Hot Tub because it takes over an hour to heat up, and then is drained, cleaned, and refilled after each use. This is such a unique experience. You do not need to be staying at the hotel to book the hot tub, and they also offer robes for rent.
Ex Nihilo Sculpture Park
The Ex Nihilo Sculpture park is very unique. Also known as Recycled Spirits of Iron, artist Dan Klennert’s vision will have you wondering, What is this place? His medium is rusty metal, animal skulls, driftwood, and things others would call junk. The park overflows with sculptures of animals, motorcycle riders, a giant sea horse, dinosaurs, and even an adult-only section. He is very talented, and you are sure to be impressed with the number of works on display. Klennert recently passed the baton to artist Jay Bechtold, who has produced several new pieces for the park.
It is open year-round. In the winter, the gate is closed, but you can still walk in to view the sculptures. Donations are appreciated, and there is a gift shop as well. It’s located on State Road 706, just past Elbe on the right side of the road.
When planning a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park in the winter, note that the road from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire is open, but the road between Longmire and Paradise closes each night. If there is the danger of an avalanche or extreme weather, it remains closed during the day. The daily status is posted on the park’s Twitter account. In the morning before your visit, check the opening hour and plan to arrive early to get in line.
All vehicles must carry tire chains when traveling in the park during the winter season, regardless of tire type or weather conditions. Make sure your gas tank is full, and bring extra food in case you are stuck for the night. Make sure someone knows your travel plans and when you will be home. Watch the weather — snowstorms in Mt. Rainier can dump feet of snow.
In addition to a. full tank and extra food, we recommend keeping these items in your car for safe winter travel.